Faith Long didn’t know what to expect when she boarded a plane to Hawaii in February.
After all, the 19-year-old freshman marketing major from the small town of Rusk, Texas, had never flown before. The farthest she’d ever traveled was to Colorado on a family road trip when she was in eighth grade.
“My mom cried,” Long said, recounting what happened when her mother dropped her off for the trip with the Stephen F. Austin State University beach volleyball team. “I am the baby of the family.”
Once she landed in Hawaii, the team manager had an eye-opening experience.
“This was my first time for a lot of things. I got to see Hawaiian culture,” she said. “I did everything I could do. We went to a local coffee shop and tried a lot of different things like that. Now that I’m back, I wish I was in Hawaii.”
As National Travel and Tourism Week – May 7-13 – approaches, it’s a good time to look at the benefits of travel and its importance. Data compiled for 2022 by the U.S. Travel Association found the industry is recovering but not yet to the levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Direct travel spending totaled $1.2 trillion, multiplying in communities and jobs across the nation to an economic output of $2.6 trillion. Eight million workers are employed in the travel industry, and 2.3 million people took trips inside the U.S. in 2022.
Beyond the numbers: what travel means
Although she didn’t know it, Long followed the advice of author Craig Storti, a trainer and consultant in intercultural communications and cross-cultural adaptation. His recent book, “Why Travel Matters,” looks at the differences between tourism and travel and explores how to be a traveler and change your life.
“We’re the product of our experience,” said Storti, whose lifelong love of travel began when he joined the Peace Corps after college to work in Morocco. “Nothing offers more new experiences than travel. One of the noblest goals is to understand ourselves and the world.”
To Storti, travel is much more than tourism.
“If you can interact with people when you travel, the better you can understand,” he said. “Tourism is traveling to escape, but to change your life, you have to be a serious traveler.”
And to be a serious traveler, Storti said get away from it all – especially work.
Most Americans fall short of taking all of their vacation days. Indeed’s Employee Burnout report in 2021 found the average worker has 15.6 vacation days every year but left four unused.
“When you set out on a journey, go off the grid,” he said. “Try not to get too much influence from where you came from and tie you to the world you left. You don’t need to hear from people every hour or send a photo every hour. Stay detached.”
By relaxing, detaching and staying off the grid, travelers can reap what he considers the best benefit of a trip: change.
“When you travel, it changes you,” Storti said. “A lot of people are afraid of change. But if you can change, you can grow. People who can change are the world’s best hope. Everybody needs to grow. You don’t have to accept something in another culture, but if you see it, you will grow.”
Long has already taken that advice to heart. Her motto for her trip to Hawaii was “go big.”
She said this is what she learned: “Be very spontaneous, do whatever is at your reach. Don’t sleep in, wake up early and don’t waste any time.
“After that experience, I would like to travel a lot more,” Long said. “I’d like to go to Belize, something really crazy, to go big again.”
Three tips from Craig Storti to be a traveler instead of a tourist
Linger in a place. Spend a couple of hours and watch interactions between people. Don’t just go and have a cup of coffee.
Get off the beaten path. Don’t just go to a museum or visit the most popular places. To soak up local culture, go to places that tourists don’t go. “Any place you can go is a place you can learn,” he said.
Stay off social media until your trip is over. Posting constantly to Instagram or Facebook takes away from the experience.
By the numbers: U.S. Travel
- $1.2 trillion: direct travel spending in 2022
- $2.6 trillion: total economic output tied to travel in 2022
- $160 billion: federal, state and local taxes generated by travel spending in 2022.
- 8 million: workers directly employed in the travel industry.
- 15 million: jobs supported by travel
- $837 billion: domestic leisure travel spending in 2022