02/04/2011 02:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Promoting Productive Travel

The earliest travelers were likely to be religious pilgrims whose journeys were rooted in a trial of faith and moral significance. Christian pilgrims in Europe walked hundreds of miles on the Camino di Santiago and Tibetan pilgrims have circumambulated Mount Kailash for thousands of years. By the 17th century, European nobility and gentry began a new sort of travel. These young women and men embarked on The Grand Tour where they had the opportunity to study architecture, art, language, culture and cuisine throughout Europe and her neighbors.

Industrialization and modernity have democratized travel and tourism so that those of us from average means have access to the larger world. The way we travel today certainly has its roots in early travel and many of us still travel for religious or cultural pilgrimages, or for learning and scholarship, but many more of us simply travel to consume.

Yet even in consumptive travel, I believe that our motivations rest deeper than the desire for Niagara Falls key chains, Disney World t-shirts, and other brightly colored tchotchkes. What hunger is this consumer-oriented travel trying to quell? I think it is that the answer, in part, lies in the modern relationship between vacation and work.

Modern work and modern vacation grew out of the same seed, twins born from the industrialization of the workforce. Vacations, and tourism, became meaningful because they were a break from work, a respite from the daily grind. By the early 1900s doctors and ministers both encouraged vacation as a way to promote health and well being for workers. Others appreciated this because rest made better workers. These better workers would then be better producers of consumable goods and would then, in turn, be better consumers. It should come as no surprise that vacation emerged as the (consumptive) crown jewel for haggard workers.

Industrialization and the urbanization that accompanied it meant that people in the U.S. were slowly migrating away from their rural communities, which were the home of meaningful craft, connection with the environment, and creative spirit. The march to modernity has sent us head first into the arms of mindless production and consumption. Many of us are now asking questions about what a more productive life might look like, and as someone engaged in that conversation, I am also interested in asking what a productive vacation would look like.

In answering this question, I've borrowed ideas from tourism across time, from The Grand Tour, from early industrialized travel, from eco-tourism, and from some of my own research and thinking on travel. Here are the 6 criteria to consider when planning productive vacations.

  • Educate travelers and travel providers to make positive contributions to the communities we travel to and regenerative choices for local environments.
  • Promote standards that account for our impact as travelers and travel providers.
  • Tread lightly by investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon offsetting.
  • Empower community to understand the choices associated with travel and tourism so that they can best use tourism to promote sustainable development
  • Connect, participate and give back to communities because as travelers and travel providers we have the ability to strengthen and make lasting connections to the places we travel.
  • Have fun! All of this can add up to enlightening, educational and fun travel.

Travel and tourism have changed over time and will continue to do so. These guidelines are a work in progress and will undoubtedly morph in response to ever-changing understandings of consumerism, travel, environmentalism, and community connection. I'd love to hear your ideas on how you're changing your vacations to be more productive, connected and fun.

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