As World Tourism Day approaches, yes there is a designated day a year to celebrate tourism! it might be the right time to consider the other side of tourism. Mass tourism, travel in general, and being mobile are often considered as a vehicle towards enlightenment, an educational experience, or as an activity which can 'open our minds'. Yet, after this summer's holiday I arrived home feeling tired, jet-lagged and slightly depressed after missing a big family reunion. We all know that pre-trip, trip, and post-trip stages of travelling can be stressful; deciding where to go, how to get around, safety concerns in the destination and seeing the credit card bill awaiting our arrival on the doorstep. And yet, travel has become glamorized, it is a way of life; even something we do without really thinking about it.
Tourism researchers have long been aware of this, the activity has been described as a kind of opiate which keeps us addicted and yet numbs us to other goings on. Tourism becomes part of a marginalising illusion within consumer society. As a child we are led to believe the tourism mythology, propaganda perhaps starting with the reading of the classics, for example Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne who believes travel:
"enables us to enrich our lives with new experiences, to enjoy and to be educated, to learn to respect foreign cultures, to establish friendships, and above all to contribute to international cooperation and peace throughout the world."
Throughout the adolescent years this idea is built on by stories of far flung travels and movies that compel the belief that love can be found in Bali, as Julia Roberts proves in Eat, Pray, Love. However, there is another side to travel, one which we often push to the back of our consciousness, one which has been the focus of a recent review.
The negative consequences of hypermobility can also apply to those who are perhaps not hyper mobile, but mobile none the less. These consequences can be seen on our bodies and minds, and in our loved ones eyes. Jet lag leaves us tired and grumpy, but it also has a much more profound effect on ageing and our chance of a stroke or heart attack. Then there are the dry eyes and skin of the long-haul flight, which sees one in ten of us develop symptomless deep vein thrombosis. Perhaps less known is our risk of developing cancer due to radiation exposure, yes aircrew are in fact exposed to more radiation that nuclear power workers.
On holiday we also tend to eat a little too much, sleep a little too little, and drink a little too much (and I don't mean orange juice). The friends we meet when travelling are often what was described in Fight Club as single serving, leaving us lonely as the friends we have at home move on during our long absences or do not understand us when we touch base. In fact the more mobile among us may suffer extreme mental illness related to issues of identity and at the family level it can seriously harm our offspring. Partners, all too often female, are left at home in charge of both parents' parental and domestic duties, or mothers who do travel frequently feel the pressure of trying to fulfil the mum role from a distance.
Having said all of this, there must be something that keeps us moving more and more every year. Whilst, I am still recovering from this year's trip, I also can't help but let my mind drift to next year's holiday planning as the clouds fight their way back into my view from the office window. I too am a tourist and perhaps optimistic in the belief that maybe one day tourism will arrive at Jules Vernes's ideological description.