If you have ever been on a vacation – and I believe I can say with confidence that each of you has been at least on a weekend excursion to the countryside, if not on a fully-blown trip abroad – you will have experienced similar situations to the ones described here.
Imagine a holiday spot somewhere nice and warm, with the sea just in walking distance (or even just across the road). In your mind, it will likely be remote from everywhere else, maybe a holiday resort right on the beach? There you go: keep that in mind and dream for a while. We all deserve to dream on occasion.
And now it’s time for the reality of your vacation spot.
Ever since tourism has taken off and become something that everyone can enjoy, we are being sold that ideal we take from tourism’s humble beginnings: the impage of the well-to-do youngster going on the European tour, and then further afield, and everything being pretty much tailor-made, personal and leisurely. Those early travels were lush affairs, they took months or even years to complete, and further destinations were added during the trip to extend the experience.
Of course, you can still find these tailor-made, personal and leisurely vacations, but they come at a steep price reminiscent of the cost those early travellers had to bear. Modern tourism, however, it a different animal altogether, and has taken on all the trimmings of modern life: it’s pre-assembled, usually an experience shared with others, and it has to be finished in record time to fit our fast-paced lifestyle and short holiday allowances. And that is leaving aside the windows of opportunity left by school holidays, and professional demands, and price hikes during those crunch periods.
All these conditions lead to a different kind of vacation: one that is by definition a mass product (to keep it cheap), within a short time frame (quick transit to the destination and uniform accommodation in a single place to keep things simple), and chock full of opportunities to experience the heck out of the ‘leisure’ time we have wrestled out of our employers or customers. Talk about taking the ‘leisure’ out of a vacation!
And that brings us to the consumer traps: more often than not, those holiday spots are located in places that used to be barren land, where large developments could easily be built and where there was, and often still is, room to expand. That leads to a couple of common issues: these developments are the only thing around, without a proper town or village to support the multitude of people in those holiday spots. What’s next? Let there be malls, shopping centres, or whatever you call them. These places have all the trimmings needed to make you buy stuff. You don’t believe me? Read on:
When you arrive there, you’ll be lulled into complacency by the all-pervasive musical trimmings. The music comes in two forms: sub-conscious muzak that makes you pliable for the shops, or up-beat music that makes you take quick decisions because you are honed to the fast pace after a couple of minutes. Both work well for sales!
If boredom doesn't get you there, it's going to be hunger: most restaurants will be located in the shopping centres as well, because a well-fed customer will be more receptive to wandering around slowly after a large meal. And restaurants like exhausted shoppers because those people will like the convenience of sitting down and having a meal when they are tired.
The next thing you’ll find is that it’s easy to walk into a shopping centre, but hard to find the way out again. The routes are usually manufactured to keep you in as long as possible, and all the longer for the handy spots to consume food and drink. Believe me, you’ll end up in a café, pub or restaurant sooner or later, because those are usually the only places you can sit down! Yes: shopping centres are short on seats, because sitting visitors are not confronted with merchandise all the time and might just decide to go back to their rooms.
The death blow to any self-control you have left is this: the promise of ‘cheap’ and ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities! “Will I find those nice little mobiles with clay bells at home?”, “Would little Clarence not look darling in those pants?” and similar questions will haunt you until you give in and buy. Don’t deny it: you have been in that position!
It’s all marketing, of course, and it works oh so well. By going for the vacation model we are predestined to spend a lot of money for things we never knew we needed.
You might think: “Oh, I can avoid those shopping centres!” but think again: if you find yourself at an airport, a major train station or on a ferry, you’ll see that all those places run on similar principles: airports usually have a well-planned route through all the shops before you get to the gate itself (which has machines selling things as well), any major railway station has already turned into a maze you have to get through to find the platforms and ferries have the added charm that you cannot run away during the crossing. All these places use the same principles: boredom, musical trappings, guided paths, and the lure of the cheap and unmissable. “Oh, I can avoid those”? Think back to your last trip and remind yourself of what you bought and why. Surprise!
What I'd like you to take away from this is simple: keep an open eye for consumption traps and their tricks. You may not be able to walk around them, but at least you won't be completely innocent in your approach and might just get out without spending too much money. Good luck!
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.