Is there a point to travel? Possibly, although traveling as a tourist has no true value. Nothing the tourist does is authentic. The sights, the people, the food, nothing is actually representative of the land he is visiting. These artifacts do not tell the tourist its history, they don’t give him a hint of what the culture of the people is, and even his interactions with the people don’t offer any insights into their values, dreams, or ideals. Instead everything the tourist sees is fake; the world in which the tourist enters is a themed environment and is only trying to seduce him into consuming without giving up any of its riches. The only honest interaction a tourist has with this new land is the most hollow of all interactions, consumption.
The tourist treks from one side of this new land to the other trying to take in its culture and discover some of the secrets. He does so by traveling from sight to sight, unfortunately, the tourist has already been to all these places. The media has brought them into his home; he has been to them through movies, television shows, magazines, and tour books. While at the sight the tourist sub-consciously realizes he has already been there. The man in Red Square has already seen the Kremlin, he has already been to the final resting place of Lenin, and taken in the glory of St Basil’s Cathedral. Not only has he already been there it was more real before, something about seeing it in person does not feel real for the tourist.
The tourist does two things to make his experience in Red Square real, first he buys souvenirs; he buys a St. Basil’s Cathedral key-chain, he buys a matroshka doll, a communist pin, and whatever else the market offers him. The tourist knows very little other than consumption and in hopes of making his hollow viewing of such beauty more meaningful he consumes. The tourist has traveled such a great distance and made such a great journey in order to see something new only to be confronted with the familiar. He is a modern day Don Quixote; he has imagined an adventure with extraordinary experiences when nothing but the benign exists at the other end of his journey. Next he stands in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum and has his photo taken, in hopes to recreate the reality he has already seen in magazines. It is his hope that once the photo is developed and he can see himself and others can see him in front of the sight it will become real. Then his venture to the other side of the world would be worth it. Once it is documented, photographed, blogged, twittered, and broadcasted, it will finally be real.
The tourist’s travel to Red Square is hollow because Red Square isn’t actually in Russia. For the tourist the real Russia, the real Red Square is in the movies, the television shows, the magazines, and travel guides the tourist has already consumed. In these media representations Red Square looks more real than it actually is. The lens of the camera has been greased, the photo has been photoshoped and air brushed, and the colors are stronger and details more intricate than he can see with his own eyes. Only in the media can the tourist find his true Russia. When the tourist arrives to an environment like Red Square he sub-consciously understands this isn’t real. This is why he reverts back to the model of consuming goods and creating/consuming media. He makes it real with purchased artifacts and recreates the media model by standing in front St. Basil’s, hoping the experience will become real through consumption and documentation.
His experience becomes true when he shows the photos to an audience: friends, family, and anyone on the Internet that happens to stop by his Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Flicker, or blog. At this moment, when it is consumed by others, the experience in pseudo-reality (actually being there) becomes real. The tourist has now created a real experience and it is only real as others are consuming it, his memories are inauthentic, since the environment in which he actually saw is fake: the media is real.
Tourism is impotent travel. It simply doesn’t work and leaves the tourist feeling partially fulfilled (this partial fulfillment comes directly from consuming goods and when others make his experience real by consuming his media). If someone wants to truly experience travel to another land a traveler must not visit somewhere where the media has already created a reality, nor should he go to consume empty souvenirs or create media, but he should try to create authentic interactions between himself and the land of his travels.
To actually travel you must speak with the locals, you must eat with the locals, celebrate traditions with the locals, learn history from the locals, in other words you must live with the locals and at no point should the traveler purchase souvenirs or take photos. If the traveler can do these things he will truly experience another land. Instead of simply consuming the culture that has been marketed to the tourist through the media and trinkets. The traveler must break through this glossed over shell and venture to where life actually takes place.