“The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad.” Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad

Aug 9, 2017–As another summer simmers down, many of us have been guilty of over sharing travel photos of our adventures. You recognize them; the snaps of Ma, Pa, and Peggy Sue dutifully posed in front of the natural wonders of the world and great architectural achievements of mankind.

We mere humans seem to have a predilection for collecting these images, as if they were baseball cards highlighting our traveling career.

I blame the bucket list.

Something about the concept of a bucket list always bothered me. The idea of ticking off items on a travel To Do list seemed to reduce life’s goals to a game on a paper place mat.

Seen the Eiffel Tower? Check.

Boat trip down the Amazon? Check.

Ride a donkey to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Check.

Speaking of paper place mats, a perfect example of this phenomenon is the recent story of the couple that spent 40 years visiting every Cracker Barrel, some 645 of them. I guess it’s good to have goals, even if they revolve around gravy.

With the advent of social media and the smart phone, we all seem to channel our inner Ansel Adams. No one minds a few snapshots of your trip to Mount Rushmore or Rome, but do you really need to upload 158 photos showing every fountain, castle, and cobblestone you stumble upon? Chances are we’ve seen much better photographs of the Sistine Chapel and the Great Wall in National Geographic or on the Travel Channel. Photos, like columns, benefit from editing.

One obnoxious innovation that wasn’t possible in the days of the Kodak Brownie is the compulsion for taking selfies of our travel trophies.

Seeing a person pose in front of every great architectural and artistic triumph in Europe diminishes the art and doesn’t improve the traveler.

The most amusing I’ve seen is the group of young ladies at Galleria dell’Accademia assuming “the position”–hands on hip, one leg crossed in front of other, head tilted to one side, impossibly white teeth smile–while Michaelangelo’s David’s marble assets dangle overhead.

What a Christmas card–Dear Grandma, Buon Natale from Italy.

It’s like that popular online app that shades in all the states you’ve visited. It becomes a competition without context. You don’t know if someone really explored the state, stopping at every “world’s largest” ball of twine and sampling the local bourbon, or just filled up the RV at Buc-ee’s.

In spite of what John Steinbeck wrote, travel doesn’t change us. I believe travel only exaggerates our existing traits. So if you are already a bore, travel just lets you be boring about more things.

Listen to anyone going someplace new. All we want to talk about is how the new place is different from home. The weather, the trees, the color of the fire hydrants, the way people drive, the funny names of soda pops. It’s as if our home is the default setting for all things, be it ever so humble.

At this point, some readers are probably upset with me. I agree with you: it’s none of my business how anyone chooses to fill their bucket before they kick it.

But while we’re immersed in our own buckets, let’s not forget to notice the ocean.


Details: For readers with Fredericksburg on their bucket list, Phil’s book Finding Fredericksburg: Self-Guided Tour Through Historic Fredericksburg is available on Amazon, or on my website.

Phil Houseal is a writer and owner of Full House PR.

Contact him at phil@fullhouseproductions.net