A few weekends ago I spoke at the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show. They had an A-List of interesting travel speakers including Rick Steves, Patricia Schultz of "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" fame, and Brat Pack-era actor-cum-traveler Andrew McCarthy.
My topic was "Taking a Global Adventure: The Do's and Don'ts of Taking that Once-in-a-lifetime Around the World Adventure." The good folks who organize these events around the country thought that I might know a thing or two about the topic as an avid traveler of three decades and due to my position serving as Event Director of the little annual around the world travel adventure competition known as The Global Scavenger Hunt. And of course they were right, as a passionate travel evangelist, I do have a few thoughts on the topic.
What really got my juices flowing however was interacting with literally hundreds of fellow travelers attending the weekend show. It seems apparent to me that discerning travelers have a pent up appetite for glorious travel adventures that go beyond the norm. They have a thirst to do something unique and a deep hunger to add meaning to whatever it is they end up doing.
Then it dawned on me, we members of Homo touristicus (aka traveling man) have evolved over the years and entered a new generation of traveling, a Third Generation that I dubbed Travel 3.0. (The Travel Adventure Show took place in the heart of Silicon Valley so the label seemed apropos!)
The First Generation of Homo touristicus happened when travelers began moving to and fro because they had to; due to trade, to attend family ceremonies, as war refugees, and yes escaping earlier eras of climate change!
The Second Generation of travelers evolved as incomes began to rise and when people started to travel because they could afford to. Their travels were mostly centered on fun and consumption; think Greek spas, the Grand Tours of Europe, the sight-seeing road trips of the 1960's & 70's, taking cruises, and Las Vegas weekends.
Talking with fellow travelers at the show, it seems to me that travelers have out grown and become weary of this empty conspicuous consumption, and have evolved into travelers that manifests itself within what we could call the hyper-tourism industry. I think author and adventurer, Robert Young Pelton, offered this rather insightful observation that might ring true: "The more civilized a society is, the more outrageous their adventures." Indeed, many of us have succumbed to this approach to travel, whose stages include:
Experience Junkies who move toward the Been there, Done that, What's next? Syndrome of list travel. Many of us pass through this period innocently enough as novice travelers. We gain status and a reputation among family, friends, and other would-be travelers, as we temple-hop, bar-hop, culture-hop, happening-hop, and country-hop our way around the world. We always seem to be in the right place at the right time; from Mardis Gras to the Running of the Bulls, from hanging in Beach-like off-the-beaten-path hidden gems to wherever the latest solar eclipse might be occurring. We're there.
Adrenaline Junkies are also found among this modern Second Generation genus of traveler. Again, we all know the type, and many of us pass through it at some point in our lives—usually when we are either too young to know better or fighting off a nasty bout of mid-life crisis. Adrenaline junkies usually seek out testosterone-induced and wholly fabricated dangers just to feel alive or gain street-cred among other like-minded travelers by visiting hot zones or war-torn regions; or are out climbing, surfing, boarding, hiking, or running the remotest, highest, fastest, deepest, craziest destinations of the world. It is all about them and their ego-gratification; and where they actually travel to seems secondary. (Maybe we should call it Post-Travel Tourism?)
Finally you have the Country Counters among us whose lone goal seems to be nothing more than checking off boxes on a list. As billionaires keep accumulating obscenely unspendable sums in order to keep track of who's who in their small world pecking order—so do Country Counters! Can we really call a toe-touching moment at an airport of one of the lesser Papua New Guinea islands a country you really visited? Is it really important to be the first person to visit South Sudan—for two hours?
Again, for the most part—and yes I personally know many wonderful and exceptional travelers who fit these travel-types today yet have somehow transcended these rather vulgar and vacuous definitions—the fact is that for all these travel approach types, the actual travel per se doesn't really matter to them; for they could just as easily accomplish their great feats in Cleveland, Sacramento or Phoenix. (Not that there is anything particularly wrong with Cleveland, Sacramento or Phoenix!)
As we all know, human ambition always requires new frontiers, what if's and challenges; and by the early 21st century it seems to me that discerning travelers have evolved into a new way of traveling—the Third Generation of travelers and Travel 3.0.
Travel 3.0 can be simply summed up in three words: authentic, challenging and participatory! What does that mean?
It means that instead of being sequestered in comfortable digs at resort hotels and tour buses away from the local and indigenous people you are visiting, that the Travel 3.0 raison d'être is to actually get you out of your comfort zone and engage in authentic, challenging and participatory travel experiences. Your traveling experience becomes all about finding the heart of a destination and having more intimate one-on-one encounters. It means aiming for a real cultural immersion. It also means attempting to feel more alive and connected with fellow human beings. It means traveling independently while testing both your strengths and weaknesses. About actively participating, about doing. Fundamentally, Travel 3.0 it is about learning and growing empathy and understanding about the world in which we live and travel! It demands that you trade your relaxation breaks for mind-expanding breaks.
On the flip side, it also means avoiding buying into those one-size fits-all travel experiences and pre-packaged tour-like products that leave nothing to chance. Travel 3.0 is radically different. It is about allowing serendipity in. It means that instead of just passively sight-seeing, that travel becomes more hands-on in highly participatory site-doing experiences. It calls on travelers to make good use of their own travel savvy, situational awareness and cumulative Travel IQ, to overcome the kismet of the moment—be they logistic challenges, language barriers or cultural differences—while being outside their safe comfort zones and autopilot default assumptions transcending your own limitations in extraordinary environments. In essence this all occurs by meeting people and turning strangers into friends. Trusting strangers in strange lands is a good motto for Travel 3.0 and maybe making friends in exotic destinations ought to be everyone's new travel metric, instead of country counting or fueling adrenaline fixes?
I have personally witnessed the evolution towards the Travel 3.0 attitude over the last decade while serving as the Event Director of The Global Scavenger Hunt. We noticed that travelers participating in our adventure seemed more alive, engaged, positive and creative...especially when they were in what could obviously be called the flow, Maslow's zone, or what we know as that peak mental state that occurs when travelers personal experiences are amplified. Maybe we could call it a type of travel rapture? It occurs with a feeling of being truly alive, running on all cylinders and being in the moment fully connected and fulfilled. It seemed to me that the magic of travel occurs when you immerse yourself wholly and freely into highly participatory, authentic and challenging experiences. In fact we have found that our travel adventure seemed to have turned into a full-contact sport somewhere along the way, but more of the mind and soul than of the body. Hence Travel 3.0.
Again I believe that travelers approaching the Travel 3.0 attitude could be really just unconsciously attempting to regain authenticity in their travels in the Age of Reality TV…which we know is rather inauthentic. You could call it a rebellion, a backlash maybe, but I think the essence of it is just that travelers are simply trying to get REAL and are looking for: Rewarding experiences, Enriching experiences, Adventurous experiences and Learning experiences.
How do we go about finding and taking REAL adventures? Here's what I think:
First you have to work at avoiding or letting the Guidebook Personality Disorder overtake you. That means going to the same hotels, same cafes, same bars and restaurants, same shops and tourist sites and do the same activities as everyone else who's read the guidebook that you read. You have to trade certainty for serendipity. It means getting away from the one-size-fits-all corporate travel approach of canned inauthentic experiences and developing what is known as your O-Factor—openness to new experience. It means confidently getting off-the-beaten path and finding and trying new pleasing destinations beyond the never-ending fashionable "latest, hottest it" places hyped in travel porn magazines or by Mad Men-like PR marketers. (Which are really one and the same!) You need to know that experience trumps destinations. And it means that you the traveler need to leave your expectations at home...alone unpacked and locked in a dark closet.That means that engagement matters more than comfort. It also means not setting yourself up for disappointment but rather setting yourself up for whatever happens.
Travel 3.0 also means that you should follow The Way of the Contrarian Traveler in knowing that travel is NOT just recreational escapism, fun-in-the-sun hedonism, gambling, duty-free shopping and acquiring more Frequent Flyer miles. You need to become an independent and thoughtful traveler—a conscious traveler. You need to lose your fear of the unknown and be willing to get lost visiting unlikely and maybe even unhip destinations. You need to be willing to zag when the conventional wisdom of the herd are zigging. It means taking calculated and reasonable personal risks knowing that the reward dynamic and emotional payoffs will be far greater and richer for you. Finally, you need to understand that no matter how bad the experience or destination, that every destination is worth at least one visit—even if it’s just to know that you never need to go back!
That age-old adage that "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!" seems true enough, and the Travel 3.0 approach might just be the newest incarnation of Homo touristicus. And as Mark Twain said wisely long ago, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than the ones you did do!"...so Just do it! There are NO excuses.