New travel: travel to make things

MTP1Travel used to be about going to see things – look kids, it’s Big Ben – then increasingly became about going to do things. Like taking a drawing course to draw Big Ben.  Next, I think, travel will be about making things.

This is sort of hard to explain.

It comes when we start to use trips to find answers (and create flowcharts) on self-appointed quests we are naturally drawn to. Destinations themselves become more arbitrary. More important is following some sort of filter on the ground, which ultimately can deepen a traveler’s interaction with the places they go. Whether it’s serious (data for perceptions of climate change) or less so (moustache data of Siberia), an element of “fun” is crucial in its success.

This idea has gradually come to me after years as a travel writer. Many consider being one a “dream job,” something like being “paid to go on vacation.” The reality, as any travel writer can honestly attest, is something different. Instead of sitting on a beach (or seeing Greek columns at the Met), we chase stories and talk with all sorts of people and write down bus times or prices, and skip dinners or lunches while we track false leads, but often end up with bar broader understanding of place than your average visitor could dream of.

This can be replicated by anyone on a trip.

Of course, some people are already doing this. Like the young entrepreneurs I met this week aboard the Millennial Trains Project. Last year, I rode on its inaugural 10-day ride — from San Francisco to Washington, DC — with an engaged group of “millennials” taking various projects on the road and meeting with artists and DIY renegade businessfolk in places like Omaha and Pittsburgh. (Here’s my article on the experience, along with a fake Johnny Cash song on trains I made.)

The train is now back for round two, going from Portland to New York. And I had the unique chance to spend a day aboard again, this time — of all things — as a “mentor” (definitely a first for me). Under the glass of a private car’s observatory deck in the Seattle rail yards, I led a discussion about “authentic travel” — and why it’s not the right word to seek. It was fun.

I didn’t meet all participants, but a few really stood out for me. For one, I’ll be following Jenny Gottstein’s engaging idea, of teaching disaster preparation with practice runs of a “Zombie Apocalypse.” Already she’s staged this as a game, with participants using Nerf guns to repel (actor) zombie attacks on the streets of San Francisco. The point is serious. And the fun of the game is merely a way to get people to learn actual disaster skills, like managing burns and planning evacuation routes.

“Do you know what the best vehicle is to have in a zombie apocalypse?,” Jenny dryly asked me. “It’s not a car, but a bicycle.” No need for fuel. I’ll remember that.

Another project I’m particularly keen to seen play out is Acacia Olson’s EmbRace Healing, Olson laments that half a century after the Civil Rights march in DC, the USA remains racially divided. Talking aboard the train, Olson sadly nodded in agreement when I asked if she felt, as I have, that one of the only places where you see much conversation about racism today is ESPN.

On her cross-country trip, Olson will prompt forums of discussion on race, racism and healing in Native American communities in Montana and Milwaukee, home to not only bad bad hipster beer  and the fake “Happy Days” gang, but the virtual American Black Holocaust Museum, which sadly closed its on-site location a few years ago.

I think Olson’s project is a perfect, and promising, example of a “new travel.” And I can’t wait to see what she, and Gottstein, and the whole grew come up with on that eastward ride to New York.

You can follow it at #MTPTrain on Twitter.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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5 Responses to New travel: travel to make things

  1. Jay Shelton says:

    I feel this will be a growing, albeit niche activity in the next few years. There’s been a general trend towards “making” things as opposed to merely consuming them. This maker culture has partly been fueled by new media (including blogs like yours) which celebrates makers. This was at least my reason for turning from passive consumer to active “maker”.

    Honestly, my travel experiences have been all the richer because of it.

  2. Que says:

    Hi Robert, havent heard from you for years. Its Que from Ho Chi Minh City, I passed your favorit street, Tran Hung Dao, the other day :). How are you?

  3. Manuel says:

    There really are people who think being a travel writer is such a nice and relaxing job. They think that’s we are so blessed to have such kind of profession. Well, of course we are blessed. Many people didn’t realize that being a travel writer is not at all merely fun and relaxation. We need to enjoy our trip but at the same time, we also have to take down notes, investigate things and known as much details about the place for us to be able to write good contents. At some point we can taste some good food, especially those we are planning to feature in our write-up but there are also times that we tend to forgot eating our lunch or dinner because we are busy collecting as much useful information as we can. Well, I am just so glad I have overcome that part of my life. Now I can travel in my own pace without being pressured about work-related articles.

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