Why do peo­ple travel ?

Anal­y­sis by the so­ci­ol­o­gist Jean-Di­dier Ur­bain

Milk Magazine (English) - - CONTENTS - Text: Aman­dine Grosse

In your book L’En­vie du Monde, you de­scribe the four dif­fer­ent rea­sons peo­ple have for trav­el­ling. What are they and what cat­e­gory do fam­ily hol­i­days fall into?

This four-way ty­pol­ogy, which I also used in my book Une his­toire éro­tique du voy­age, refers, in turn, to the fol­low­ing four de­sires. The call of the desert: the yearn­ing for empti­ness (un­in­hab­ited, open spa­ces), soli­tude ei­ther in­di­vid­ual or, at a pinch, shared with one other per­son. Ceno­bitism: the yearn­ing for empti­ness, for col­lec­tive soli­tude (in small groups or with the fam­ily, as in hol­i­day camps or sec­ond homes). Social ap­peal: the de­sire to live life to the full, to be among the crowd, a like-minded, open, large com­mu­nity (at fes­ti­vals or the beach). And, lastly, the al­tru­is­tic dream: the yearn­ing for the Other, not the un­known, but some­thing strange and ex­otic. Fam­ily travel is a form of ceno­bitism in mo­tion which may, de­pend­ing on cir­cum­stance and mood, blend into like-minded com­mu­ni­ties, crowds or oth­er­ness. But it may also re­main iso­lated, in the desert, soli­tary or au­tar­kic.

Why do peo­ple travel with the fam­ily?

Fam­ily travel was once a form of fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion. His­tor­i­cally, this type of travel was gov­erned by one’s roots and at­tach­ments: go­ing on hol­i­day meant re­turn­ing to one’s place of birth, to one’s ori­gins. Eco­nomic rea­sons also played a role: go­ing home to one’s fam­ily im­plied be­ing given help and ac­com­mo­da­tion. We are now wit­ness­ing the rein­ven­tion of this strat­egy. Multi­gen­er­a­tional travel in­clud­ing chil­dren, par­ents and grand­par­ents is thriv­ing. Fam­ily sol­i­dar­ity is com­ing into play. Travel costs are shared and, in a way, “spon­sored” by grand­par­ents. For ex­am­ple, young peo­ple may pro­vide trans­port for older mem­bers of the fam­ily, while grand­par­ents can help out, of­fer guid­ance and fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Has the idea of trav­el­ling with the fam­ily for plea­sure al­ways ex­isted?

No. The very idea of fam­ily travel is not some­thing to be taken for granted. In the late 19th cen­tury, Freud jot­ted down notes on the jour­neys he made. At the time, he trav­elled with­out his wife. Trav­el­ling did not re­ally in­volve be­ing with the fam­ily. As for the idea of trav­el­ling for plea­sure, well, that’s quite re­cent. The aes­theti­ci­sa­tion of land­scape came late. Peo­ple only be­gan to find the moun­tains beau­ti­ful from the 17th cen­tury on­wards… After World War II, trav­el­ling with the fam­ily be­came more pop­u­lar largely as a re­sult of the in­tro­duc­tion of paid hol­i­days for work­ers. The sum­mer rush to the coast only re­ally de­vel­oped in the 1960s. French hol­i­day­mak­ers headed to the sun, to Spain, to the sea­side. Th­ese were hol­i­days where the fam­ily stayed in one re­sort, not ex­ploratory or dis­cov­ery trips. There were no al­ter­na­tives for em­ploy­ees in the 1950s. When they were able to go away, they went with the fam­ily once a year. It was known as the “French model”. Ninety-five per cent of the time, peo­ple went on hol­i­day for as long as pos­si­ble in July or Au­gust. Nowa­days, fam­ily hol­i­days are a dif­fer­ent thing al­to­gether. Leisure trips have mush­roomed. The num­ber of trips peo­ple make to big ci­ties is thought to av­er­age be­tween five and six per year. Short breaks have tri­umphed over long stays. Peo­ple pre­fer to en­joy sev­eral short get­aways than to travel just once for much longer – ex­cept when it’s a case of a long-term fam­ily trip to a dis­tant coun­try. Leisure trips are far less con­ven­tional than be­fore. Peo­ple no longer feel obliged to go away on hol­i­day at the same time as ev­ery­one else. Some even pre­fer not to go away for sev­eral years so

Tourism is one of French so­ci­ol­o­gist and eth­nol­o­gist Jean-Di­dier Ur­bain’s pre­ferred sub­jects. In­ter­view.

that they can even­tu­ally make THE trip-of-a-life­time. This is a trend greatly in­flu­enced by the In­ter­net. One can now act as one’s own travel agent and plan a jour­ney with­out the help of a pro­fes­sional.

True. We’ve met par­ents who plan real ex­pe­di­tions across the globe with their chil­dren. Is this new?

Where ex­ploratory or dis­cov­ery trips are con­cerned, peo­ple cer­tainly travel with the fam­ily more fre­quently. While some trips sim­ply in­volve re­lo­cat­ing one’s seden­tary life­style, ex­chang­ing one place for an­other for the space of a hol­i­day, as a rule in the coun­try­side or by the sea, the phe­nom­e­non of glo­be­trot­ters trav­el­ling with their chil­dren has also emerged. This does, how­ever, re­main an ex­cep­tion. Par­ents go­ing to Peru with their young chil­dren are not le­gion. It’s a ques­tion of means, cul­ture, and prob­a­bly also one of gen­er­a­tion. Young ex­ec­u­tives with high pur­chas­ing power want to keep on trav­el­ling even with their chil­dren; they don’t want to stop mov­ing around when they be­come par­ents. There are also fam­i­lies who spend a whole year on a boat, some­times sailing to the un­like­li­est of places, but this type of ini­tia­tive re­mains rel­a­tively mar­ginal.

Trav­el­ling with the fam­ily, plan­ning an itin­er­ary and em­bark­ing on an am­bi­tious pro­ject seems to be a chal­lenge that res­onates with th­ese mod­ern fam­i­lies…

It’s also a form of com­pen­sa­tion. One should not for­get that fam­ily life is no longer what it used to be. Men and women both go out to work, of­ten have dif­fer­ent sched­ules; chil­dren go to school… When all is said and done, fam­i­lies don’t have that much time to spend to­gether. The space of a fam­ily hol­i­day thus be­comes a priv­i­leged mo­ment to re­build the fam­ily unity that is hard to main­tain dur­ing the rest of the year. A fam­ily hol­i­day is the equiv­a­lent of a hon­ey­moon for a cou­ple: an an­ti­so­cial act of eman­ci­pa­tion, of sep­a­ra­tion, a means of gain­ing au­ton­omy, if not in­de­pen­dence, for a spe­cific pe­riod of time.

How do you ex­plain that some peo­ple al­ways go back to the same place?

It’s an old tra­di­tion, of­ten linked to the child’s age. A young child is gen­er­ally a fac­tor in a seden­tary life­style. If one goes away, one goes to a hol­i­day re­sort rather than roam­ing about to see the sights. The philoso­pher Gas­ton Bachelard spoke of “topophilia”, a term that de­scribes the love of a place, the plea­sure of re­turn­ing to a place one loves.

Sto­ries about fam­i­lies set­ting off on an ad­ven­ture for sev­eral weeks in a camp­ing car cir­cu­late on social me­dia. How do you ex­plain the re­turn to this type of jour­ney?

This type of jour­ney is the legacy of counter-cul­tures that left a deep im­pres­sion on us and that to­day are be­ing re­dis­cov­ered, and are pos­si­bly over­es­ti­mated, idolised at any rate. Like the hippy move­ment which con­veyed the idea of in­vent­ing an al­ter­na­tive world and ad­vo­cated com­mu­nal liv­ing, on the fringes of so­ci­ety. It’s the plea­sure of be­ing to­gether with one’s own kin, of be­ing in­de­pen­dent and self-re­liant. Some have even termed it “travel ther­apy”, which is said to heal ur­ban malaise, a life torn apart by day-to-day city rhythms that frag­ment ev­ery­one’s time and make de­mands that may vary from one per­son to an­other.

A fam­ily hol­i­day is the equiv­a­lent of a hon­ey­moon for a cou­ple: an an­ti­so­cial act of eman­ci­pa­tion, of sep­a­ra­tion, a means of gain­ing au­ton­omy, if not in­de­pen­dence, for a spe­cific pe­riod of time.

“Par­tic­i­pa­tive” travel – re­spon­si­ble, hu­man­i­tar­ian and eco-friendly trips – has re­cently emerged. Do you think that this a good way of mak­ing chil­dren aware of the world around them?

Th­ese prac­tices are still elit­ist. One of the first things to do is to get to know one’s own fam­ily. One should turn to­wards one’s own kith and kin, be­fore turn­ing to­wards other peo­ple. Fam­ily trips also serve this pur­pose. In my book Une his­toire éro­tique du voy­age, I ex­plain how travel is as­so­ci­ated with plea­sure, and how it has be­come a means of dis­cov­er­ing plea­sure. Fam­ily travel first and fore­most im­plies the plea­sure of be­ing to­gether. Peo­ple will al­most cer­tainly open them­selves to oth­ers once they’ve opened them­selves to their loved ones. There’s a dual mech­a­nism at play: tak­ing the time to be with one’s loved ones means not only tak­ing time for one­self, but shar­ing it. The fam­ily is a sort of ini­tia­tory unit.

What do chil­dren or teens who go on hol­i­day with­out their par­ents gain from the ex­pe­ri­ence?

This is an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion for since the mid1990s, sum­mer camps have lost much of their ap­peal. Nowa­days, we have a very pos­ses­sive re­la­tion­ship with our chil­dren. We are far less at­tached to the idea of chil­dren go­ing away on their own. Ba­si­cally, a child’s first sum­mer camp is with his or her fam­ily. Travel strat­egy should ini­tially be un­der­stood as a strat­egy of re­uni­fi­ca­tion, em­pow­er­ment and iso­la­tion. Our world is made up of is­lands. Not only in the ge­o­graph­i­cal sense but also in the sense of iso­lated en­closed places. Whether it con­cerns hol­i­day re­sorts, ho­tel re­treats, cruises, res­i­dences or apart­ments pur­chased in the moun­tains or coun­try­side. Hol­i­days are in­creas­ingly seen as a time for dis­en­gag­ing or with­drawal. Send­ing a child on hol­i­day with­out his or her par­ents, thus ful­fill­ing the rite of sep­a­ra­tion, seems to hap­pen later and later. Sym­bol­i­cally, per­haps the new sum­mer camps are th­ese cour­ses and study trips abroad, when ado­les­cence is over.

Trav­el­ling alone to­gether with a child seems in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive to par­ents. How do you ex­plain th­ese priv­i­leged “ren­dezvous”?

Some peo­ple are in­deed tak­ing this ini­tia­tive. The writer Philippe Dos­sal pub­lished a beau­ti­ful travel book, Der­rière la mon­tagne. It tells the story of a fa­ther who de­cides to keep a prom­ise he made long ago to his son: to travel to­gether to what they con­sid­ered to be the far­thest place on Earth. They took the Trans-Siberian rail­way to China. Ba­si­cally it’s a shared ini­ti­a­tion ritual, be­tween one­self and one’s dou­ble, a play of mir­rors lived through un­fa­mil­iar ex­pe­ri­ences that thus cre­ate a sense of dis­tance one would never have oth­er­wise. In gen­eral, the ex­pe­ri­ence gained from trav­el­ling can­not be found at home, or on Skype or social me­dia: dis­cov­er­ing how oth­ers see one as well as tak­ing a look at one­self out­side the world one usu­ally lives in. Books by Jean-Di­dier Ur­bain in French: L’En­vie du monde (Bréal), Une his­toire éro­tique du voy­age (Payot) and Le Voy­age était presque par­fait: Es­sai sur les voy­ages ratés (Payot). One of his books has been pub­lished in English: At the Beach (2003, Univer­sity of Min­nesota Press).

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