Up The Road: Why Local Travel Matters

Jul 24, 2019

The Humboldt Coast, five hours north of San Francisco: Thoughtful travel close to home can only deepen appreciation of our own place in the large scheme of things.
Credit Bob Wick / U.S. Bureau of Land Management

We’ve considered why we should travel, and then how to travel responsibly. Very short answer: We should travel because it makes us better people. And then, as better people, we naturally care about the consequences—the environmental, economic, and cultural effects—of our travel choices.

There are more reasons to travel, of course, including the fact that we just like it. According to an article I read recently, travel removes the blinders of habit and boosts creativity. Having to make our way intentionally, in an entirely new context, makes us see things differently. Makes us smarter. And it’s not just the lovely sunsets and other positives that stimulate these happy changes. Turns out the tedium and challenges, the security checks and missed connections, are good for us too. Newness, even when we’re not that thrilled about it, shakes loose habitual associations and makes room for new ones.

To get literary about it: T.S. Elliott observed, in his poem Little Gidding, from Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” We’re not talking about world war, here, or loving the known and unknown world back from the edge of destruction. But still.There’s the why.

As for responsible travel—making fuel efficiency count, spending your travel dollars to do good, doing whatever else you can to turn the tide on climate change—all that matters every bit as much close to home. Maybe more.

When you travel locally—visiting destinations within a few hours of home—you greatly reduce your carbon footprint, compared to international travel, all the more so if you take public transportation.

When you travel locally, spending your money with local businesses rather than big boxes and chains, most of that moneystays local. This can mean survival not just for restaurant owners and innkeepers but also the people they employ, and for shopkeepers, artists, and artisans.

A farmer sells fresh vegetables to a locally owned restaurant. Then the restaurant prepares meals for customers, and usesthat income to pay employees and buy essentials from the local hardware store. And on it goes. One study says locally owned businesses circulate 52 percent of their revenue through the immediate community, compared to 14 percent for chains. Wow. And that’s not counting sales and travel taxes, which support struggling local governments.

So: Spend locally, benefit locals. Local business people get more involved in community affairs, too, and actively support local charities. You can help there too. Voluntourism, anyone? No need to travel abroad to make a difference.

Californians love California, which explains why seventy-some percent of domestic travelers are residents. Let’s keep that going, California. Keep visiting and appreciating and supporting this place. Invest those travel dollars wisely, spending them generously in desert backwaters and struggling backwoods towns that need them the most. Because thoughtful travel closer to home can only deepen appreciation of our own place in the larger scheme of things.