To Travel Or Not to Travel ...

This article is concerned with traveling (Hersberger 2017). It seems the article is primarily focuses on traveling for pleasure, and the fundamental question is raises is whether we travel to something (which we all believe we do as well as state publicly), or whether we travel to get away from something (which appears to be what this article holds many among us secretly do). The article is right on, very valid, and helpful. I cannot help thinking, though, that the fact that the writer is American to a large extent colors his experiences and views. I am Norwegian, and chances are I am met and included in a different way than an American is.

I am not a travel writer but has still, in the course of my job, traveled to 60 plus countries and lived in several of these countries for extended periods of time. As an anthropologist you learn (partly as a student and for the rest on the job) how to relate to local people wherever you encounter them. What have I learned? On this I subscribe to the final quote in the article, that travel makes one wiser but not necessarily happier.

The problem with this piece is that very few of those that it is addressed to will ever read it. More frustrating, though, is that those few that do read it are likely to conclude - implicitly if not explicitly - that it applies not to them but to all the others. The distinction made in Hersberger (2017) between "traveler" and "tourism" is so vague that it doesn't mean much. Everybody wants to be travelers. Nobody wants to be tourists. Which means we all want to make our own faults while traveling, and do not want to learn from others. This means, furthermore, that many travelers are sadly rather superficial tourists that may become wiser, but if so also less happy. The film "The Beach", or the novel by the same name, tells a story of how tourism (or traveling) can become negative, even destructive.

Finally, somebody should address the carbon footprint of the exponentially growing travel industry. It is anything but sustainable, for the environment and for the more (or less) exotic cultures that we dream of traveling to, and that we are told are pristine, untouched, and unspoilt, meaning both the culture and the environment.

Lars T Soeftestad

(1) Adapted from an exchange on Facebook in April 2018,
(2) Image credit: Hersberger (2017).

(3) Relevant Devblog articles: "Mass Tourism: Experience and Alienation" at: | "Appropriation of Indigenous Cultural Property" at: | "Traveling Through Cultures" at:
(4) Permalink, URL:
(5) This article was published 16 April 2018. It was revised 11 November 2020.

Hersberger, Matt, 2017. "We Need to Stop Pretending Travel Will Fix All of Our Problems" at: (accessed 16 April 2018.)