Magazine article Newsweek International

End of the Road; the Real Threat to Travel Is That Our Sense of Wonder Will Vanish along with All the Exotic Destinations

Magazine article Newsweek International

End of the Road; the Real Threat to Travel Is That Our Sense of Wonder Will Vanish along with All the Exotic Destinations

Article excerpt

Byline: Marcel Theroux

Far is not so far anymore. When I took my first long trip to India in 1986, I didn't speak to my parents for five months because the phone lines were so bad. I collected my mail at the Poste Restante counter each time I arrived in a new town, and wrote home on crinkly airmail paper to save postage.

At 37, I am not yet old--but these details already belong to a very old-fashioned world. E-mail and Internet cafes have made the letter home seem as quaint as sealing wax. And if a young traveler went five months without calling nowadays you would assume the worst.

Stealthily, the world is converging, thanks to cheap flights and computers, cable television, mobile-phone networks and the spread of commercial franchises that have put Irish pubs and pizzerias in cities as far apart as Baku and Tegucigalpa. And yet, the purpose of travel remains the same--to encounter the unfamiliar, to get Elsewhere. It's a place of enchantment and transformation which can be arduous to reach, but which promises to enrich your understanding of the world, and reflect your own life back at you. Prospero's island in Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" is the epitome of Elsewhere. No one went there to get a suntan, and there's tension between the locals and the outsiders, but almost everyone went home a little altered.

Throughout history the existence of Elsewhere has been a given. Traditionally, it was very close, rarely more than a day's walk away. But the same global culture that now draws us together also threatens to tame Elsewhere with uniformity. After all, Prospero's island wouldn't seem quite so magical if there were a Club Med on it.

I traveled by biplane through a wilderness of snow in 2002 to visit the Even, a group of reindeer-herding near-nomads in northern Siberia, only to find myself in a wooden hut watching a Hollywood submarine movie with them. …

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