Thursday, June 30, 2005

Tourism vs. Intentional Travel

by Skald

Matt's recent posts touch on a very important subject... the difference between tourism and intentional travel. Most "travel sites" and "travel writers" focus on the former. They describe beautiful places and decadent activities. They tell you where to stay, how to save money, where the good deals are. They rarely, if ever, examine the philosophical, cultural, economic, political, or psychological aspects of travel.

That's a shame. For tourism sucks all the vitality from travel. It kills its greatest benefits. For the benefits of travel often derive from that which the tourist most avoids: the challenges, the unexpected, the difficult. The intentional traveler seeks these out. S/he pushes into the unknown and the uncomfortable (each according to their inclination and temperament). The tourist seeks the known, the comfortable.

The tourist brings back a tan and a collection of commodities (snapshots and trinkets). The intentional traveler is after things which cannot be bought. For the intentional traveler seeks inner benefits: transformation of perception, thought, emotion, belief.

Your average American Yahoo shuns travel for the same reason they shun critical thought... they seek the comfortable. They seek that which confirms their superiority. They dont want to be challenged.

But the intentional American traveler is another breed. They embrace discomfort. They live by that pseudo-Star Trek creed... to boldly go where they have never gone before. Outwardly this means new countries, new foods, new cultures,... but the heart of the matter is the inner journey.... new thoughts, new perceptions, new understanding.

We need more intentional travelers, and fewer tourists.



TFD said...

Hmm. Well, I prefer being a traveler to a tourist, but sometimes one has to merge the two, esp. if one is visiting a place for the first time, in which case playing tourist is usually the safer option some of us either need for ourselves or for the sake of our traveling companions. That said, none of my six trips outside the US have been tours, per se. The trips to London have been loosely organized tours in the sense that I went with a group; we all stayed in the same hotel, and did a total of three activities together, but the rest of the time,we were free to explore -- and in a city like London, there's a lot *to* explore. My first trip to England was a solo, with the sole goal of being best man in a wedding, beyond which everything else was just free-floating. It was great fun. My one trip to Ireland was also pretty much seat of the pants, though I had a "to-see" list, and some folks to visit. But mostly, we'd just figure out where we wanted to end up on a given night and just end there. The biggest downside to that trip was that I was with someone who didn't drink, and I wasn't keen on going to pubs solo.

Again, my trip to Thailand was -- I guess -- a tour, but even then, it was pretty much "what do you want to do today?" -- beyond the event that took us all there in the first place: the world premier of my friend Somtow's opera.

But to address the topic a little better (?), the one thing I really noticed in Thailand in terms of headspace that differentiated it from the US was how, though religion never seemed to be "in your face," people nevertheless quietly went about practicing it.

I'm not saying this well.

What impressed me was that, in the US, if you drop by a church on, say, Wednesday afternoon, you're likely to find it locked.

If you drop by a temple in Bangkok at the same time, you may find a bunch of gawking tourists (like me), but you'll also find people praying, and male citizens doing their monkly duties, as I believe they're required to do along and along (and which would be a good thing for the US religious right to do as well!). In other words, while major tourists meccas (and deservedly so -- some of those places are spectacular), they have not lost their primary function, and people continued to use them as such -- at all hours. Religion, it seems, was/is not just a Sunday morning ritual in Thailand.


Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention the term intentional travel. That was a term I was debating using for the travel portion of our site, but it ain't search-engine friendly, of course.

Funny also that our mission statement from 28 years ago reflects the views you expand upon in your post...

In mid-July we start the "travel writing" section of the site, and have articles by Rolf Potts and others lined up to hopefully spice it up a bit... Hopefully you will drop by and share your insights and stir up some trouble/thought...


- Greg

AJ said...

Intentional Travel

Tom-- I wouldnt describe you as a tourist... far from it. Regarding Europe, for example, you have a deep and longterm interest in European history, art, and culture... something you have studied for a long long time.

Its the inner attitude, not the outer form of travel, that is important. I think most SCA folks fall into the intentional traveler category. When they go to Europe they go to learn. They are excited and fascinated. They aren't going to collect a few postcards just to say, "Ive been to Europe".

Everyone is different. We all have different comfort levels. Not everyone wants to live out of a backpack. But we can all learn, grow, and challenge ourselves.

Greg- Im looking forward to Transition Abroads upcoming travel writing section. I will certainly contribute!!