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The Intentional Tourist

View from the Mount

Sober Thought Provoking Essays

The time to enjoy a European tour is about three weeks after you unpack.

George Ade

The Intentional Tourist

Another attraction in the Big Apple
Tourists come to the US for the local color

Few endeavors are more instructional than traveling to a foreign country. Whether the experience is a positive or a burden depends significantly on the selections of your destination. The process and means of going abroad, has changed from sailing to buckling into an airplane seat. Driving north to visit Canadians doesn’t require the same skills to plunge south of the border. But making the leap across the pond for a European adventure requires a second mortgage to go first class. Even more daring is required to head west and visit the East. So why in an era of uncertainty should the wayfarer venture into the unknown?

Many have already answered that question by staying at home. The cattle cars that deliver you to an airdrome are limousines in comparison to the dipping troughs for herding your luggage through inspection. Who really needs this kind of hassle? Well, people have business to do and people to see. So you suck it up and bite your tongue, and just wait in line. What is implied is that all this torture is necessary, but what is seldom asked is if there is a right to travel. The public is indoctrinated that travel is now considered to be a privilege.

As long as governments existed, they claimed the authority to protect their own borders. For what is a country if it doesn’t have a designated line that separates itself from their neighbors? While check points may have closed at many crossings within EU nations, the practice of reviewing your papers has not disappeared completely. If anything the future belongs to the high tech archive for posts of entry. Profiling isn’t the issue, the real risk doesn’t come from criminals penetrating security; it is the cultural attitude that allows ourselves to falsely believe we are more secure with all these safety illusions.

If the federal government really wanted to secure our borders, it could do it. However, that has never been the intent behind the war on terrorism. Citizens, should resist the natural tendency to just stay at home and avoid all the humiliation. Travel, while not at it’s optimum pleasure, still does serve an enduring function. The case for accepting the peril and inconvenience develops out of an appreciation for a sense of personal growth. Most of the world see what they perceive as the United States through the eyes, images and newspapers in their local region. Personal interaction between and among tourists and the local gentry often dispel the negative messages that flow from the derogatory critiques that portray America as simply an evil empire.

Ordinary citizens aboard are the best ambassadors possible, when compared to the ugly Americans that are government officials. The insights gained from the experience of tasting a foreign culture, swells the vision of naive parochial innocence and stretches their scope into a worldly sophisticate. The cosmopolitan experience, tempers the provincial hillbilly. What is gained from seeing the world is more valuable than watching a decade of CNN.

Civil liberties and futuristic passports will remain in conflict. Not much will alter the antagonism of the struggle between the individual and the State. However, what usually escapes the debate is that foreigners are not U.S. citizens. They are bound by legitimate restrictions and sensible barriers from universal entry. The balancing act that has always underpinned the trade off for reciprocal travel will continue to frustrate the most ardent proponents of protecting our borders. Unfortunately, none of these types work for the federal government.

Before the benefits of foreign travel can be prudently offered to aliens to visit America, an effective method needs to be put in place to see they use their return ticket. A good way to compare the lifestyles of a different culture is to book a flight on a foreign carrier. If you assume all planes are alike, dare to fly an airline you can’t pronounce. The quality component of your fellow passenger says much about the prospects of your final location. If this is a valid guide, your tour host may be a welcome relief.

The cost of foreign travel has become much more expensive with the sinking of the U.S. Dollar. While this is an observable result of the Free Trade economy, you can gain solace that Boeing will sell more planes, even if they are now number two, behind Airbus. The interdependency that benefits the trans-national corporation, must pass on the fare to the cost of the tourist ticket. However, that need not prevent you from exposing yourself to your continued education, especially when it comes to foreign enterprises!

If you bring back the knowledge that America is indeed, a favored and blessed nation, the trip was well worth the price and discomfort of the journey. Maybe, some may even develop an appreciation that other cultures have something to offer that Americans may well learn from and borrow for themselves. With such an experience the world truly will become smaller, while growing in wisdom.

The enjoyment of travel does not have to resort to Edward Dahlberg’s assessment: “When one realizes that his life is worthless he either commits suicide or travels” or Italo Calvino’s viewpoint: “Traveling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents.” But it should retain an anticipated expectation that, even if the reality of the tour falls short, at least be motivated to take the leap. Thomas Fuller has it right:  “Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse”. Which are you? Travel and test the theory.

SARTRE - December 31, 2003

In America there are two classes of travel -- first class, and with children.

Horace Benchley

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