Thomas Swick on the true meaning of travel

“Today, I think of travel as anything that extends one’s realm of experience or expands one’s lexicon of acquired convictions — and occurs beyond the backyard (thus distinguishing it from reading). It is a moment that comes when we are out of our element and allows us to see, or feel, or think, anew. I grow weary of people who declare that travel is dead, who complain about McDonald’s in Paris and go off to Namibia in order to avoid being a tourist. It’s like saying experience is finite. Yet, if you go to the McDonald’s and meet some locals, maybe wrangle a tour of the city or an invitation for coffee, you’re more of a traveler than those who fly into Windhoek and book a group safari. A vivid, childhood travel moment for me was visiting the home of a friend who lived, not as I did in a leafy suburban development, but on a narrow street of modest row houses a block back from South Main. As we walked through the living room, his father put down the evening paper and told his younger brother, who was sprawled on the floor struggling with his homework, ‘Spelling is bullshit.’ The language, and the sentiment, were so alien to everything I associated with parental guidance and middle-class home life that I felt as if I were in a foreign land. And I was; and it was exhilarating.”
–Thomas Swick, A Way to See the World (2003)

Note: Thomas Swick, who I interviewed at late last year, is in my opinion one of the best travel writer-editors in America. He edits the travel section of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and his second book, A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler was released this month by the Lyons Press.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | September 22, 2003
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

One Response to “Thomas Swick on the true meaning of travel”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    The fact of the matter is that one of the main wellsprings of travel motivation is the ambition to achieve a certain kind of distinction. To go where few have gone, to see what few have seen, to brave what few have braved, to have done what few have done.

    This ambition animated many of the boldest exploreres, and I would bet that those people whose spiritual attitudes towards travel are nourisehd by stories of exploration and adventure are most suseptible to this kind of motive.

    I notice a consistent tendencey on the part of many people to deride this motive in favor of personally meaningful experinces, but I think this is misguided.

    We should recognize that travel is a complex phenomena motivated by a plethora of factors, and traditonally one of the most powerful spiritual incentives for travel has been this desire to achieve a kind of personal distinction. Yes, an encounter at the McDonalds can be enriching and full of insight, but this kind of experience simply isn’t an adequate substitue for the kind of experience sought in other ways. As an additional element of travel, yes, by all means. Indisputably. But to suggest that it is an adequate spiritual substitute for the desire and need to feel oneself in a a strange and hard to reach place that few have been to is to miss the point, in my view, and to not understand the multifarious psychology of travel; or at best to understant only one aspect of travel motivation.

    But I think this consistent tendency in the travel literature to denigrate this desire for distinction in travel is misguided and quite missed the point.