I recently had a conversation with a woman who works with the tourism industry in Scotland. We were on a convention floor where nearly 2,500 destinations and hotels were represented. Amongst all of the action going on around us, the two of us sat at a table surrounded by men in kilts while being serenaded by bagpipe music. As a travel writer for meetings, trade and leisure publications, I dutifully asked about what was going in Scotland in the upcoming months and years to formulate story ideas, and she dutifully told me about some of the relevant events, activities and news that might make for interesting stories.
She asked if I had been to Scotland. I answered truthfully: No, but I’ve always wanted to visit. My guilty confession: I adored bagpipes when I was a kid and still love that squeaky, just-slightly-off-key sound. I honestly would adore to go to Scotland, but without a trip to the country, writing about it is just a creative concoction of words instead of a story told with passion.
Every industry is always looking to save a few dollars, and this woman admitted to me that someone had asked her if, in an attempt to save money, there should be a cut in familiarization trips (compensated travel) for people who sell, write about and otherwise promote Scotland as a destination.
Her response? A resounding no.
Her reason? Because nothing replaces actually being in a place. Her argument is (and I agree with her) that there is absolutely nothing that can replicate what it’s actually like to be surrounded by a destination. You can seek inspiration in any number of places, and you can read all about places to visit and things to do from a myriad of travel resources, but nothing can replace having your feet firmly planted on the ground of the place you want to visit.
For several minutes the two of us talked about how traveling is a journey in five senses. Yes, you can look at pictures and get a sense of what a place looks like. And you can listen to music or watch a television program or movie to hear the sounds of a country. You can even eat the local food prepared right in your kitchen. But where else can you hear the soundtrack of a place, feel the weight of the weather on your shoulders, taste the flavor in the air, see the commotion of everyday life and smell the scents that define a market or food stand or wide open ocean?
Only in Vietnam can you truly sense the humidity and chaos of Vietnam in August. Only in Death Valley can you feel the intensely dry heat and stark isolation of Death Valley. Only in the Swiss Alps can you hear the jingle of cowbells hidden over the next ridge in the Swiss Alps.
The point is this: I realize that there are lots of reasons why people don’t travel, and one of those is simply the fact that people aren’t interested in traveling. However, without traveling, it is impossible to ever know and appreciate a place.
As we sat in the middle of the convention floor, the tourism representative told me about the chill in the air that is rampant in Scotland. “I can feel it even as we sit here,” she said. I couldn’t because I’d never been.
“I love the true warmth and friendliness of Scotland’s people,” she said. I could imagine, but I couldn’t empathize.
The only way I can truly understand what Scotland is about — what makes it a unique and special destination — is by traveling there.
Seeing is believing … and knowing, appreciating, understanding and being there.
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