Want to get a travel writer fired up? Tell her an entire region of a country is “the most boring place ever.”
This morning, a colleague saw that phrase, about the Midwest, posted on Facebook by someone in the tourism industry.
It’s bad enough that the sentiment was posted by someone who should know better. What made it worse is that it’s also National Travel and Tourism Week, and the motto this year is Travel Matters.
Yes, it does, and the perception that a whole region is boring is one of the many reasons people should travel. After the exploration I’ve done in the past few years, visiting tiny towns and huge cities, I can tell you that no place is boring.
Every town has something unique. Every village has a story. The plains have volumes of tales and intrigue beneath their endless horizons. Mountain peaks are exposed history. Deserts teem with life and forests shelter mysteries.
Yesterday I attended a luncheon hosted by Chicago’s North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). It was their annual event highlighting the impact tourism plays on their community. A whopping ten percent of jobs in Chicago’s North Shore is tourism-related, and in 2018 the CVB tracked $27.8 million in visitor spending through meeting and event planners and tour operators.
That’s in one small region in one state. Nationally, travel generated $2.5 trillion for the U.S. economy.
That is immense and measurable proof that yes, travel does matter. It matters in jobs and in quality of life for its residents.
It also matters for the visitors.
At the luncheon, guest speaker Joe Veneto talked passionately about how towns can not only emphasize their unique offerings, but expand on them to create lifelong memories for tourists. This is what people want: more than two-thirds of American adults desire experiences, not things.
Those experiences should not be limited to big tourist destinations. One of my favorite memories of a nearly 7,000 mile road trip is discovering the Frontier Gateway Museum in Glendive, Montana (population 5,107). They’d created a “Museum Madness” bracket, modeled after college basketball brackets. Visitors voted on displays, pitting the Iron Lung against Margie the Dinosaur, and an antique fire engine against a petrified fire carrier. This interactive and inexpensive activity brought us into the displays and taught us more about frontier life than we would have learned without it.
And we remember it, and that museum.
I remember having some of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten in a dive bar in Arco, Idaho (population 880), learning about Lewis & Clark from a man named Lizard in Onawa, Iowa (population 2,809), and staying in a 100-year-old cabin on a spring-fed lake in Dixon, Missouri (population 1,445).
All of these places could be considered boring. None of them are.
…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.Mark Twain
Travel is more than just about visiting places, though. It’s also about meeting people. The young woman in Arco who told us about those burgers, that man named Lizard, and Doug in Dixon, who took us on a tour around that lake in his cantankerous four-wheeler – all of them lifted our visits beyond sightseeing and into the realm of experiences.
I have no idea what their political beliefs are, what religion they practice, or anything beyond our brief interactions, but I do know that if someone says “people in Idaho are rude,” I know that statement is wrong because I met people in Idaho.
I’ll remember those people forever, and I am forever changed for having met them.
I urge you, encourage you, and challenge you to pick a place you think is “boring” and find what makes it unique. Explore the tucked-away towns and fly-over country. Talk to the people who call those places home.
Chances are you’ll create lifelong memories and you’ll know firsthand that travel does indeed matter. It matters a great deal.
The featured photo is of Palouse Falls. Located in eastern Washington, it’s the official state waterfall, and it received that designation because of a bunch of elementary school kids.