From a Western perspective, travel begins with Europe’s fascination with the “Other.” Examples of this include religious pilgrimages and the Renaissance expeditions of trade and exploration. Undoubtedly, travel is also tied to colonization by European forces, beginning with the travels of the Portuguese to Africa in 1455 to obtain slave labor when Pope Nicolas V granted the Portuguese the right to do so; followed by the voyages of the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Dias in 1488 around the Cape of Good Hope; Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas from 1492 to 1502; and culminating with the numerous voyages of exploration of the Pacific by Spanish, French, Dutch and English navigators, mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries. Religious missionaries also contributed to the waves of travelers around the world, oftentimes writing long and detailed accounts of their experiences. Many of these accounts, if read with a critical eye, provide valuable insights into the lifeways of indigenous peoples before the massive changes wrought by centuries of contact. Scholars have found a series of parallels between the accounts written by missionaries during their religious expeditions and 19th-century travel writing.
Travel expeditions were of particular significance to European naturalists in the 18th (such as Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) who worked in Jamaica, and Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) who worked in Suriname) and 19th centuries, particularly Charles Lyell (1797-1875), Thomas Henry Huxley (18251895), Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), and especially Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882). These travels made naturalists aware of the presence and relevance of the fossil record, the distribution of plants and animals, and the presence of societies with different cultures, languages, beliefs, rituals, and customs. Many of these findings contributed to the emergence of anthropology as a discipline. For instance, Sir Charles Lyell, close friend of Darwin and supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, traveled around the world observing geological phenomena. From findings during these travels emerged the concept of uniformitarianism to explain geological changes throughout history. Thomas Huxley, a self-educated intellectual and author of Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863), traveled aboard HMS Rattlesnake to Australia as an assistant surgeon from 1847 to 1851. His findings in natural history (particularly zoology) resulting from this trip were published in a work entitled Oceanic Hydrozoa. Ernst Haeckel, whose “law of recapitulation” was unfortunately appropriated by the Nazi party to justify nationalism and racism, traveled to the Mediterranean to conduct research on invertebrate groups.
Charles Darwin traveled for five years (1831-1835) as a naturalist aboard HMS Beagle on a British science expedition around the world. One of Darwin’s best-known stops during this voyage was the Galapagos Islands, which Darwin conceived as “a group of satellites attached to America,” with organisms that were physically comparable, organically dissimilar, yet at the same time closely related to each other. He also traveled to other parts of South America and the world, collecting specimens of plants and animals for further study. This voyage was instrumental in Darwin’s development of his famous concepts of co-adaptation and modification of organic beings, and more importantly, his theory of organic evolution by natural selection. This theory holds that variation within species occurs randomly, and that the survival or extinction of organisms is determined by each organism’s ability to adapt to its environment. Darwin published these theories in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859.
Travel as a touristic experience in the West developed during the 18th century in England, under the premise that it was an activity that improved the life and soul of the traveler. At the time, the “traveler” was specifically a white upper-class male because only they had the means and social status to conduct these expeditions. Thomas Cook, an English preacher, is often recognized as the creator of the modern tourism era for putting together packaged tours in the mid-19th century, many of them available to working-class people. These tours included trips to the countryside and large cities of England, as well as abroad (Cook’s first holiday abroad package was a tour to Germany in 1855). Those who traveled on Cook’s trips were known as “Cookites.” From this perspective, travel is a consequence of a uniquely Western dynamic. The Europeans “ventured to discover” and thus colonized much of the rest of the world. Thus, tourism and travel largely resulted from the success of European powers in grounding their presence in faraway places. There are common assumptions about travel from a Western perspective, including the supposition that modern tourism derives solely from the Western experience, and that travel is only associated with Western traditions.
A more comprehensive view, however, gives us a different explanation for the arrival of travel and tourism. Trade, conquest, and the quest for wealth and economic advantage are not the only reasons for traveling. There are multiple justifications for travel. Travel came about in the history of humanity long before the arrival of Western European colonizers to non-Western places. Archaeological evidence demonstrates extensive long-distance travel in the Western Hemisphere in pre-European times. Travel took place for many purposes other than colonization, and it did not occur only from the West to the non-West. For instance, Japanese scholarship has focused on analyzing the propensity of Japanese citizens to travel and to purchase souvenirs as a result of centuries of traveling to pilgrimage centers. Believers in Islam have conducted religious pilgrimages to the city of Mecca (the hajj, considered one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith) in the form that it is conducted at the present time at least since the 7th century when the prophet Mohammed expanded and refined the pilgrimage. These trips, although not considered “packaged tours,” required the same level of organizational skill and need to anticipate and fulfill the needs of travelers. Another motivation for travel for many societies has been the pursuit of knowledge. Mary Helms, for example, has argued that the elite of pre-Columbian chiefdoms in Panama traveled great distances to obtain esoteric, often sacred, knowledge that enhanced their political power. Other scholars argue that the main motivations for traveling include the search for authenticity, or the search for exotica, the primitive, the different, the Other.
Anthropologists have traveled to distant places since the beginning of the development of anthropology as a discipline in the mid-19th century. Early on in the formation of the discipline, and as a reaction to “armchair” anthropology, traveling to a far away, “exotic” society was (and in some instances, continues to be) the essential rite of passage of fledging anthropologists. However, the concrete act of traveling to the anthropologists’ destinations (and encountering other travelers and tourists on the way) was not considered an important aspect of the ethnographic experience until quite recently. For instance, the Belgium-born anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, founder of structural anthropology and considered one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century, is credited with writing one of the best anthropological accounts of basic human societies, anthropology, and human thought (and a must-read travel book at the same time), Tristes Tropiques, originally published in 1955. In his book, Lévi-Strauss noted that adventure and travel are not part of the anthropological profession. He pointed out, “The fact that so much effort and expenditure has to be wasted on reaching the object of our studies bestows no value on that aspect of our profession, and should be seen rather as its negative side.”
It was only in the 1970s that tourism and travel became subjects worthy of discussion in anthropology. Although many reasons have been given to explain this fact, two have gained wide acceptance. First, anthropologists argued that their experience and reasons for being in a distant place could not be compared to that of tourists and felt that in many instances they were being unfairly compared with the tourists they encountered in these faraway places. Secondly, and perhaps as a result of the first argument, anthropologists considered that tourism was not a serious enough subject to discuss intellectually and ethnographically. Although in practically every ethnographic field site anthropologists encountered at least occasional tourists, they were perceived as an undesired nuisance and given scant or no attention. The presence of tourists intruded upon the pristine tradition-bound images envisioned for these communities.
In 1976, Valene Smith published the influential edited volume Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism. This volume marked the beginning of a more serious interest in tourism and travel in anthropology. This scholarship has focused on the many dynamics of tourism, including the types of tourism and tourists. The travel industry acknowledges several types of tourism, such as ethnic, cultural, eco-tourism, historical, recreational, alternative industry, and these days even guerrilla tourism, agrotourism, and cybertourism. Smith defined the tourist as “a temporarily leisured person who voluntarily visits a place away from home for the purpose of experiencing a change.” Thus, traveling carried out by tourists can be considered leisure travel, and it refers to voluntary displacement, which contrasts markedly with involuntary displacement due to political instability, wars, and forced relocation. Smith also developed a typology of tourists, dividing them into the explorer tourist, the elite tourist, unusual, massive, and charter tourists. Interestingly enough, as anthropologists had an elitist view toward tourists, elite tourists who prefer adventure and are concerned with having unusual and unique experiences with different cultures consider themselves “travelers,” and would not accept the label “tourist” placed on them.
Applied anthropologists have also focused their attention on other kinds of marginalized “travelers.” For example, a new phenomenon within the travel industry is the emergence of “transplant tourists.” This refers to the fact that the lack of donated organs for organ transplants in wealthy countries has produced an elaborate market for body parts (particularly kidneys) sold by people in the so-called third world. The newer trade involves the traveling of the kidney seller to his or destination; the buyer sometimes provides airfare, accommodations, and even sightseeing tours.
In the 21st century, travel no longer involves only voluntary or involuntary displacement. Travel can also take place from the comfort (or discomfort) of one’s own home through virtual travel. One example of virtual travel is what tourism researchers call “cybertourism.” Cybertourism refers to travels carried out by individuals or groups via the Internet. Interestingly, cybertourism breaks down the assumed premise of travel and tourism (leisure) versus everyday life (work). The dichotomy between work time (home/community) and leisure (away from home/ community) can be overcome daily if one is so inclined. It is no longer necessary to wait for a vacation to break the cycle. The conventional categories of ordering of space and classifications fall by the wayside in the face of virtual worlds that can be visited by simply hitting a particular series of keys on a computer keyboard.
- Bruner, E. (2004). Tourism in the Balinese borderzone. In S. B. Gmelch (Ed.), Tourists and tourism: A reader (pp. 219-238). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
- Chambers, E. (2000). Native tours: The anthropology of travel and tourism. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
- Maccannell, D. (1999). The tourist: A new theory of the leisure class. Berkeley: University of California Press.