Modern travel

December 14, 2018

Travel fascinates people. Globalism made it mandatory. Students study abroad. Travel is appreciated on the job market. People are expected to be flexible and commute for long hours. Travel is a social enabler. A mandatory step to be perceived as successful. This demand became an industry with mass tourism being one of the results.

Tourism is a term from the 18th century describing young bourgeois traveling around France to perfect their education. From a historical point of view, tourism is a lavish practice performed by the elite.

Modern tourism followed the Great Explorations era, but unlike explorers, tourists travel out of curiosity and idleness. And only the most privileged can sustain the cost of traveling.

We tend to romanticize travel. Truth is, modern travelers are closer from the tourist cliché, the explorer’s empty shell. A tourist is a pressed visitor who prefers monuments over human beings. “People travel as they eat,” says Frank Michel. Travel has become a good, a “strategy to accumulate pictures”, and as in any good strategy, it needs a plan. Tourism often is “à la carte” and starts from a Things To Do list that every tourist follows religiously to become a “gurgitator of knowledge and dumbed-down landscapes”, a “postal card eater”. Travel as an “extra-ordinary” experience to perform things that would not have been possible on a regular day. For Deleuze, this kind of travel is a “cheap break”, far from the transcendence tourists like to imagine.

Tourism is an industry that takes many shapes: entertainment travel, cultural travel, business trips… each targeting a specific niche of consumers. Humanitarian trips are profitable businesses relying on popular dreams and right-thinking desires (esteem needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

When we travel, we look for something, consciously or not. It is an initiatory quest where everyone is looking for his own Eldorado or “American Dream”. A quest for pleasure. Travel is regularly associated with pleasure in the advertisement industry to attract customers. Malls are airports where consumption is a travel: a product pleases the senses. Same with sports, where movement is the center of attention. Same with entertainment. Same with drugs (“fly high”). As a general rule, goods became immobile travels. Travels to oblivion. Escapism. The exact opposite of the beauties one can find in traveling. In a near future, we might want to travel out of our bodies to become cyborgs.

What is modern travel then, if not the simulacrum of an ideal with a commercial purpose rather than a real positive impact? A popular desire amounting to a few weeks every year. An accessory, rather than a lifestyle. The nomad has thus a responsibility in keeping his travels ethical to make it a sustainable and positive manna. How to act towards the common good? I need to find answers to this question.