01 ‘Travel’ used to mean ‘torture’
In recent decades, we’ve come to think that new technologies can protect us from certainty. Through the magic of modern machinery, we hope to take the world out of mediocrity – out of those sparrows, starlings and blue jays that are everywhere in the trees – and fill it with rare Sutton warblers, ivory-billed woodpeckers, whooping cranes and brown hummingbirds.
Every bird watcher knows how uncomfortable it is to accept that common birds are the most common and rare ones are rare. These days, the daily expectation of experiencing the exotic (and not losing its flavor), letting the mediocre disappear entirely, is a source of frustration for all of us.
The word “adventure” has become the most tasteless, empty word in the language. The cheap corner coffee shop offers us “tasty adventures”; weeks of self-improvement sessions turn our everyday conversations into “big adventures”; riding in a new Dodge is “an adventure.”
Nothing exemplifies our newly developed inflated expectations quite like a shift in the way we think about travel. One of the oldest motivations for travel, back when people had choices, was to see the unfamiliar. People have an incurable desire to go somewhere different. It showcases his hopeless optimism and insatiable curiosity. We always think that things will be different in another place.
“Travel,” Descartes wrote in the seventeenth century, “is almost a conversation with people who lived in other centuries.” People who set out on the road because of hunger, fear, or oppression hoped that new places would be safer, better fed, and freer. People in safe, affluent, and respectable societies travel to escape boredom, escape the familiar, and discover exotic places.
People before have always succeeded. Great shocks of thought always come after good times for travel. Throughout history, traveling to faraway places and witnessing strange things has fueled the imagination of travelers. The amazement and joy they felt made them realize that life at home had no reason to remain the same.
They discover that there is more than one way to solve a problem, that everything in heaven and earth is richer than their philosophy dreamed, that the possibilities of life have not yet been exhausted in the streets of mediocrity.
In the 15th century, the discovery of America, voyages around Africa, and trips to India opened eyes, broadened minds, and gave birth to the Renaissance. In the 17th century, travels around Europe, the Americas and the Orient gave people an insight into a different way of life, which led to the Enlightenment. Discovering new worlds always revolutionizes people’s minds. Travel is a one-size-fits-all catalyst. It makes one think faster, imagine more boldly, and engender a more passionate desire.
Yet the very experience of travel itself is transformed. Many Americans now “travel,” but the word doesn’t mean what it used to mean. The multiplication, improvement, and cheapening of travel facilities allowed more people to travel to faraway places. But the experience of going to another place, the experience of being there, and the experience of bringing back from there are all very different. Experiences are diluted, falsified, prefabricated.
Shortly after the mid-nineteenth century, the character of travel abroad—first that of Europeans, then that of Americans—changed as the pictorial revolution began. This change culminates in our time. Prior to this, travel required a long time to plan, was extremely expensive, and took an extremely long time. Travel can be health-threatening, even life-threatening. The traveler was active, now he has become passive. Travel is no longer a physical exercise, but a spectator sport.
This change can be described in one word. It’s the fall of the traveler, the rise of the tourist. There is a wonderful precision in these words, but few realize it.
The Old English noun travel (in its sense of travel) was originally the same word as travail (meaning “problem,” “labor,” or “torture”). The word travail should be transformed from trepalium in popular Latin or Romance languages through French as an intermediary, referring to a three-legged torture instrument. To travel—to travail, or (later) to travel—was a laborious, cumbersome experience at the time. Travelers are active and busy people.
In the early 1800s, a new word entered the English language, giving us a glimpse of how the world of travel has changed, especially through the eyes of Americans. The word is tourist (tourist) – there is a connector in the middle at the beginning, and it is written as tour-ist.
Our American dictionary now defines a tourist as “a person who travels with pleasure” or “a person who travels, especially for pleasure.” It is also important to note that the tour in the word tourist is reversed from the Latin word tornus, which comes from Greek and refers to a tool for drawing circles. In this way, the traveler is doing a job; the modern tourist is someone having fun.
The traveler is active; he goes out of his way to find people, adventures, experiences. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He went “sightseeing” (sightseeing, the word also appeared at the same time, the earliest written record in 1847). He expects everything to be taken care of for him, for him.
02 Assembly line travel, iron-clad insurance
Traveling abroad is no longer an activity—an experience, a mission—but a commodity.The rise of tourists started as a possibility and then became an inevitability as attractive tours were packaged and sold as packages.
By purchasing an outing, you can force another person to ensure that fun and enjoyable things happen to you. It can be wholesale (month-long or week-long trips, or in-depth tours of a country), or retail (day trips, or just visiting a foreign capital).
The reasons for all this are so familiar to us that they need to be mentioned here again. First, and most obviously, is the advancement of transportation. In the second half of the 19th century, railroads and ocean liners really made travel comfortable, with a sudden reduction in discomfort and risk. For the first time in history, long-distance transport was industrially produced on a large scale, sold to many people, and cheaply.
The huge transoceanic ships could not be filled by diplomats, people on business trips, or people like Henry Adams for the promotion of education. The consumer base must expand to include the vacationing middle class, or at least the upper middle class. Traveling abroad has been democratized.
The obvious next step is to “travel with a group”. A well-planned group outing can draw even the stay-at-home shy one out. Of course, guided tours are very old: the Crusades were sometimes a bit like that. We see it in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the late 14th century, when the learned and generous owner of the Tabard tavern suggested:
In order to make everyone more interested
I would like to take the initiative to walk with you
Travel at your own expense, be your guide…
But since then, few guides have offered their services for free, and guided travel has become a commodity in itself. Adventures are packaged and sold as packages to ensure that there is no risk in the way of consumption.
The real pioneer in creating and promoting group tours was, of course, Thomas Cook. In the early 1840s he began arranging cheap train travel within Britain. The first group tour he organized took nearly 600 people from Leicester to Loughborough, 18 kilometers away, at a very low cost-the discounted round-trip third-class fare was only 1 shilling per person.
He quickly developed a host of conveniences: courteous and knowledgeable tour guides, discount coupons for hotels, room reservations, protection and advice against sickness and theft.
Sophisticated Brits resist this. Cook, they say, is de-motivating travelers, robbing them of adventure, and filling the continent’s landscape with uneducated middle-class people. “Going by train,” complained John Ruskin, “I don’t think it counts as travel at all; it’s just being ‘delivered’ to a place, like a parcel of goods.”
Cook defended his service, calling the trips “a means to advance human progress.” He said the attacks on the trips were pure airs and that the critics were old fashioned.
“How foolish it is to think that rare and interesting places should not be enjoyed by ordinary people, but should only serve the interests of ‘chosen’ members of society. But in this age of progress, it is too inappropriate to talk about privileged nonsense. God made the earth so full and beautiful. It is for the people; the railroad and the steamship are products of the indiscriminate splendor of science, and for the people. . . . Jump for joy.”
By the mid-20th century, traveling abroad was big business. It is the most prominent feature of the American standard of living and an essential part of our cultural and financial relationship with the rest of the world.
Traveling abroad is of course now a commodity. Like any other mass-produced commodity, it can be bought at wholesale prices and paid for in instalments. When Charles Sumner of Boston borrowed money to travel to Europe in the early nineteenth century from a few old friends who believed in his future, it was seen as a noteworthy oddity, an oddity. Now, more and more travelers are traveling without paying the travel expenses. “Go now, pay later.” Your travel agent arranged it for you.
When travel is no longer tailor-made, but an assembly-line product that can be bought in a store, we don’t have so much to say about its content. We are also less and less aware of what we are actually buying. We bought several days of vacation treats and didn’t even know what was included in the package.
A good travel package must include insurance. In this sense, the dangers of travel are a thing of the past; we buy packages that directly involve safety and peace of mind. Others helped us take all the risks.
In 1954, the suspense film “Unfortunately Loved” depicts the troubled voyage of a luxury airliner from San Francisco to Honolulu. A diverse group of vacationers fly to the Central Pacific for a one- to two-week leisurely vacation. After the engine stalled, the passengers’ spirits began to break down. Finally, in order to prevent the plane from crashing, the captain asked to throw the luggage down.
I saw this movie at a theater in the suburbs of Chicago. Sitting next to me is a mother and son, the child is still very young. He didn’t seem too preoccupied with the life-and-death crisis facing his passengers, but when the purser threw the passenger’s assortment of elegant carry-on luggage overboard—luxury suitcases, hat boxes, portable typewriters, golf clubs, tennis rackets—the boy began to fidget. “What are they going to do?” cried the boy. “Don’t worry.” His mother comforted him, “It’s all covered by insurance.”
A traveler becomes a tourist when his risk is covered by insurance.
03 Traveled, and it seems that I didn’t travel
Once upon a time, travelers traveled to meet locals. Now, one of the functions of travel agencies is to avoid such contact. They can always find new and efficient ways to isolate the visitor from the world he visits.
In the travel notes of old travelers, the local innkeeper full of witty words and full of local legends is a resident interesting character. Now he is obsolete. Today, on the main street of your hometown, you can arrange accommodation and entertainment in Rome, Sydney, Singapore or Tokyo.
Shopping, like tipping, is one of the few things a tourist can still do, everything pre-arranged is like a wall separating him from the country he’s visiting, and this is a small crack in the wall. He naturally finds shopping exciting and fun.
While shopping, he could literally meet locals, negotiate prices in their unfamiliar language, and discover local business rules. In short, he tasted the excitement and “torture” that travelers in the past used to experience all the time-every transport service, every night’s accommodation, and every meal needed to be personally asked.
Never before has the traveler been so isolated from the territory he visits. The newest and most popular form of transportation to get to other places, and the most complete way of isolating tourists from the environment known.
Recently, I took a flight at Idyllwild Airport in New York. The boarding time was 6:30 pm, and I arrived in Amsterdam the next morning at 11:30 am. I was flying a regular flight at seven thousand meters, well above the clouds, too high to see any landmarks or aids to navigation. There was nothing to see but weather phenomena; and as there were no weather phenomena that day, there was nothing to see either. What I leap is not space, but time.
The only personal sign that I’ve covered such a distance is the six-hour jet lag. My only problem on the way is killing time. I moved through space, so easily, so unobtrusively. The plane took the view away from me.
Tourists arrive at a place without any experience of the journey. For him, it’s the same everywhere: go here or go there, same.
For a long time, the feeling of going somewhere was inseparable from the feeling of being there. Now, “half the fun is getting there”. “Rome,” British Transocean announced, “is a fun stop.” Nothing is more uniform than fun, no matter where it is.
Now, we also have a lot of projects on the road. An American Steamship advertisement says:
You’re only fifteen meals away from Europe on the world’s fastest cruise ship. Caviar from Iran, pheasant from Scotland… You can choose from global cuisines to enrich the wonderful experience on board. There are swimming pools, gymnasiums, two cinemas and three Mel Davis orchestras on board. Offering you five days of adventure to discover the lost art of leisure.
The experience is erased on the way to the local area. All experiences on the way have been exchanged for luxury enjoyment by us. Better than at home.
For Americans heading west in the nineteenth century, the way they lived together on the road shaped their lives upon arrival, just as the legendary forty-year journey of Moses leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land shaped them as a nation. Americans heading west organized against the dangers along the way, developing charters and rules in the process that would allow them to form new communities upon arrival.
Now, the risk of the person who embarks on the journey is so small, and the experience is so impoverished, that somehow the experience of getting somewhere becomes more and more empty and trivial. The more hardships experienced on the journey, the more vivid the feeling upon arrival. When the journey becomes “fun”, arriving at the destination is no different from arriving anywhere else.
The tourist who arrives at his destination enjoys “improved” tourist facilities, and the isolation he suffers is almost equal to that on the road. The ideal foreign tourist hotel is now the same as the best domestic hotel. The beds, lighting, ventilation, air-conditioning, central heating, plumbing are all American, but savvy hoteliers of course make a special effort to preserve a certain ‘local vibe’.
04 Why museums and attractions are boring
The point of interest is to allow travelers to “visit” foreigners without actually touching them. Locals are quarantined, and tourists watch them through windows from the comfort of air-conditioned rooms. Attractions are now cultural mirages scattered across tourist oases.
The modern museum, like the modern tourist, is a product of the rise of democracy. Both phenomena reflect the spread of scientific knowledge, the democratization of the arts, the decline of private art patronage, and the rise of middle-class literacy.
Collecting precious, curious and beautiful objects has always been the preserve of the powerful. Today, visiting the best art museums in Europe is visiting the homes of the pre-democratic rich, nobles and monarchs: in Florence, the Uffizi and Pitti; in Venice, the Doge’s Palace; in Paris, the Louvre; in Vienna, the Schönbrunn Palace.
Objects of beauty were taken from the dwellings of the many princes and nobles, and placed in one of the most magnificent of the abandoned palaces, for public viewing. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, tableware, and other small works of art (once part of the interiors or furniture in the life of the ruling aristocracy) were thus “liberated,” by the people and for the people.
To put the paintings of Botticelli, Rubens, and Titian in one room and see them in a few minutes; to take the sculptures of Donatello and Cellini from various churches, monasteries, and living rooms and put them on permanent exhibition in one hall;
Inevitably, these museums—and other new museums that were later built from abandoned palaces on the same template—became major tourist attractions. They still are. However, almost all museum exhibits are taken out of their proper context.
The impression of each individual work of art or the overall impression of a country’s cultural history, whether derived from the experience of visiting a museum or not, is always artificial. This impression is put together for your convenience, for education, recreation, entertainment.
But to piece together such a thing, art commissioners must dismantle the once real environment, and it is those particular cultural collectives that create and enjoy these works of art. The museum tourist visits a storehouse of cultural products; he does not see the living organs of a living culture. Even when one visits a museum that was once privately owned (like the Prado in Madrid or the Hermitage in Leningrad), the original collection has been so diluted or expanded that the experience itself has become a new artifact.
Only the museum itself is quite real—a functional part of an ongoing business. Those who admire the ribbons on the stools and the portraits of their ancestors are no longer descendants of the family, a symbol of this change. Each living work of art is removed from its natural environment so that we can stare at it conveniently, just like animals in a zoo. Parts of the artwork have died after leaving their original environment.
Museums are just one example of sightseeing spots. All sightseeing is characterized by this false pseudo-event.
Once upon a time, when the old traveler visited a country, what he saw was what the country really looked like. Works by Titian, Rubens or Gobelin tapestries would hang on palace walls and be the backdrop for parties or social events of princes and nobles. Folk songs and folk dances are also creations of local people.
Now, however, tourists see more of the sights to see than the country itself. Now, he rarely sees living cultures, but only embalmed specimens collected especially for him, or programs specially arranged for him: standard artifacts.
The rise of tourist traffic has led to a recent phenomenon, that of purely tourist attractions. It usually has only one purpose, which is to attract others for the benefit of the attraction owner or the country to which the attraction belongs. It’s something new: a minimal version of a country’s culture. Now, there are such “attractions” all over the world – which hardly reflect the inner life of a country’s people, but are unusually tight as tourist commodities.
Take, for example, Madame Tussauds in London (she first became famous for making wax heads of leaders and victims of the French Revolution) and Haw Par Villa in Hong Kong. Disneyland in California – the US “spot” that Khrushchev most wanted to see – is the most representative example of all. Here, nature imitates art. Instead of seeing two-dimensional cartoons or movies, visitors to Disneyland see three-dimensional replicas of them.
05 Travel Guide and Star Hotels
Modern travel guides have pushed up travellers’ expectations. They also gave the locals—from Kaiser Wilhelm to the villagers of Tsitchcastenango—a detailed checklist of what was expected of them and when. These are the latest scripts offered to the actors on the Sightseeing Stage.
The pioneer in the production of travel guides was, of course, Karl Baedeker of Leipzig, whose name entered our language long ago and became synonymous with his products.
No one can buy Baedeker, as evidenced by the words in an early version of the handbook: “A hotel will not be mentioned if its accurate description would expose the editor to legal risk.”
Baedeker shields readers from unnecessary contact with locals, warns travelers to beware of mosquitos, bedbugs, and fleas, advises readers to beware of unwashed fruit and raw salads, lists postage stamp prices, and mentions how much to tip (tipping too much is considered the greatest sin in Baedeker’s guide).
In the end, Baedeker even advised tourists how to dress and behave, to be a decent, respectable, and tolerant countryman, so as not to disturb or disappoint the local spectators of the visited country.
In the early 20th century, Baedeker encouraged English readers to “use tact and restraint, and refrain from speaking loudly or making contemptuous comments (in public buildings, hotels, etc.) and especially not expressing political opinions”;
Baedeker’s most powerful invention was the “star system,” which soon became as attractive to tourists as “star” was to moviegoers later. In the scoring system, extraordinary sites get two stars (Louvre, Yellowstone, Windsor Castle, St. Peter’s Basilica, Uffizi Gallery, Pyramids, Colosseum), lesser sites (which are merely noteworthy) receive one star, and ordinary sightseeing sites receive zero stars.
Ivor Brown astutely observes that star systems tend to spawn stargazers, not explorers.
Tourists seek caricature parody; domestic travel agencies, as well as official tourism bureaus abroad, follow suit. The tourist seldom likes the original foreign cultural products (mostly incomprehensible to him); he prefers his own narrow expectations.
As proactive foreign producers try harder and harder to give Americans what they expect to see, American tourists, in turn, grow naive, almost to the point of fanaticism.
But tourists are being duped voluntarily precisely because they secretly fear that these exorbitant (and expensive) expectations of theirs may not be met. They were quite adamant that it was money well spent. Wherever the American tourist goes in the world, he is ready to accept the laws of pseudo-events, to succumb to the image; the carefully crafted imitation obscures the brilliance of the real thing.
In each place, sque locals make paper models of their own characters. Yet the sque character itself is often a pale imitation of the colorful films that tourists visit to test out the scenes.
Projects that guarantee a guaranteed supply and that can be easily visited by tourists once they arrive have these marketable characteristics precisely because they are not original expressions of the country. They could not be real ceremonies or real festivals; these events were never intended for tourists . Like the hula dances in Hawaii (thanks to Eastman Kodak) for photo tourists, attractions that draw tourists from far and wide are often tailor-made for tourists.
And tourists demand more and more pseudo-events.
The most popular of these had to be easy to photograph (with good lighting) and not offensive – suitable for the whole family to watch. According to the mirror effect of pseudo-events, they tend to become boring and stereotyped replicas, and the objects they imitate are already commonplace to tourists who have seen countless s.
Therefore, it seems that tourists’ thirst for novelty can be best satisfied only when the s in their minds are verified in distant countries.
06 Arrived in the distance, or only saw myself?
In the not too distant past, few concepts were simpler and more accessible than embarking on a journey. Travel—movement through space—is a universal metaphor for change. When someone dies, he embarks on a journey from which no one has ever returned. Or, as the old saying goes, a person is “on the road” when he dies.
Philosophers have observed that we escape the mystery of time by the solidity of space. For example, Bergson once argued that the measurement of time must be expressed in metaphors of space: whether time is “long” or “short”; whether another era is “distant” or “near”.
Going from one place to another is getting faster and faster, and time itself degenerates into a measure of space.
We call our own time the “space age,” but space means less to us than ever before. Perhaps we should call this era “The Age of No Space”. The art of travel has been lost on this planet, and all space on Earth has become homogeneous, so we seek refuge in the homogeneity (or hope of diversity) of space .
Foreign countries, like celebrities, become confirmation of pseudo-events. Much of our interest comes from our curiosity to see if our impressions are the same as those mirrored in newspapers, movies, and television. Is the Trevi Fountain in Rome really like in the movie “Love in Rome”? Is Hong Kong really like in “Life and Death”? Is Hong Kong full of people like Suzie Wong? We don’t go there to test image with reality, we test reality with image.
More and more we go where we expect to go. We were promised to see what we expected to see or our money back. Anyway, we are traveling more and more, not to see, but to take s.
Like our other experiences, travel becomes a tautology.
The more we try and consciously expand our experience, the more pervasive this tautology becomes. Whether looking for great role models or distant experiences, we look in the mirror, not out the window, so all we see is ourselves.