My last piece documented five reasons why we Americans just travel wrong.
They revealed that: We are addicted to mini-vacations; we travel at the worst times; we take Groundhog Day vacations; we want Champagne vacations on beer prices; and finally, we vacation like we work with lists of things to do. All true enough, and thank you for your mostly supportive comments.
The American travel experience has been reduced to shorter and shorter holidays in hell (aka junk vacations), that include: endlessly standing in lines fearful of the rubber glove treatment, waiting in terminals listening to incessant security announcements, eating over-priced unhealthy foods, being nickel and dimed by ever-changing corporate policies, and shopping. It is a travelers version of Dante's nine circles of hell! But it does not have to be this way.
In my position as an author and the event director of the annual around-the-world travel adventure, The Global Scavenger Hunt, I get asked a lot if there is a right way to travel. There is not. Each of us has to personalize their own travel experience using the Goldilocks' Travel Theory approach -- a trip just right for you -- one not too long/not too short, not too active/not too relaxing, not too predictable/not too foreign, one that stretches you but won't break you. Just right.
Having said that, here are five additional reasons I believe that Americans just travel wrong:
1. Americans adore Love Boat-type cruises. The industry says that 17 million took a cruise in 2012 alone (more than 73 million Americans have taken a cruise!) and cruising continues to be the fastest-growing travel and tourism category. One in four of us consider cruising the most desired type of vacation. Americans really love cruises!
But, answer this cynical question: Is this really traveling? Cruise ship lines have turned travel into nothing more than just another shopping-spree experience aboard a floating hotel. Is a four-hour port visit (aka tourism villages) on a guided prepackaged highly sanitized outing through restored historical districts with processed on-demand culture really seeing the sights and meeting the people? (Don't forget the 50 percent shore excursion mark up!) It is no doubt a lot of hedonistic fun, but is that really traveling? I think not. On a cruise you can go almost anywhere and learn almost nothing from your synthetic settings and manufactured corporate experiences -- except you think you went someplace foreign and got a good deal.
2. Americans love packaged tours. Of the 15.5 million Americans who actually traveled overseas (not Canada or Mexico), 27 percent prefer guided group tours. Good news/bad news: It's only 27 percent -- that means that the glass is still three-quarters full with independent DIY travelers. Still, more than 1 in 4 trips are effortless escorted on-the-bus/off-the-bus types.
Package tours are bundled mass tourism experiences, usually entailing: traveling with fellow fear-obsessed Americans to predictable American brand hotels, eating at prearranged Western-oriented eateries, all while being herded between cultural landmark and heritage destinations. Call it drive-by tourism: no planning necessary, no navigating needed, no dealing with foreigners required; only the consumption of cheap, canned faux experiences with a premium paid for the comforts (and security) of home. Sure, escorted packaged tours can be 40 percent cheaper than DIY independent trips -- but at what cost? Cheap does not equal quality in this mass produced corporate race to the bottom.
3. Americans can't let go. Vacations are about getting away from it all. I assume it all means the job, family and friends, while you rest, relax, recharge your batteries, rejuvenate your soul and let absence make your heart grow fonder, right? Not anymore.
Americans nowadays never really disconnect, and seem more interesting in staying connected with folks back home then connecting face-to-face with folks where they are! A 2013 PGi survey reveals that 82 percent of employees choose to stay connected with work on vacation. Worse, a Harris survey claims that 61 percent of Americans actually work while on vacation! I get it, but at what cost? Then there are all those texts, tweets, Instagrams, Skype video chats and emails during your supposedly downtime, that has turned Americans into e-umbilically tethered 24/7/365 human resources and dilutes any positive vacation effects. Americans nowadays just don't unplug, and our self-imposed bubble takes us far away from the relaxing moment with a message ping and builds a technological wall between us and our hosts. Maybe we're just a tad too connected for our own good?
4. Many Americans suffer Guidebook Personality Disorder/Syndrome. For too many of us, our trusty guidebooks (or apps), be it Frommer's, Fodors, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves or Rough Guides, have become our sacred bibles that offer us step-by-step information on how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, what to do, and secret (shh!) off-the-beaten path hidden gems. Good news/bad news: It is better than a tour or cruise, because you are traveling at your own speed and making some of your own choices; but you end up meeting fellow Americans following the gospel of the same bible you've chosen to all those now dated, worn and tattered hidden gems -- now popular tourist traps. (You don't really think that authentic, hidden off-the-beaten-track gems are published in books, do you?) Don't follow the leader, make your own path.
Utilizing guidebooks, and all the other travel-related information available these days, is insidious. All that data mining leads to consumer paralysis (too many choices and user-comments run amok), and inflates expectations. Indeed, TMI causes us to over pack our expectations, which leads to the Shangri-La Syndrome that only sets us up for disappointment when idealized reality inevitably falls short. Travel is supposed to be about mystery and the excitement of the unknown; surprise, spontaneity and serendipity are better things to pack than the illusive certainty of too much pre-trip knowledge. Many prefer leaving their expectations at home, alone, unpacked, in a dark closet.
5. Maybe Americans just have lousy travel attitudes. The ugly American stereotype is so yesterday: loud, ignorant, money obsessed, aggressive, insincere, too friendly, demanding, oblivious (Stop when you've heard enough!), patronizing, vulgar over-tippers, insensitive, overweight, self-centered, preachy, fashion-challenged complainers. There was a time when the ugly American Brand cliché of Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap, white tennis shoes and shorts, was universally accepted -- those days are long gone.
I think we can all agree that we Americans are a truly exceptional and peculiar bunch; generous and downright amusing in the eyes of many. Yet, continued and infamously cringe-worthy American national characteristic traveling faux pas can still be witnessed. Fact is, our know-it-all superiority complex coming from the "best place in the world," could easily be replaced with humbler traits that exude: empathy, curiosity and being open to other people's ideas. We could actually learn something about how the other 97 percent of the world functions; rather well in some places I might add too!
There you have it: 10 reasons Americans may not be getting the most out of their vacations, travels and adventures. Obviously, travel is exceedingly personal; everything is relative, and everyone travels for different reasons. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach; there are exceptions to every rule. Indeed, there is no right way to travel, but maybe there are a few wrong ways. Or maybe, there are just different ways to travel?