Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse: Jigish Avalani, August 18, 2014. Find it here.
As any aspiring chef knows, the joy of preparing your meal is as important as the joy of eating your meal. And as any parent knows, convincing your teenagers that you are, in fact, an aspiring chef, and that they should also enjoying preparing the meal with you, is no easy task. So I often try to make cooking together more appealing by sharing stories with my kids about traveling to the places where my “oh so exotic” recipes came from. Unfortunately, this sometimes backfires. After a recent attempt at a Spanish Paella, one of my kids asked, “How about we add Spain to our European family trip? We’re learning about Gaudi in one of our classes and since you need some help with your Paella receipe— maybe we should just go there?” As much as I wanted to protest, I had to admit, it was an intriguing idea. We could add Spain to our European summer vacation plans— why not?
“Why not” is a very different question than the ones I used to ask growing up in India. Back then, the questions were more about, “What if?” Travel was often a major topic of our “table talks” over a meal, and the conversations would often center around such things as “what if you could easily go anywhere in the world? Where would you go? how many stops would it take? What would it be like on the plane? How would you get to and from the airport? What would you take along with you on the journey?”
In those days, the romance of travel was about the trip itself– the process of getting to the destination. My first trip to America in the mid-'80s took months to plan. As a wide-eyed student heading to graduate school, my long flight with a stopover in Germany was exciting and sparked my imagination. I remember cherishing the ticket booklet for my complex itinerary, with the receipts and boarding passes for each leg of the trip. And how I’d prepared for visiting America by reading books from the library and listening to the stories of friends and their family members who had been there.
Today, the tools you need to plan a journey are easily at hand: with a quick search on your device, you can immediately access a plethora of resources to learn about your destination, its culture, and, most exciting for me, its cuisine. Planes are more fuel-efficient, making many journeys shorter and less circuitous. (Delta has been flying nonstop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa since 2009!) You can check fares and book a trip to just about anywhere in a few minutes. New e-concierge apps can even make personalized recommendations for various experiences on your trip.
These advances in technology have shifted our focus from the magic of the journey itself to our experiences at the destination. We now take many of the logistics for granted. Planning our trip to Spain was relatively simple and my kids knew more about Spain before we got there than I could have ever hoped to have learned about America before my first visit. And while initially I had some nostalgia for the simpler days before all of this technology, I found myself impressed by how much more deeply my kids were able to dig into the culture. Instead of signing up for a tour of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, we were able to customize our own trip to all of Gaudi’s major works. They proudly took on the role of tour guide for me, while still getting their own thrill from seeing something they learned about live and up close. They could take their time really soaking in the experience, taking photos and touring. Best of all, they were able to find and try a vegetarian and a seafood Paella since they could actually personalize it to their food preferences, read reviews from their peers and know what appeals—as well as what doesn’t—to an American teenager.
So even if the journey itself doesn’t have the allure it used to, the experiences at the destination still retain their romance. Travel is and will always be a way to open the door to new experiences and opportunities. As Mark Twain said,
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."