Define "foreign travel." I'm asking for a personal definition, not a legal or governmental one. It's just that I've often wondered -- this past weekend more than ever -- if a vacation at a tropical resort constitutes foreign travel? What if you find no need to depart from the utter comfort of the resort itself?
This past weekend, along with my family and many friends, I attended a beautiful wedding at the Hyatt Ziva in Cancun. The hotel is beautiful, the staff enormous and friendly, and every comfort was attended to. This trip was the first I'd ever taken where I did not leave the resort to explore. In the past, basic comforts were taken care of morning and night; during the day, there were adventures to be had! But that's not what this particular trip was for and oh, what a blast it was vacationing with so very many people we know and love, not to mention attending the spectacular wedding of a beloved young couple.
But it occurred to me that every year, many people vacation at resorts without ever leaving the carefully manicured grounds. Sometimes it's simply not safe to do so and sometimes it's simply not convenient. I realize, too, that resort travel is its own travel niche. But is a tropical resort vacation a foreign travel experience or just a resort experience?
Did we experience a foreign country? Language wasn't an issue. Almost everyone working at the resort spoke English, which is something I could say about many American cites as well. I polled others in our party and, not surprisingly, no firm conclusion was agreed upon. It was only fair to acknowledge that all of us were, in fact, in a country other than our own (be it Canada, Lebanon, or America). Our passports were stamped. Okay, so foreign? Most of the Texans scoffed at the notion. Would someone in Buffalo, New York consider Canada a foreign country? One young man pointed out that if you are from somewhere further from the border, Mexico would certainly seem foreign. Finally, most all agreed -- including me -- that, at the very least, a resort vacation does not authentically represent the country in which it is located.
But it sort of does, doesn't it? Usually (not always), the people working in resorts are from the area. Certainly in Mexico, that is the case. Aren't people half the experience, at least? And then there's the location, the physical, geographical place. Resort or no, a Mexican resort is in Mexico, a Jamaican resort is in Jamaica, and a resort in the British Virgin Islands is ... um....
On the flight home, I discussed the issue with the young world traveler seated next to me. She considered the question seriously and suggested that it surely depended upon the traveler and the destination. She also pointed out that what constitutes a country's culture can vary depending on the specific area within the country. Food is a good example. What might be enjoyed along the coast of a country might not be found in the mountainous regions, or what is popular in the city not the least appreciated in the countryside.
It almost begs the question: what is authentic? A close-to-home example would be the resort towns of Breckenridge and Vail, Colorado. I love both dearly. Breckenridge holds the boast that it was a real town before it became a resort. So far as the debate goes, the Breck folks maintain that Vail has never been a "real" town. It was invented as a resort. The Vail team argues that it has been a town since it was incorporated in 1966. For whatever reason a town was founded, surely the fact that it has a mayor (a community leader), and supports a year-round population with police and fire departments, hospitals, schools, and all sorts of commerce, makes it a real town? To expand to the broader examination, are the ski resorts of Vail and Breckenridge representative of Colorado? I say yes, as far as the high mountain culture is concerned.
At the end of the day, a resort vacation in Cancun might not represent Mexico City, but it definitely represents Cancun.
The young world traveler was right, as the young so often are.
Surely, the past, present, and future connect in this miraculous state we call life. In this light, history and all human experience are ever-present. Wouldn't it be nice, then, if we could enjoy each other, if we could appreciate and celebrate our differences? Let us love! Let us have fun. Let us toast each other and wish each other well. Now, in our awareness, is the time to be happy, to do our best, to live fully to our purest, highest standards.