The slow food movement, born out of Italy, centers itself around the idea of fulfillment and enjoyment through eating. The movement encourages family dinners and home cooked meals – to converse, to interact, to connect with people through food. This intimate, cultural tradition that brings people together is an art that is slowly dying. Similarly, the practice of yoga urges us to be present during our class, to leave the worries of the past and the stress over the future at the door and to be present in your practice. To feel the moment, to connect to your breathe, your body and your mind.
It seems as though the world of travel and the growing industry surrounding it is changing just as fast as the new iPhone is being revealed. During a recent Women’s Travel Conference in New Orleans, an overarching theme was remaining relevant and staying up-to-date with new trends. I was rather dizzied by the talks of increasing Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat followers – tips on taking appropriate “candid selfies” in exotic places and the proper equipment to accomplish it. In another segment of the conference, I felt myself overwhelmingly inspired by a discussion on travel writing and most specifically, the travel essay. These rich, descriptive, in-depth experiences written from the narrator’s perspective brings the reader into the experience. Through the narrator’s account you taste the pasta in Italy, you feel the cold air on your face climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, you hug the children at the local school in China, you laugh with the man selling you a papaya in Honduras.
Habitually surveying the world through viewfinders, we forget that a journey is more than sights; it’s conversations, emotion, intellectual stimulation, and physical sensation. It’s scents and sounds and sweat and spices and sunshine – Lavinia Spalding, “Writing Away”
Up until fifteen to twenty years ago the travel essay was, undoubtedly, the traveler’s way to share the world with others, through detailed descriptions lived through human-to-human interaction. The travel essay seems to be a dying art as flashy apps and social media takes the spotlight. Now, everyone is a photographer and videographer and it seems to be shaping up to be a rather lucrative industry. But with iPhones becoming extensions of our hands, at what point do we begin to disconnect from the experience? Are social platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and the many apps yet to hit the industry helping us to share the world with others or, are they pulling us away from those human interactions? If the end result is to get the best picture or video to gain traction and popularity on social media, are we still talking to the locals, listening to the music at the concert, tasting the wine, feeling the wind on our face – are we being present in our travels? If what you’re experiencing can’t be photographed, recorded and shared through social media, is it as valuable to you? If you are invited to a wedding an India and it is disrespectful to take photos or videos, is it as valuable to you as a professional traveler?
Like all movements dedicated to slowing down, I urge professional travelers to remember to practice present travel – to connect with our experience and disconnect from our devices. I think all of us in the travel industry can agree that one of the most important things we can share about our experiences around the world are through our connections and interactions with real people. But if we become an industry that disconnects from the moment after the most attractive photo or video is achieved, so that we can instantly post on Snapchat or edit for Instagram, we are missing the rest of the human interaction.
While it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to ignore technology entirely while on the road, we can’t allow it to preoccupy us, or we’ll end up tethered in a way that contradicts the essence of travel…we shouldn’t trade in a physical experience for one that’s technologically produced – Lavinia Spalding, “Writing Away”
Photos are vital part of everyone’s travel experience and by no means is this a rally cry to put away our cameras, but rather, to give equal time to both capturing moments through a lens and being present in the experience, because at the end of the day, a photo doesn’t share what we tasted, smelled, saw, listened to, touched – it’s us, human beings, that do that. As ambassadors and citizens of the world, remember that it is our job as travel experts to share stories and personal accounts, to break stereotypes and to adapt cultural perceptions.