I originally posted this as a reply to John Scalzi here, but it occurred to me that it was something that might be of interest to my local audience — especially since I’m posting all these photos from trips I’ve taken. 🙂
In discussing his own feelings about travel, Scalzi said:
The fact of the matter is I’m not hugely motivated by travel. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy it when I do it, nor that there are not places I would like to visit, but the fact of the matter is that for me, given the choice between visiting places and visiting people, I tend to want to visit people — a fact that means that my destinations are less about the locale than the company. I’d rather go to Spokane than Venice, in other words, if Spokane has people I like in it, and all Venice has is a bunch of buildings which are cool but which I will be able to see better in pictures.
To which I said:
I like seeing people, sure — but the second half of the comment is boggling to me, because it’s so radically different from my own view, in two respects.
First of all, seeing is only part of the experience. Looking at a picture is flat, whereas being there is a full-body surround-sound sensory experience. There’s sound, smell, the feeling of space or lack thereof, the process of walking through. Highgate Cemetery was more than its headstones; it was the blustery autumn day with the wind rushing through the trees raining leaves down on us and the tip of my nose going cold. Point Lobos is more than the cypresses; it’s the smell of the cypresses and the feel of the dirt under my feet and the distant barking of the sea lions. Furthermore, pictures will never show me even everything from the visual channel: they may show me the nave of the church, but usually not the ceiling, nor the floor with its worn grave slabs. They will show me the garden, but not the autumn leaf caught in the spider web between two trees. I would have to look at hundreds of pictures from Malbork Castle to capture what I saw there. (Heck, I took hundreds of pictures there!)
Second, the most memorable part to me is usually the bit I wouldn’t have thought to go looking for if I weren’t there. The first time I went to Japan, my sister and I went to see the famous temple of Ginkakuji, which I loved — but I loved even better the tiny shrine off to the left outside Ginkakuji, whose name I still don’t know. Or when I was in Winchester, and she and I walked to St. Cross outside of town; we went for the porter’s dole (old medieval tradition: even now — or at least in 1998 — if you walk up to the gate and ask for the dole, they will give you bread and water), but stayed for the courtyard with the enormous tree and the most amazingly plush grass I have ever flung myself full-length in. I can look at pictures of famous buildings in Venice, but I’m unlikely to see pictures of the stuff I wouldn’t think to look for.
I write all of this in the full awareness that I have been extremely fortunate in my travel opportunities. My father’s work has often taken him abroad, so he has a giant pile of frequent flyer miles, and both in childhood and now I’ve been able to afford trips to other countries: British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Israel, Japan, India, Poland, Greece, Italy, Turkey, France, the Bahamas. It’s created a positive feedback loop: these trips have led me to really enjoy travel and the different experiences I have when I go places, so as a result I arrange more trips when I can. As a replacement, pictures don’t even begin to cut it.
Not part of my comment to Scalzi, but I will add two further observations:
1) Clearly I do see value in pictures, though, or I wouldn’t take so damn many of them. 😛
2) What it says about my sociability that I am liable to travel to places rather than to people is left as an exercise for the reader.