Published: 02 August 2016

Why do we travel?

Dr Scott Cohen collaborates to investigate how the dilemmas of late modernity have influenced our motivations for travel

What’s one of the first things you do when you come back from holiday? Perhaps, before you’ve even unpacked your suitcase, you’re uploading your photos to Facebook and Instagram. If you didn’t already do it during the trip itself! Why? Come on, admit it – it’s to make your friends jealous. “Look at me in that exciting exotic location,” your sun-filled photos scream at that them, “I must be doing all right for myself.” With every ‘like’ of your album, your social status goes up a few notches, and, for some reason, it feels great.

According to Stefan Gössling of Lund University, Dr Scott Cohen of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (SHTM) and Julia Hibbert of Bournemouth University, the more privileged in societies are engaging in tourism more than ever before – we’ve got more disposable incomes, faster transport and ever-changing work patterns that free us up to be more mobile. Our friends, family and colleagues are spread out over increasingly far-reaching places. Our attitudes to life goals are changing, where personal interests and individualism are replacing social and communal concerns. Paradoxically, while we’re being encouraged to be individuals, we’re becoming lonelier, yearning to socially ‘belong’.

This dilemma of ‘late modernity’, Gössling et al. argue, has led to a change in motivations for travel. Tourism has become less about escapism and more about establishing friendships. It offers a sense of ‘geneinschaft’ – a community of people with shared norms, interests and beliefs among like-minded travellers, such as backpackers, ‘eco’-tourists and ‘couch-surfers’. 

Gössling et al. also argue that we’re travelling more because it does wonders for our social standing among our peers; a result of contemporary society assigning social value to the consumption of distance. We’re on display and comparing ourselves to each other more than ever before, aided by ubiquitous social media platforms of the digital age.

In other words, travel seems to be no longer an option, but a necessity for building social connections and affirming our identities.

Read the full paper.


Share what you've read?