Following in the Footsteps
Of the Stars
Why do tourists follow in the footsteps of stars . . . celebrities. and royals? Why to they want to feel the ambience of a place? Objects? A destination? What is it that fascinates them? Why are themed holidays, and so forth, the stuff of holidays why attractions? From Graceland to famous airplanes. from Gauguins garden in Tahiti to Rudyard Kiplings residence . . . why do people get their kicks this way?
Firstly, there is no known, theorized body of psychology that explicitly addresses these questions. Of course there are some fundamental psychology 101 sorts of concepts that do apply, and these you will read below.
Psychology, although a social science, still remains today an art by which lay and scientific practitioners weave and create their explanations. Below, I weave my own fabric of explanations via the psychology of travel as they apply to these questions.
The majority of people tend to live very mundane lives. Anything they can do to enhance their own images of themselves elevates their estimates of their own sense of self worth in their own eyes and as well as in the eyes of others. We all want to feel better about ourselves.
To the extent that we can retrace, or re-experience the travels of others whom we hold in high regard enables us to feel in some way that perhaps we can identify with them, i.e., be more like them.
In some magical thinking sense, by walking the walk and talking the talk, something of the rich and famous, and even the infamous, can rub off on us in some way. Perhaps, somehow, we see ourselves as gaining some of the qualities of that master, soldier, statesman, artist or saint . . .
We also gain in self-esteem by gaining the respect and admiration of others who see that we have accomplished, retraced, and re-experienced the adventures of these adulated people. Theres nothing like the “ooohs and aahs” of others who listen to our adventures.
Achievement of Higher Order Needs
For most travelers, the basic needs of sustenance, e.g., food, water, and so on, are met. Higher order needs, such as knowledge and achievement are often the rewards of travel. To this extent, if we can retrace the expeditions and adventures of historically famous adventurers who came before us, we can personally feel an elevated sense of the rewards of our own achievements. The more famous the adventurer, the more difficult the trek, the greater the challenge, the more sense of achievement we feel we can accomplish by retracing the steps.
“Be all that you can be” is the sense that most of have regarding difficult challenges and achievements. Adventurous travel affords us some of the greatest challenges that we can possibly face, from climbing mountains, running steep raids, bungie jumping, and the like.
Perhaps the single greatest motivation or driving force serving the fulfillment of human needs is curiosity. Seeking new things, new experiences provides us with the means for satisfying our basic and higher order needs. We are very curious; in travel we seek new stimulation of all kinds. The search, drive or thirst for novelty, adventure and excitement are all in the service of reward and satisfaction. Travel is, of course, one of the best means of satisfying our curiosity: no other human endeavor provides us with the scope and variety of human experience across cultures.
We seek the peak experience, i.e., maximizing stimulation and passions afforded by the explosion of sights, sounds, and fragrances of travel; and seeking the mystical, spiritual experience are all the means by which we seek to transform our often boring, mundane, uneventful existences back home.
Re-connection / Revalidating Our Lives
Travel enable us to make our current lives more real by reexamining the present in light of the past. Thus, by retracing our roots, whether in a national or religious sense, for example, by visiting places of our ancestors or by making religious pilgrimages, or by revisiting famous historical or religious sights, the vivid sensory experiences the recreation of past to present tense enables us to relate and re-identify.
Re-connecting / Re-validating by visiting famous places or by retracing the steps of famous people adds to our sense and knowledge of reality by creating immediacy for us through our senses of what for us was merely mental imagery before.
Perhaps T. S. Elliots famous poem illustrates this best:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Excitement and Adventure
We seek the romantic; we seek excitement and we seek adventure. But what really is excitement? Adventure? To consider what excitement and adventure really are, we need to consider that, for the most part, people are quite fearful of the unknown, wary of what is different, afraid of change, and prone to culture shock. Is there a paradox here?
Interestingly, adventurous, romantic, and exciting travel, are, to some extent, precisely so BECAUSE OF the element of discomfort, insecurity, and potential danger. We seek Romance, excitement and adventure TO A POINT just to the point of danger, so-to-speak.
I use the word danger in the sense as anything that tends to tip the balance of comfort, security, and safety in the direction of discomfort, insecurity, and risk both psychological and otherwise. Of course, one persons sense of adventure is anothers greatest phobia or fear. Riding the Zambezi River white water rapids is one persons thrill and anothers white-knuckle near-death experience.
The balance between travel and adventure and culture shock is a fine line. I think travelers try to maximize their own sense of excitement and adventure by stretching the envelope, i.e., by experiencing all that they can experience, just short of where their fear factors lie.
Excitement and adventure balanced against the fear of the unknown is probably the fundamental travel dynamic. Excitement may be defined, then, as coming as close to danger / discomfort / insecurity without actually being in danger . . .
To retrace the same adventures that famous explorers have done here-to-fore enables us to attempt to re-experience a bit of the unknown which, of course, was great at the time but which is somewhat more muted now hence adventurous but not quite so risky. It is easier to face climbing a mountain peak that has been breached before than it is to face it for the first time.
Robert Frost wrote:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
I took the one less traveled by
By following in the retraced footsteps of the rich and famous as well as the infamous although somewhat carefully re-orchestrated or re-choreographed steps of these others without the great fear of the unknown and without the great insecurities or dangers or cultural shocks we are able to experience these grand tours perhaps another variant of tours as in eco-tours or cultural safaris we are able to experience these semi-organized sorts of adventure travels reasonably safely and assuredly.
We dont have to be the originators of these treks; we merely need to repeat them in order to reap the psychological bennies that fuel the human psyche.
What better way to max our curiosity, passion, adventure, excitement, romance and liking and understanding ourselves all the more for it while enhancing our lives in every way what better way than to follow in the safe and secure footsteps of people whom we admire and respect and who have been there, done that before what better way to stretch our own sense of adventure, excitement, and resulting achievements by following the paths of those who came before us!