I’m scared every time I step outside my door.
There’s a lot out there in the world, and most of it is unfamiliar and unknown. Even that thing I was so sure of yesterday isn’t the same today.
Stepping out is also the most exciting thing for me: to take a left when I normally take a right. To say “hi” or ask a question of a stranger when I normally look down or avoid eye contact. To go.
When we venture a bit too far from the front door, there’s a varying degree of fear. Even if it’s in your own city, there’s the chance of not understanding a different culture or language, getting lost, sticking out, getting hurt.
But when we venture outside of our city, like way outside, New York to France or California to Thailand, a majority of Americans opt for protection and safety. It’s more than physical safety; it’s emotional safety of making sure that what happens is very planned and very familiar to home.
It’s the hotel with ultra-white sheets and a vague sense of a corporate cubicle. It’s sightseeing and taking a picture in front of that monument you’ve seen a thousand times in advertisements and movies. Or it’s cruises that sail the seas where no locals could ever reach you. We get close enough to the abroad attractions that we can snap a photo but far enough away from what’s actually going on in the place to stay safe.
Like with sports, your experience depends on where you are participating from: watching it on TV from your couch, seeing it in a stadium, or actually playing in the game. In travel, we scroll through Instagram and see scenes from way far out, but most people stop at the sidelines of where they traveled thousands of miles to visit a place.
I believe most travelers, especially those interested in other cultures, want to engage with the people and places that they are visiting, but we are scared.
Design Challenge: How might we connect travelers more meaningfully with the places and people they visit abroad?
We connect with people, places, and things through our sensors – hands, mouth, ears, eyes, body, mind.
The prevailing cultural tour heavily prefers the eyes (or sight), and it comes in the form of the sightseeing tour. Sight makes sense because it’s easy. With brochures (and increasingly websites) being the primary medium, photography is heavily leaned on. Tour companies have found success using symbols of cultural achievements to promote their trips. Usually communicated through architectural feats like the Eiffel Tour, Pyramids of Giza, or the Great Wall of China. If it’s people, it’s traditional costume: lederhosen, Khmer dance, hula skirts.
And when abroad, the travelers want to see what they’ve bought in to. Get in line to kiss the Blarney Stone and get your picture. Snap a shot with the young dancers after the performance. Value is attached to these objects – both people and places – and by consuming them (visiting and taking photos), we take that value home with us. A worthwhile purchase.
This thin film painted over a country is a mirage upheld by the tourism industry on both sides. It’s a shallow experience.
I want something deeper, and I think others want that too. The richness of a country and its heart isn’t always pretty or easy to photograph. And it’s often not through sight that we uncover and connect with lands outside of our home.
Nature & Land
Experiences like walking down back alleys, hiking through a forest, biking along country roads. It’s through movement and physical activity that our senses are ignited. The heat of the day, the smalls of the farm, the climb up to the hillside village.
The nature of the world is also seen through spiritual understanding. Concepts of life on earth seen through temples and churches, practice and customs of a people.
People & Livelihood
As a basic ingredient of life, food connects people with each other and with the cultural livelihood of a place. We can grow / raise / catch, cook, and share a meal – and each piece can be an experience that connects travelers with the place, learning by following their gut to new regions.
Whether it’s gathering around a white-linen table or eating on the ground with your hands, food can be the medium where we share – not only the meal but also our stories, dreams, and laughter.