“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― St. Augustine
The majority of Americans (76%) would like to travel, but unfortunately, they either can’t afford to or they feel ill-equipped to venture out. In 2017, due to finances or an inability to take time off, 43% of Americans took no summer vacation. Some Americans (10%) have never even ventured outside the state where they were born.
These astounding statistics from a 2018 study conducted by OnePoll deeply sadden me. For more than 15 years, I’ve enjoyed a successful career working alongside amazing destinations to promote them. When we track our results and learn that thousands of new travelers visited these places (thanks in part to our marketing efforts), I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and pride.
Now I find out that we’re marketing to a minority, and that’s not good enough. Three of four people who see these destination promotions, and thus aspire to travel there, will not be able to do so. I mourn for the personal experiences they’re missing—not just for the activities and attractions that represent a vacation but mostly for the memories, the moments, and especially the well-being that comes from getting away and seeing something different.
When we encounter something, or someone, different from what we know, we develop understanding and we grow as human beings. In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain’s 1869 book about his travels through the European Holy Land, he wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
Unfortunately, I can’t put money in people’s pockets or set aside time in their busy schedules to make travel accessible to them, but what I can do is help put a book in their hands. For those who cannot afford to travel, reading a book can be an escape. Reading gives you a strong sense of place—and getting lost in the pages of a great tale in a far-away place can be nearly as good as going there.
It is my strong belief that Destination Marketing Organizations and others in the travel industry have a responsibility to improve the social foundations of not only their communities but also those of tomorrow’s traveler. One way they can do this is by supporting literacy and partnering with organizations like Coaching for Literacy (whose Fight For Literacy Games encourage children to read through the influence of sports coaches and players) or brands like Pizza Hut (whose Literacy Project works with FirstBook to ensure children in need have books to read) both of which I’m proud to represent.
But, first, we must read.
Readers Go Further
Another of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, said, “The more that you read, the more things that you’ll know. The more things that you know, the more places you’ll go.” For 32 million illiterate adults in the U.S, there’s little escape. And there’s even less for their children, since most children of illiterate adults have no books at home to access.
“Reading at grade-level by the end of 3rd grade is one of the largest factors contributing to success in a person’s life,” says Norma Nelson, executive director of Readers 2 Leaders in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that 64% of American 4th graders are not reading at grade level, and kids who can’t read are in danger of their world becoming quite small. As small as a prison cell for some, since 85% of youth who cycle through the juvenile court system cannot read.
As illiterate children become illiterate adults, they are likely to continue on this downward trend—graduating not from college, but to violent crime offenders and living in poverty. Only 4% of literate adults live in poverty, while 43% of illiterate adults live in poverty. You might think the effects of illiteracy are limited to the ghettos, but we all pay for it. Illiteracy costs business and tax payers more than $225 billion per year, and it adds more than $230 billion to the nation’s healthcare costs.
We can change these alarming statistics.
Put a book in a child’s hands at a young age, and they’ll develop a love of reading. When they read well, they’ll write well; they’ll perform better in school; they’ll become better employees and perhaps even employers; they’ll contribute more significantly to society which makes the world a better place.
Research has proven that reading increases vocabulary, improves memory and concentration, and boosts brain power. Likewise, it improves your writing and ability to communicate effectively. It enhances your imagination, and Albert Einstein argued, “Imagination is more important that knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Reading makes you more empathetic and reduces prejudice and bigotry. It even helps you sleep, reduces stress, and contributes to longevity. Aren’t these also many of the same benefits to traveling?
Readers Go Beyond
Reading can create an urgent desire to visit the places from a story—an opportunity to walk in the shoes of a character. Furthermore, reading about a place where you’ve already been can reaffirm your emotional connection to that place and create a desire to revisit.
But according to Pew Research Center, 26% of American admit to not having read any book in the past year. So, let’s get back to reading books (find out how what happened when this woman committed to reading one book per week for a month)... and, let’s get to traveling.