Travel as Consumerism

I’ve been thinking a lot about this breed of travel that I like to call “Travel Consumerism.”  I’m pretty sure I didn’t invent this term, and “Tourist Consumerism” would work just as well, but I like it and therefore, I’m sticking to it. 

To me, travel consumerism is the kind of travel hopping that we often see young people in their 20s (which would be…me…) do.  It’s the country hopping.  The spend-four-days-in-a-city-and-say-we’ve-seen-that-country type of travel.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this, too.  When I was 23, I county-hopped around Europe for a little over a month and returned to the US feeling worldly and sophisticated. 

But now, six years after that trip, I find myself re-thinking my strategy.  I found myself saying I didn’t like France and Ireland just because I didn’t enjoy Dublin or Paris.  Really?  I was letting one city define an entire country?  That’s like someone saying they don’t like the USA because they didn’t like Los Angeles.  As an American, I’d be screaming out, “No!  You have to visit Maine!  You have to see the Grand Canyon! You have to see the small cities in the South and the beach cities on both coasts.  There’s so much more to the US than just LA.” 

A picture from my favorite city in Denmark: Ribe. Most people come here for a day trip – I decided to spend five days here. It was exactly what I needed.

Isn’t that true for everywhere else?

Let me put a disclaimer here:  I’m not here to criticize how anyone travels. I’m not here to make sweeping claims and say that one way of traveling is superior to another. But I do think we need to think critically about the choices that we make and when that choice is to travel, it literally affects another country, culture and economy.

Summer 2017 I booked a vacation to Denmark.  As a teacher, I take every advantage of my breaks to travel.  I try to travel every break I get, whether that means I go out of the country, out of the state or take a weekend excursion to somewhere I’ve never been.

As soon as I booked that flight, I started to think excitedly to myself, “Oh, I can also see Norway and Sweden!  They’re not too far and then I’ll have visited three countries.” 

And I immediately stopped myself.

Why was it so important that I visit three countries in that short period of time?

What kind of experience would that give me? What kind of depth would I actually have in each city if I’m flying through them and only doing the tourist spots?  What knowledge of a country can I learn from just one city? (Hint: not a lot.)  What would I really gain from any of that except exhaustion and a few pins in my map?

This was part of a cemetery in Copenhagen.

I decided to reconsider my travel plans and focus only on Denmark.  15 days in just Denmark still wasn’t going to give me enough knowledge of the country to write a book, but it would at least help me understand the place I’ll be visiting more.  I wanted to see their National Park and their hidden treasures. I wanted to experience small towns and local venues. 

I wanted to experience Denmark for Denmark, not for another check off my list.

And to be fair, I still fall into the trap of wanting to see and experience more, but I’m starting to realize that I’m equating more to quantity, not quality and that’s simply not true. I want to experience, not just see.

I used to have a goal of wanting to see every country in the world.  And, trust me, I’d still love to, but, at 29, I think the only way I’d ever accomplish that is by doing the type of travel consumerism that I’m just not comfortable with anymore.  I’d have to flit from place to place, only experiencing what the country has to offer on a surface level and I’m not a surface person.  I’m intense and deep, uncomfortably deep, and that’s the way I want my travel experiences to be, too. 

What about you?  What kind of travel do you most enjoy?

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