Reducing clutter is the theme of the Netflix program “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which recently brought the host’s minimalist philosophy to reality TV. She demonstrates how to fold T-shirts and, to make decluttering decisions easier, she’ll ask the untidy people she visits to consider, item by item, whether an object sparks joy within them. If not, it’s sent on its merry way to Goodwill.
I suspect thrift stores are receiving ample supplies of “What was I thinking?” souvenirs from Kondo’s devoted viewers. But other aspects of travel are not so easily discarded. Travel memories that spark joy can reside eternally in your memory, but the detritus of disappointing trips are just a synapse away. Sitting on the beach and sitting on the tarmac take up equal space in the untidy alcoves of the mind.
For the moment, let’s focus on the things that spark joy when traveling. For me, they most frequently involve people I meet and a pleasant feeling of sensory overload.
The specifics of what sparks joy varies tremendously from person to person, so I polled a handful of friends and colleagues and asked what aspect of travel they would never discard and, in fact, will try to incorporate into every trip they can. Here’s a sampling of the responses:
John Van den Heuvel, president of Gogo Worldwide Vacations: “My guilty pleasure is breakfast on the balcony. Eggs Benedict, where available. This gives me the chance to experience the hotel menu and service, but more importantly, take in the view and landscape of my current reality: a beach, an alley, the ocean, a monument, a courtyard, a cathedral, a river, a pool or a city view. Balconies are amazing to view the world, watch life and reflect.
Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board, North America: “As a child on a trip to Swaziland, I played with local kids, ate their food and learned about their culture. That changed me. Since then, it sparks joy to meet and interact with local people and children and learn about new cultures, foods and traditions. On the other hand, flying on planes with small seats and no legroom takes joy away!”
Pico Iyer, essayist and novelist: “What I love most about travel is exactly the kind of minimalism and rapt attentiveness that Marie Kondo speaks for. On the road, I live simply, with only as much as I can carry — and I still find, every time, that I’ve packed too much.
“At a deeper level, I love the fact that I leave my self — my assumptions, my resume, my notion that I know the world and am on top of things — at home. I’m wide open, my bags are almost empty and anything can happen and fill me up.”
Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”: “What sparks joy in me is that sensation that everything is waiting to be discovered. I love to wander and explore, and I don’t rely on Google maps to lead me back to the hotel. Where’s the thrill in that? One’s first impression is not unlike a first date and shouldn’t be a canned introduction supplied by a hop-on/hop-off bus.”
Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel Inc.: “To be immersed in a destination and transformed by travel, to support local economies by buying local or giving back to wildlife conservation, that is true joy.”
Valerie Wilson, CEO of Valerie Wilson Travel: “No trip is complete unless I have a fabulous meal and time to shop. My closet is filled with memories, and it brings me great joy to do my holiday shopping all year long, whether in India or Italy.”
Geoffrey Kent, chairman of Abercrombie & Kent: “It’s hard to express in words why I still find going on safari so rewarding, The landscapes are spectacular, and the wildlife is amazing, but for me the most satisfying part of the day is sitting around a campfire with a cold drink and sharing stories, reminiscing about the wild Africa that once existed everywhere but is now so much harder to find.”
Many though not all of these reflections suggest that travel’s appeal often hinges on simplicity and forethought that is not at odds with Marie Kondo’s world view. But it could also be inferred that travel is most impactful when it is not overly structured and indeed allows time and space for spontaneity and complexity.
That contradiction might explain why we’re still waiting for a reality show that’s 1) instructive about how to travel better; 2) conveys the life-affirming spirit of a journey; and 3) acknowledges that travel advisors exist who have the expertise not only to spark joy but to make accessible the thrills that come with seeing the world anew.
That’s seldom a tidy process, but I have to believe it’s at least as telegenic as organizing drawers. Netflix, the travel world is ready when you are.