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Drive-By Tourism

by Vanessa Ullman

Photography courtesy of Noor Nasser

It isn’t always easy to make time for travel. One way to fit in a quick vacation is drive-by tourism. This up-and-coming trend is loosely defined as driving through a destination and quickly catching just one or two highlights before leaving.

Not only is drive-by tourism cost effective, but it also saves time. You get multiple mini vacations for the price of one, and you have an irreplaceable adventure along the way.

“You see it, you take pictures, and that’s it,” said Misaki Kobayashi (SAR ’20).

This current travel trend certainly has its perks. When vacation time is limited, driving through a town to just see its best attractions can offer a much better, and perhaps more affordable, option.

“I think it’s important to maximize the amount of time you have,” said Katie Edson (CAS ’19). “If I only had one week of vacation I would want to see as much as I could in that week rather than spend the entire time in just one city.”

This approach is ideal for road trips. For example, when driving cross-country, it’s much easier stop and snap a quick picture at Mount Rushmore than plan a whole vacation in South Dakota.

“There are things you can easily control on a road trip,” said Misaki Kobayashi (SAR ’20). “You can pick what you want to do, when to stop and even what to do in the car.”

However, despite the practical benefits of these trips, critics claim that this type of tourism is often unwelcome. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, credited drive-by tourism with our growing alienation, as well as with the selfie-obsessed tourists that are commonly seen today. Airbnb has actively taken steps to help their clients live like locals, and avoid becoming the frantic tourist trying to do everything in one day.

In addition to social disapproval, drive-by tourism has also affected cities financially. For example, in Petra, Jordan, the local economy has faced hardships due to the type of tourism that floods the city each year. Many tourists who come to Jordan travel exclusively to the main sites, stay in Americanized hotels and sightsee with tour groups that only show the best parts of the city. Local businesses in other places have seen a significant drop in tourism revenues.

So how can travelers find the best combination of drive-by and tourism experiences?

Travel site Mockingbird tries to stay away from drive-by tourism altogether, as its emphasis is on travelers “getting off the beaten path”. With itineraries that do not try to cram every excursion into just one day, the company encourages you to take a few days to discover new places.

Try experiencing the quirks of a city or town that often go unnoticed. Take a slightly longer trip with more time allotted for unplanned activities and simple wandering. These are the memories that make a vacation feel unconstrained. Pick up a physical map and get lost looking for a site or for the route back to your hotel. These moments make for the best kind of vacation stories.

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