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Tourism Geographic

Why We Travel — A New Age Perspective for a New Earth

We Travel Because It Expands Our Global Consciousness

[Updated April 3, 2022] Like many other drugs, international travel alters our mind in desirable ways.

by new 1lluminati

Travel, Tourism & Global Consciousness

Ask any group of people what they would do if they had no limits on time and money, and almost every one of them will say “travel” — to see the world.

We have seen this fundamental human desire to travel in the steady and unstoppable growth in the numbers of international travelers since the end of World War II. That growth brought “overtourism” to many top destinations. It was only with the 2020 global pandemic that the world got some relief from that onslaught.

by Vox Efx

The growth in travel and tourism accompanies a worldwide increase in middle-class incomes, reduced border restrictions, advances in transportation and telecommunications, and lower travel costs. These are space-time compression and globalization changes that have made the planet smaller and more accessible than ever before.

The rapid rise in tourism resulted in much criticism of its impacts on the environment and cultures. Calls for sustainable, slow and degrowth tourism policies have been on the rise for decades. But they mostly fell on deaf ears in a world dominated by neoliberal economics.

Neoliberal economics favors a narrow-minded and mindless me-first consciousness. It is exactly that lack of global consciousness and awareness that has resulted in climate change, biodiversity loss, the development gap, and ethnic and political conflicts.

But rather than demonizing tourism, I had (in 2018) suggested that we need to take a larger and longer term perspective. We need to set tourism in the context space-time compression, globalization, and global consciousness. Tourism is an obvious aspect of globalization, so can we also see it as an aspect of global consciousness?

From that perspective, we should embrace and support the way travel and tourism expands people’s awareness of our planet Earth. We need that type of mindful consciousness for humanity to address the many global crises that a mindless space-time compression has caused.

See my 2018 article here (available for free download from the publisher through late April 2021):

COVID-19 & Global Travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped international leisure travel almost completely in 2020 and 2021, although it was a boom for domestic tourism to some destination (like the rural US).

By Spring 2022, some countries are allowing international travel, though many restrictions remain. New variants of COVID-19 are emerging. And while they appear less virulent, they predict outbreaks and peaks through 2022.

As many predicted, international leisure travel will likely return to something like the past in 2023. But it will also be different. Exactly how it will differ is still under much conjecture.

Some say that the new travel will, or can, align with earlier desires: smaller and slower, and resulting in more gentle and sustainable impacts on the environments and cultures of destinations.

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, by Peter Toporowski

Others are calling for something even more. “Regenerative tourism” is a form of tourism where travelers and the travel industry contribute to making a destination better than what it was before the arrival of tourism (see: Ateljevic 2020 and Cave & Dredge 2020).

Defining “better”, however, is not straightforward. Different interest groups have different views on what a better place would be like. For examples, some see a “return to pre-2020 travel” as better, while others see “no travel” as better.

I prefer to take a large perspective. For me, better means a “better planet”. It is a planet with more understanding and cooperation, and less stereotyping and conflict, between countries, and between people within countries. Travel and tourism should, in my opinion, have a central role in creating that kind of better planet.

For example, elsewhere, I wrote of a vision I received of a utopian 5th Dimensional Earth in which:

…people seemed a lot more happy, and there seemed to be less stress, with more of an acceptance of life circumstances and a feeling of being in a state of flow much of the time.

…people were not competing with one another to embellish their identities, and that alone created a more balanced consumerism that was easier on the planet’s environment. They still strive for achievements, but are able to put their success in doing that in a broader collective consciousness perspective in terms of impacts on themselves and their community.

Travel as an Altered State of Consciousness

Travelling from one’s home to another place changes everything in our outside world that we encounter, see, smell, taste and experience.

There are few other ways that we can completely (and legally) change our conscious experience to the degree and safety that travel does. Other common ways we temporarily and partially alter our consciousness include consuming alcohol and drugs, watching movies, reading books, taking part in exercise and sports, meditating, writing, and through religion.

Humans are deeply addicted to these temporary consciousness altering experiences. And travel and tourism may be the most socially prestigious ways to do that, at least for the middle socio-economic masses of the world. People want it without having experienced it. And they can never get enough of it, even when some “trips” are more challenging and less successful than others.

Types of Tourists, by Alan Lew, author — CC-BY

Tourism scholars have long speculated on the variety of different travelers, based mostly on the motivations that people give for why they want to travel. They have proposed many models with insights into how to sell tourism products.

These surface-level travel motivation and experience models are like what the philosopher David Chalmers terms the “easy question of consciousness”. These are the easy ways of defining why tourists travel.

The “hard question of consciousness”, as applied to travel and tourism, is “why does global tourism exist in the first place?”.

Global Consciousness

The definition of consciousness is one of the more hotly debated topics among neuroscientists and philosophers.

One version of those definitions says individual consciousness is not within our brain. Instead, it exists at the point of phenomenological (experiential) engagement and synthesis between our inner self and the outer world (see Alva Noë 2010 and Tononi & Koch 2015).

From that perspective, the world outside us (including our body) is crucial to our experience of being conscious. We need an outside world to perceive with our senses and to create images of in our mind. Without those perceptions and images, would we be conscious?

For more on the relationship between our world and our mind, see:

There are other definitions of individual consciousness that do not involve physical reality in this way. But since we are talking about “global consciousness” (or “Earth consciousness”), this definition is more appropriate.

We can extend this definition of individual consciousness to form three generalized types of “global consciousness”:

  1. Each individual’s consciousness (or awareness or sense) of the planet as a whole
  2. The collective or shared consciousness (or subconscious) of all individuals on our planet
  3. The planet’s own self-consciousness as a living entity, as reflected in the Gaia hypothesis and panpsychism approaches (see Notes section below)

Of these three, the first (the individual) is most significant for the argument I am making here. It is the foundation for the second (the collective), although the two interact with one another as well. Together, the first and second can give us a glimpse of the third (Gaia consciousness).

The individual’s consciousness of the planet (#1) is more than simply having an awareness and knowledge of the world, although that is part of it. This type of global consciousness has more to do with an inner sense of how we relate to our world, both physical and psychological beings.

based on A.A. Lew, 2018, by author, © all rights reserved

Our personal global consciousness includes intellectual knowledge, emotional knowledge, body and sensory knowledge, and personal identity. The full range of “knowledge”, “engagement” and “being” characteristics are shown in this diagram from my 2018 paper.

We form and shape our world through our conscious focus and attention on what we consider significant. Conversely, our world forms and shapes us through experiences and memories we hold of it. This especially applies to travel and tourism.

The Hard Question of Travel and Tourism

Travel experiences alter the consciousness of the individual tourist permanently because their conscious and unconscious memories of a trip can never be erased. We can consciously forget them. But they still live in our subconscious and influence who we are in this life.

Travel experiences also change the consciousness of destination hosts. Each of the many encounters between a host and a guest, no matter how mundane, leaves an impression on both. Those impressions are also indelible. And again, that is mostly at an unconscious level.

Through these mutual influences, the individual’s consciousness (host or guest) is influenced by global collective perspectives. And the individual’s experiences influence and contribute to that same larger global consciousness.

Neither the individual nor global consciousness is static. Both the individual and the global are constantly shifting and evolving. And they are always moving toward a more expanded state of consciousness.

This is the answer to the hard question of travel and tourism: “why does global tourism exist in the first place?”

The answer is:

“The travel and tourism phenomenon is driven by the inexorable drive to expand global consciousness at all 3 levels of the individual, collective, and Gaia”.

Travel is an integral part of the larger progression of space-time compression that is creating a smaller and smaller planet Earth.

Across the globe, we are more informed and more connected to each other than ever before. We have more access to the most remote corners of the planet than ever before.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing physical travel, it is not slowing the momentum toward faster and more convenient technologies.

by Drakonia LadyOnia

For the individual traveler, global consciousness is the experience of being one with the “other” — with people, with environments, and even with ourselves.

This seems to be Gaia’s evolutionary path and purpose for humanity — to bring us together (before we “kill ourselves off”). We will know we have arrived when our identity as an Earth being becomes more central for us than our identity with a nationality, race, ethnicity, or gender (or sports team).

The Future of Travel

Tourism has played a huge role in achieving Gaia’s goal of becoming a more integrated and global planet. Along with telecommunications and trade, it has been a key contributor to the shrinking of our planet.

Tourism, telecommunications, and trade have created globalization — along with its challenges. They are also the most important tools we have to solve the global challenges that the planet faces.

Tourism, in particular, offers an embodied expansion of global knowledge, awareness, and consciousness beyond anything that people can get from a book or a newscast. The problem is that it currently does that in a haphazard, unorganized, and unintentional manner. (Telecommunications and trade also suffer from this.)

Tourism needs to adopt a more intentional goal of global consciousness. That does not mean that everyone must travel. It does not mean that every traveler will instantly achieve a ‘being of the world’ state of mind on every trip. But every trip should intentionally support the traveler in that direction.

No matter their motivations, outward behaviors, and short-term impacts, those who travel cannot avoid growing their consciousness. At some level, they become more knowledgeable about the planet, more engaged in meaningful change that respects all beings, and more aware that the planet is who they are.

That is why travel exists, and why we are so addicted to it — because global consciousness is humanity’s destiny.

Global consciousness is the only way we will find a global response to the global issues we face today.

About the Author

Alan Lew is Professor Emeritus at Northern Arizona University and is the founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal Tourism Geographies. His background encompasses human geography, urban planning, and tourism studies. Before his retirement, his research interests and writings focused on place making, resilience, and consciousness studies as they relate to travel and tourism. He is the founding editor-in-chief of Tourism Geographies (Taylor & Francis), and more recently, the online publication, New Earth Consciousness (Medium.com).

This Article was Based On:

Related Academic Papers:

For additional references on this topic, see any of the papers cited above.

Related Resources

Astrophysicist Adam Frank has explored the planet’s own self-consciousness and intelligence:

⬆ Tal Danai interviewed me for the 2021 Seatrade Cruise Conference on the topic of “Why Do We Travel”.

⬇ This interview/chat with Dr. Jaeyeon Choe was on 10 January 2022. The original title was: “From Global Understanding to Global Consciousness: Travel, Tourism, and our Evolving Relationship to the Planet Earth”.

⬇ You can download (pdf) presentations I have given on Tourism and Global Consciousness on this webpage:

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Research and opinion articles from scholars based on their more academic research published in “Tourism Geographies: an International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment”

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