Summer travel

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(HOST) Looking forward to the open road? Commentator Allen Gilbert suggests a different sort of travel book for summer reading.

(GILBERT) School’s out, the Fourth of July weekend is ahead. This is the start of the summer travel season. It’s when lots of people hit the road and go elsewhere – to the beach, the moun- tains, the Grand Canyon, DisneyWorld or Europe. And, of course, lots of people from elsewhere will come here to Vermont. Our state is a major tourist destination.

Why do we feel the urge to move about, to go somewhere other than where we are? I must admit to being a victim of “wanderlust” myself. I love to hit the road, and I’ve been lucky to have had lots of opportunities to travel – opportunities that began with family trips in the pre-Interstate days, when there were Howard Johnson restaurants and Burma-Shave roadside ads.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book on travel by Taras Grescoe, a Montreal writer. I had read one of his earlier books, Sacre Blues. Sacre Blues is an irreverent analysis of his native province, Quebec. Grescoe’s new book The End of Elsewhere is similarly irreverent, but this time Grescoe takes on the world and the millions of us who travel the world as tourists.

The End of Elsewhere is a history of travel, from getaway villas built by Romans to the publication of Michelin Guides. Grescoe shows that, in many respects, travel hasn’t changed much over the years. What’s different about today’s travelers is that there are a lot of us, and we go everywhere. About 700 million people leave their homes every year and fan out over much of what one observer has called our “theme-park planet.”

Grescoe wants to know what makes the modern tourist tick. So he goes on an extended trip himself, starting on the famous Pilgrimage Route of St. James in Spain and traveling east until he hits China and the Pacific Ocean. He’s on the road nine months. From solitary hikes in the Alps to a week with a charter tour in Greece, from trekking in India to eyeing the brothels of Bangkok, Grescoe takes it all in.

The End of Elsewhere is not an ode to the joys and wonders of travel. Rather, it’s largely an indictment of modern travel. Grescoe forces us to consider the impact that we as tourists have on local cultures. We strive for an “authentic” travel experience when we head off for Peru or Nepal, yet we don’t consider that most times the locals are performing for us and probably loathe us for the wealth that enables our travel. And have we left home simply to run from unexamined lives? Grescoe asks. Why, really, are we so proud of all those stamps in our passports?

The cover note on End of Elsewhere promises that the book “won’t leave your next holiday unscathed.” If you can read this book hon- estly and don’t mind a thrust at your own travel pride, Grescoe delivers on the promise. I’m already thinking that perhaps the Vermont Tourism Department’s campaign to have us vacation at home this year isn’t such a bad idea.

This is Allen Gilbert.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher and consultant current- ly serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.

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