The original and full-length version of this post appeared on the JSTOR Daily Blog, “The Five Type of Summer Vacation” by Victoria Elmwood.
It’s that time of year: The mercury rises, pulses quicken, and the days get longer. The noisome odors of sunscreen, lighter fluid, and bug spray blend into a symphony of smells, smells that bring with them the feeling of freedom and the distinct sense that life has shifted into a lower gear. Vacation’s just around the corner, and those with the leisure time and money can choose from any number of trips to go on. Not surprisingly, a commonplace of tourist marketing is that the kind of vacation you go on says a lot about who you are. Scholars who study tourism have found that there’s actually a surprisingly narrow range of ways that people can go on holiday.
The beaches of Club Med and Sandals resorts are examples of destinations for the classic paradise vacation, but the presence of a beach isn’t necessarily a requirement. Rather, the paradise is epitomized by the combination of lush beauty with extras like wi-fi, spa treatments, and a well-stocked bar. Ironically, the very presence of these conveniences can threaten the natural beauty that draws people to these kinds of destinations. The growing presence of industry can overwhelm the delicate balance of nature and civilization that’s at the heart of the paradise vacation idea.
This is a totally not my kind of vacation probably because I was born and raised in Florida, but I know lots of people dig it.
Read more: Ft. Lauderdale: The city of palm trees, sea breezes, & yachts
While the paradise vacation combines escapism with luxury and convenience, some travelers prefer to take their natural beauty with a side order of roughing it. U.S. culture invests the wilderness with overlapping and sometimes conflicting meanings. The most enduring of these is the belief that frontier exploration is the antidote to an excessive feminization caused by the softening comforts of the modern home.
With the official closure of the frontier in 1890, urban Americans began filling their increasing amounts of leisure time by seeking adventure in the rugged outdoors. In response to this demand, dude ranches of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries staged a nostalgic version of the cattle-rustling frontier family, soothing tensions created by the linked phenomena of industrialization and women’s liberation. While Eastern tourists embraced the rugged lifestyle of the wrangler, wranglers on dude ranches also feared that the shift from a production economy to a tourist economy was robbing them of their toughness.
Read more: Selvatura Park: Not for the faint of heart
Not surprisingly, fantasizing about the past is a primary driver for vacationers who set their sights on visiting ruins. For the comparative literary scholar Andreas Huyssen, the twin forces of erasure and nostalgia animate the ruin-centered vacation. People are drawn by an attraction to the past, he contends, an attraction made even more emotionally magnetic by the remaining traces of structures, their inhabitants, and the civilizations that supported them. Yet this attraction is still rooted in the traveler’s experience of the present.
Read more: A Weekend in Naples
The Living Culture
In a contrast to the layered, fragmenting space of the ruin, a concern with the living animates those who seek to experience other human cultures. Such vacations are a staple of TV travel shows, and hosts such as Samantha Brown actively encourage consumers to immerse themselves in cultures other than their own. We can attribute a host of clichés to this type of vacation. The American tourist returning from India with a new, enlightened sense of spirituality is as commonplace as the Japanese tourist bearing albums full of photos taken in European capital cities.
Read more: UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List
Playgrounds present the vacationer with highly structured locations and experiences, including themed food, handicrafts, performance, and spectacles. Theme parks such as Six Flags, Universal Studios, and the Disney parks cater to a family friendly audience while others, such as Las Vegas casinos, court a more adult clientele. Still other places such as Branson, Missouri, Graceland, and cruise ships peddle their own distinctive brands of diversion within a highly concentrated and strictly delineated space. The playground promises a bracing shot of fun in exchange for the funds necessary to sustain its operations (plus a profit). Where the living culture promises authenticity, the playground delivers just the opposite: simulation.
Read more: My Orlando Travel Guide