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Why We Travel

Having recently passed the unofficial close of summer in a year characterized by uncertainty, “20/20” vision has turned into something of an anomaly.

But there’s always a silver lining, and from health care and education to work and travel, broken systems and age-old models are finally taking a good look in the mirror to see what’s ugly and what works. Innovation, after all, is borne out of chaos — a re-evaluation of purpose and principle. It was in 14th century Italy, ravaged by the Bubonic Plague, that the Renaissance followed.

With that in mind, how can something we hold so dear to our hearts such as travel, be re-imagined in a post Covid world?

Are Venice’s polluted canals and Barcelona’s suffocated Ramblas metrics indicating that tourism has healthily returned? And to what extent has globalization’s ease eclipsed the deeper reasons of why we travel: the delight of otherness; the surprise in spontaneity; the unanticipated human connection.

As the world buckles under our current plague I reconsider why we travel in the first place and how these values - curating meaningful connection, promoting sense of place and celebrating nuance - can be brought forward when travel re-emerges.

Getting back to the Ramblas for a moment: in July 2017 a mega cruise liner dropped upwards of 60,000 guests in Barcelona. Nearly all beelined for Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s famed tree-lined artery, where sangria and castanets (neither of which are Catalan) satiated their wallets and curiosity. While mass tourism, like globalization, cannot be reversed, I lament the direction in which packaged tours, hop-on hop-off buses, downloadable experience apps and quick-fixes have curtailed curiosity, shrunk comfort zones and diluted bucket lists. The result is an amalgamation of prêt-à-porter tourism, forgettable meals and a dependence on third party platforms where top-rated user experiences are peppered among paid ads.

In a recent interview in Monocle, Value Retail CEO Scott Malkin said “great experience online cannot deliver the emotion, gratification and satisfaction of the physical, memorable, on the ground, in-person experience. The human qualities, the touch, when delivered well, will surprise and delight.

Where Malkin compares online shopping to the experience of physical retail, the principle remains: the joy of human connection and the power of nuance are irreplaceable.

While a post-Covid world will undoubtedly move more online, there is one sector that must double-down on human connection, and that is travel.

As travelers’ behavior evolves, placing higher value on open spaces, greater privacy and increased safety, this shift presents key opportunities for the travel industry to evolve in turn and create thoughtful proposals which encourage novel synergies: facilitating a deeper appreciation of the culture and gastronomy of rural areas; meeting and supporting artisan producers in situ; learning about a region's diversity and sustainability; or dining on the terroir where one’s favorite wine is grown.

It is only when we take ourselves off the beaten path that true surprise, delight and nuance can appear.

In rethinking why, we can also enrich how we travel, and return home all the better for it.

Jonathan Lerner is the founder of Tailored Tours, a creative travel studio which curates cultural and gastronomic experiences in Spain and across Europe.

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