Why Do You Travel?
By James Shillinglaw
June 17, 2012 11:45 PM
On this day after Father's Day, my thoughts not surprisingly turn to my own dad, Gordon Shillinglaw, who died at age 86 on March 31. Now right away I want to assure you this column isn't meant to be depressing or some type of memorial to him.
Instead, when I think of my dad I've come to understand the reasons why I travel and why I do what I do -- namely write about travel. And as you read this, I want you to think of why you travel and why you are in the travel industry, as well as why your customers travel. Because through that understanding, you can actually sell more travel.
My dad grew up modestly in Albany, N.Y., the son of an assistant inspector of prisons for New York State. He had a somewhat tumultuous life, since his mother died when he was just a one year old and he was cared for by his grandmother, his aunt, his stepmother and ultimately his brother, who was 17 years old than him.
Early on my dad wasn't a great traveler, even though his father (my namesake) often took him fishing and camping (so often apparently that my father never wanted to take me on such trips again). In his late teens, however, my dad went on a cruise to the Bahamas on the S.S. Berengaria with my grandfather, who had recently gotten divorced and had decided to treat his son to a trip. Not exactly what most people did in 1938!
A year later, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, my grandfather took my dad to Scotland, where his family came from. They sailed over to Glasgow on the S.S. Tuscania and returned from England on a Holland America ship literally months before hostilities broke out. A year after that, my dad served as a Boy Scout correspondent at the New York World's Fair in 1939, which I think had a big role in making him more worldly.
Just three years after that, like many of the Greatest Generation, he went off to war. My dad found himself onboard the U.S. Navy cruiser New Orleans heading out for the last two battles of the war in the Pacific in the Philippines and Okinawa. He later sailed up and down the Chinese coast and up to Korea, staying in several Chinese cities, including Shanghai, as he helped train the Chinese navy immediately after the war.
Returning home, he got his PhD. from Harvard and began teaching economics at small college in upstate New York, shortly after he married my mom. In 1957, months before I was born, my mother and father traveled to England and France, returning on the French Line’s S.S. Isle de France and beginning a love affair with Europe that lasted throughout their lives. Indeed, they returned to Europe (without me or my sister) for another visit in 1959.
In 1962, they took my sister and me to Scotland and England, where we drove around in a Morris Minor for three weeks, staying in modest B&Bs and exploring small towns, castles and countryside. Two years later, after my dad accepted a teaching position at a business school in Lausanne, we moved to Switzerland for a year. We sailed over on the S.S. France and returned a year later on the S.S. Michelangelo. Over the course of the year, I recall going to Italy or France at least once or twice a month, including visits to Florence, Rome, Venice, Lyon and Paris.
In 1967, we returned for a two-year stint in Switzerland while my dad taught at the same business school. We took the opportunity to explore other parts of Europe, including southern Italy, Sicily, Germany, the Netherlands, the Loire Valley, Alsace-Loraine and Austria, just name a few. And we returned to the U.S. on a trans-Atlantic sailing of the S.S. France again.
In other words, from early on I was acclimated to travel. It certainly wasn’t high-end travel (well, except for the S.S. France). Indeed, my parents were masters at using the Michelin Red and Green guides to find us modest accommodations with good food and attractions that were off-the-beaten path. But I quickly learned to love travel and the thrill of visiting new places and enjoying new experiences.
My parents continued to travel into their 70s, until my mother could no longer do so due to an illness that limited her ability to walk. But until that time, they explored small villages, inns and restaurants throughout France, Italy and Switzerland, especially. Yes, they went elsewhere (I remember they traveled to Iran in the late 1960s, for example) but their real love was good food, comfortable accommodations and spectacular mountain scenery in Europe.
So I guess it wasn’t surprising that I have similar interests and a strong desire to travel. It’s also why I have a hard time when someone tells me they just don’t like to travel or are too busy to do so. They maintain they are perfectly happy to stay close to home -- a sentiment that seems so limiting to me and one that I can’t quite understand, to be honest.
But back to my original point: To better understand your customers, you need to know what motivates them to travel in the first place. What family background led them to become interested in travel in the first place? And how does that family background affect their decisions on the destinations they want to visit? As far me, I know very well why I travel. It’s because of my parents. It’s because of my dad, who taught me to love the world and took me on so many adventures. And on this Father’s Day, I remember him for that and so much more.
James Shillinglaw is editor in chief of TravelPulse.com.