When you break down travel into its essential elements, you start to see patterns emerge.

As I jaunted about town (town currently being Singapore) today by taxi, bumboat, escalator, staircase and metro, enjoying restaurant, museum, statue, skyscraper and crowds, I found myself musing on a general theory of tourism.

The way I see it, all tourism can be reduced to six categories (view handy diagram here).

  • 1. Learning something new
  • 2. Eating something new
  • 3. Buying something new
  • 4. Watching/seeing something new
  • 5. Doing something (physically) new
  • 6. Meeting someone new

Every possible tourist activity falls into one (or in a few cases, several) of those categories. Satisfaction comes from doing something that is more extreme and interesting and new in one of these six ways.

Tourist activities cost money, of course, and the amount you’re willing to pay is increased by what extent it fulfills one of the six categories (and correspondingly limited by the total amount of funds you’ve got at your disposal).

In Search Of Experience

For example, you can go parasailing behind a boat in Mazatlan. The physical activity is #5, doing something new. The view of Mazatlan from the air is #4, seeing something new. And if you need to be trained to do it, it can be #1, learning something new.

Overall, it’s not that expensive compared to your total budget, so you decide to do it.

Now, if you’ve done parasailing before, maybe in the Bahamas, you’re not doing something new. And if it’s basically fool proof and they just need to strap you in, then you’re not learning much.

So therefore, you’re just paying for the view. This means you might decide not to do it again.

On the other hand, if you decided on your first day not to do it, but it’s now your last day and you haven’t spent your budget, you might look at the money you have and compare it to the cost and decide that it’s now worth it.

Going to see a play in London. That’s seeing, and if it’s a play about the French Revolution, perhaps you’d consider it learning, too. Getting dressed up might make it “doing” as well.

Is it worth it? Depends if you’ve gone to lots of plays before, and if you’ve got money enough to also accomplish the other tourist activities you have planned.

Going out to a restaurant in a hawker’s market, that’s eating and seeing. Possibly meeting, because you might be at a table with someone interesting. That’s better than a restaurant, which is only eating, and maybe seeing if it’s something out of the ordinary architecturally.

Buying is usually a category of its own, but you tend to pay more if it’s at a place where you’re doing or seeing or learning, because then you feel like the thing you bought has a little more value.

Buying something expensive can also, itself, become a valued memory or interesting tourist tale-like a rug from a Turkish bazaar.

To Each Their Own

What’s interesting is that the thing doesn’t have to be good-seeing something awful (disaster tourism, or visit to Auschwitz), eating durian fruit or something raw and icky, or even meeting someone weird or obnoxious, which later can be turned into a highly amusing anecdote.

Overall, each person tends to prefer some of the categories over other categories, and this, more than anything else, should determine who travels well together.

You might have different budgets and still come to some agreement over what to do. But if one person likes to shop and the other person likes to hike up mountains, that companionship is doomed.

What I’ve come to realize about myself is that of all things touristic, I prefer learning and eating, and if at all possible meeting new people.

Everything else is secondary.

Travis Smith is the owner of Hop Studios, a Web design and development company. He’s also a professional speaker on such topics as blogging, subscription-based revenue models and online journalism.

What numbers of the tourism theory are you most likely to embrace?