Why We Travel: Finding What You Love

Last summer I attended an adult art camp at Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum of American Art, where we viewed works surrounding a theme before creating our own art inspired by the experience. It was led by Adera Causey, the museum’s curator of education.

One of the works we viewed was Niagara Falls, painted by Victor de Grailly in the 19th century.


Niagara Falls by Victor de Grailly on display at Hunter Museum of American Art

Adera asked what we saw. “Strolling couples holding parasols,” someone responded. “Ladies picnicking on the grass,” another added. The general consensus was that of a scene of calm, natural beauty leading up to the roaring waterfall.

“What’s wrong with the painting?” Adera inquired.

After a moment’s pause, people began commenting. “The trees don’t grow that close to the water.” “There’s no way people would walk out on that rickety little bridge.” “Has there ever been a lighthouse at the top of Niagara Falls?”

The artistic license de Grailly took with the scene was fairly common with destination paintings of the era, Adera explained. Travel wasn’t very easy in that day. It was expensive and took a lot of effort.

Let’s say you spent the time and money to visit Niagara Falls in 1870 and found it underwhelming. Were you likely to return home and give your friends an honest assessment? Probably not. You would be far likelier to speak of it in glowing terms so people didn’t feel your trip was a wasted expense.

Then all those friends who heard your accolades would begin to think they should perhaps take a trip to Niagara Falls as well.

They arrive at the scene and are also underwhelmed. But because you gave it such a wonderful review, they begin to wonder if perhaps they just don’t get it. Maybe there’s something more to Niagara Falls than they understand?

So they return home and give it the same effusive praise you did so that people don’t think they’re somehow less worldly since they didn’t have the same amazing experience you had.

And the cycle begins.

Now, I’m not saying that Niagara Falls isn’t worth a visit. We had a fun first anniversary trip there many years ago. But would I plan a trip to visit again soon? No.

We tend to prefer more off-the-beaten path places, whether it’s an attraction or a city. Give us Brisbane over Sydney. Tangier over Casablanca. Córdoba over Madrid. Chattanooga over New York.

Are there amazing things in all of those places? Absolutely. Are there people who would happily pick the major metropolis every time? Of course.

Part of travel is figuring out what you like and seeking out those things. Find what you love in the world.

I’ll take the Durdle Door over Stonehenge any day.