I was walking through the local bookstore the other day when I stopped to look at the 2011 calendars. I have always loved calendars, particularly travel related ones of course. As I looked through the scores of options, a recurring theme popped out – many of these calendars were of places one would call paradise; white sandy beaches, swaying palms trees and crystal clear waters. It made me wonder why these places were called paradise.
For whatever reason, most people have a clear definition of how they interpret paradise, and tropical locales almost always are the mental images generated. Leaving aside religious definitions, paradise is defined as a place of ideal beauty or loveliness. That makes sense, the Seychelles or Fiji absolutely conform to this ideal, but so do areas much closer to home. From a purely North American perspective, there are areas throughout the continent that match this definition. Why is it then that far flung tropical locales have completely usurped the popular idea of paradise?
To answer this one has to look past the primary definition of paradise and instead focus almost exclusively on its secondary definition which calls paradise a state of delight. Put another way, paradise is the feeling we enjoy when in a state of utter contentment and happiness. Once again though, these places can be found anywhere and not just in the middle of the Caribbean or South Pacific.
In an earlier post, Warning: There is No Such Thing as a Dream Trip, I wrote about the fact that few Americans travel, especially internationally. They elevate the concept of a dream vacation into an epic trip with standards that can never be met. Hence, they are setting themselves up for failure and it is this concept of a dream trip that actually stops them from traveling more often. They don’t want to take an overseas trip unless it’s done “right“. The same thing goes for paradise.
Most people in the U.S. will never go to the Maldives, Seychelles or even Tahiti. They just won’t. Instead, they work and save and embark on trips that are more manageable for them, which is great. But just because most people won’t travel to these remote spots of tropical perfection doesn’t mean that they don’t play an important part in their emotional lives.
I work a 9-5 job, I only get 2-3 weeks of vacation a year, I have a car, mortgage, dogs, etc. I understand the fact that the average person cannot travel the world at a drop of a hat and instead spend years sometimes planning a relaxing vacation, if they are able to at all. Just as I identified problems with people imagining their dream trip, I think there are just as many problems with people identifying specific places as paradise.
The mission of LandLopers is to help people travel more often, more comfortably and more affordably. To do this, I try to highlight as many destinations as possible and offer practical tips to help people get on the road. It doesn’t have to be a photo safari in Kenya or a a spiritual journey through Nepal, but I do firmly believe in the physical and psychological benefits of travel – any travel. Creating the impression that certain locations in the world are the epitome of leisure, relaxation or adventure does a tremendous disservice to individual travelers. Yes, I am sure Tahiti is fabulous and gorgeous and a lot of fun, but so are the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Gulf Coast and the Blue Ridge mountains; you see where I’m going with this.
I’m not saying people should take down these calendars or change their screensavers, but I don’t want these now iconic image of paradise to be limiting. Just because a trip is easy or not very expensive does not mean that it’s not a wonderful experience. I can fly down to the Bahamas and stay for a week without spending very much money. It is an excellent example of a relaxing travel destination that is easy to take (for me) while being very affordable. No I didn’t take a private helicopter to an isolated bungalow on a remote atoll, but my enjoyment was just as great, if not greater, than pursuing one of the screensaver images.
Travel porn is great, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE looking at pictures of remote locations or places I’ve always wanted to visit. Rather than think I’ll never visit these places though I instantly start thinking of creative ways to make these trips happen without spending a fortune. I absolutely guarantee you that I will one day visit Moorea, Papeete and Marquesas, but it won’t be on a $25,000 mega-trip, it’ll be on my own terms. To make these trips happen I set priorities, budgets and over time I make these experiences a reality.
More than anything else, I hope more people decide to make this commitment to themselves and plan trips to capture their own personal version of paradise. Harkening back to the secondary definition of paradise, what we gain personally from finding that place of delight and contentment is ultimately the real benefit of travel.