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David Bouchier: A Change Of Scene

Every year when we came back from our annual vacation my parents would say, without fail: “Well, that was a nice change.”

It was always a change, certainly, but how “nice” it was depended on a whole lot of factors: where we went, how many days it rained, how bad the food was, how often the car broke down, and so on. I would point out to my parents the inherent ambiguity in their use of the word “nice,” but they ignored me. Parents don’t always appreciate the wisdom of children.

It’s not true that everybody enjoys a change. Some people hate to alter their surroundings, their diet, or their language. They much prefer to stay at home, or to visit relatives in a place they know well. Like cats they demand a rigid schedule that never varies from Monday to Sunday, and no surprises. Such stay-at-homes will point out, very reasonably, that you can just stay where you are and the world will change around you: temperature, scenery, clothes, and activities will all be transformed by the cycle of the seasons. But most of us, judging by the ever-growing industry of tourism, have the itch to see, touch, or taste something new from time to time. We don’t feel that we’ve really been away unless we have struggled with a phrase book, eaten some strange foods, and seen some unfamiliar landscapes.

All kinds of changes are available to today’s traveler: scenery, food, activities, culture, language, and accommodation. Most of them are easily satisfied. On a sliding scale you can travel from (say) Long Island to Massachusetts and enjoy a very modest change, or from Long Island to Las Vegas for something more stimulating. Or, if you are really hungry for a dramatic change, you can try Afghanistan or Somalia, both of which will make Las Vegas seem quite tame. We have to find our comfort level.

The popular cliché says that “A change is as good as a rest.” Again, it all depends. Sky diving, mountaineering and similar activity holidays seem like the very opposite of a rest to those of us who prefer dozing on a sunny terrace and pretending to read a good book. But activity holidays have caught on, perhaps because the almost universal work experience these days is sitting in front of a computer, and any activity is better than that.

The travel industry is dedicated to finding the right level of change for all its clients, which is why so many hotels and resorts look and feel the same. They are targeted to the exact center of our collective comfort zone: more or less like home, but with roulette, big towels, sunshine, and air conditioning, plus easy access to the sea or the mountains, or to some picturesque town with lots of shopping opportunities.

We can afford to be resilient about the temporary changes of summer because they are temporary. We will soon be back to normal life, bringing our videos and selfies so as not to forget that we were somewhere else for a while. Unlike the wretched refugees on the borders of Europe for whom change is a matter of survival, our kind of change is a whimsical luxury, and sometimes almost as good as a rest.

Copyright: David Bouchier.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.