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Over-Romanticizing Travel Ruins It

July 16, 2014

Don’t see 50 cities.

As Robert Reid said, “shoulds” or “must sees” make travel into a contest. Which diverts your interest from what you desire to someone else’s judgments.

See what interests you, be it Berlin or the small town 45 minutes away. I’ve lived in Athens, Ohio for 6 years and history interests me, especially Appalachian history, yet I haven’t been to the historical society’s museum, a block away from my office. That makes me a worse traveler than not making it to expensive or remote cities around the world, if travel is understood as revolving around a person’s interests and goals instead of a checklist passed down by trendsetters.

The original thought behind transforming travel into a contest or composing a bucket list is very American. Who doesn’t love competition? It’s a challenge and a motivation. It turns vague goals into actionable steps. “Visit Berlin and Paris” becomes “Save $30 from each paycheck to visit Berlin and Paris next fall.” Without that challenge, some people wouldn’t travel.

Yet.

Those lists make a challenge into a fetish. Thus, no one is a “tourist” anymore; everyone who is anyone is a “traveler.” Most travel blogs consist of beach and mountain pictures with insipid quotations plastered on them in italicized fonts. All are driven by “wanderlust,” and few have useful information or an interesting narrative.

That over-romanticizing makes travel exotic and puts it out of reach. Trips have to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which is a tall order to fill.

Travel can be local as much as international. Day trips through Appalachia are as exciting to me — in various ways — as a trip to Germany. I lose the challenges of a language barrier, unfamiliar food, etc., but I gain a better understanding of neighbors or folks a few hours away. I still get perspective, meaningful moments, and the excitement of reaching a new town. Traveling shouldn’t have a narrow lens of the exotic and distant. It should be thought of as a perspective, a willingness to leave the home.

I’m curious as to how widespread this over-romanticizing is. How influential is this sort of thinking outside the United States? Or Americans in homogeneous areas compared to Americans in diverse neighborhoods? In Europe, flights are cheap, and culture shock more accessible. I imagine the oceans separating America worsen the trend in thought here.

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