Monday, November 26, 2012

Travel: experiencing vs. remembering

Inevitably, some of the comments left on this blog are spam -- various companies or individuals trying to promote their wares. I suppose I should consider myself lucky - spam could get much worse than that. Besides, I could take it as a compliment: these spammers seem to think that my blog is so popular, that their message might reach lots of potential clients!

Today's spam-comment was slightly more oblique. It went as follows:
Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.
Flights to Dingaling
Cheap Flights to Dingaling
Cheap Air Tickets to Dingaling
With the hyperlinks pointing to some travel agency, say DingDong Travel Bureau.

- Ooh, I thought to myself, that's a negative attitude to take towards foreign travel! But then I realized that the punchline was the bit about losing your luggage. "Book your ticket with DingDong," it seemed to say, "and we'll give you a really good deal on luggage insurance!"

Well, I have two comments to make:
First of all, I have been traveling for many years and have never actually lost my luggage. In three cases (over scores of years) my luggage lagged behind me, as it were, when I had a tight connection. It arrived a bit late, but it arrived safely. Which doesn't mean I neglect to issue proper insurance before each trip.

Second, the statement about anticipation and remembering has some validity to it, or at least the first half does.
Only recently I finished reading a chapter called "Two Selves" in Daniel Kahneman's excellent book Thinking, fast and slow. This chapter deals with the concepts of the experiencing self and the remembering self. "Confusing experience with memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion," says Kahneman (p. 381), and continues to elaborate on the subject.

So yes, much of the emotional value of the trip is in your memories, which you can relive, aided by photos, notes, blogs and conversations with your fellow-travelers, if any. And if you suffered the misfortune of a bad experience towards the end of your trip, it has doubtlessly colored your entire memory of the trip, even if most of it was enjoyable.

But, applying the same logic, if you lost your luggage early on in the trip, but the luggage was later retrieved, or you got very prompt and generous compensation that enabled you to continue the trip complete with a spanking new suitcase, stylish jeans, quality toiletries and a new laptop and camera -- and if the rest of the trip was terrific -- then your memories will be terrific, too. Lost luggage? Who cares!

So, thank you, Ms. X from Down Under, for giving me this idea for a blog post.
I hope all travelers take out travel insurance, and I wish you all safe landings and wonderful, memorable trips.
Oh, and do read Daniel Kahneman -- both enjoyable and enlightening.

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