Traveling is exciting. Traveling is a unique experience. Travel means broadening your horizon and lets you grow more mature. Really? Forget about it! Once upon a time, maybe, traveling was an exciting, unique experience. Today, traveling is an absolutely boring, ordinary and everyday activity, following pre-defined rules and routines.
The journey begins with the booking of flights. The variety of available airlines is great, the prices vary according to season and provider, but also by day of week and time of day. It is worth comparing. Does the airline of your choice offer vegan, lactose-free or kosher meals? Are there any free alcoholic drinks on board? How much legroom is there in row seven? How is the service at the check-in counter, what are the uniforms of the stewardesses? How many aviation incidents are linked to the specific airline?
It is the internet’s fault.
You will find answers to all these questions on the internet. It is nothing more than hard luck having to wait for 8 hours in your plane on the airfield without being able to leave your seats due to security reasons. And never mind how snow and ice regularly hinder travelers and let airports close down in the wintertime. The unexpected is still different. The internet and its wide range of information have not only made travel easier, they also took away the fun.
The hotel booked in Brussels, London, Paris, or Sydney via smartphone is pretty much as expected, and as photographed, rated and commented on by thousands of previous visitors; the square outside the hotel looks familiar at first glance, because you have already seen it a million times, brought into your living room via webcam live stream. In real, the Eiffel Tower looks just like on the numerous Google photos, smaller perhaps, and a bit less glamorous; the Taj Mahal can be visited on a virtual tour – and those who get there via internet can actually see more than visitors on site, as closed and restricted areas are shown as well. Churches and museums of small villages represent themselves on the internet, if not by virtual tours then at least by offering 360 degree views. Is it still necessary to actually travel?
The experience of the alien gets flattened.
The described phenomenon is what sociologists call selectively standardized perception, and travelers are exposed to it since the beginning of mass tourism at the latest. It involves the risk to flatten the experience of the alien. The internet and the infinite variety of information it offers, strengthens its impact. Selectively standardized perception means that the perception of the tourist is determined by his expectations. In other words, you only see what you want to see – or what you think you need to see to underpin a certain assumption – which leaves no space for genuine, unbiased experience.
What remains of the trip? Photos that show the same motives as those already seen a thousand times. Reviews that always follow the same pattern, evocative of the criticism of the previous speaker: Good accommodation, but noisy environment; hotel in a bad state but very central. Your advice to friends, as on how the destination ought to be handled. Nice, but blurred memories of being away from home. The pleasure to be back.
Travel is routine. Travel is everyday life.
Should we leave our smartphones behind the next time we travel?