Why wanderlust? The meaning we seek in travel

October 6, 2014

The world is shaped like a plate: venture too far and you’ll fall off the edge.  Or so the Ancient Greeks thought.  But these days, we know more about our round blue dot than ever before.  The other side of the world no longer seems unreachable, in fact, it tends to sit right on our doorstep – in the news, on our screens, and just a cheap flight away.

Background image source: blackriver.tumblr.com

For a recent project with Fairfax Media, The Lab conducted research into why people travel for the launch of traveller.com.au at the Sydney Opera House.  We were excited to get our teeth stuck into the wide world of travel, but were quickly confronted with how complex and subjective the area is.  With the office busy philosophizing about our own experiences abroad, we took a close look into what was being talked about by the leaders in the category, and found that we are inundated with advice on where to travel, but we hear little of why and how we should go, as if travel itself is reason enough.

We dove into the research with a philosophical approach: if travel can rearrange our inner landscape, what internal rearrangements do we search for when we travel?  Or, more succinctly:

What meaning do we seek through travel?

Ironically, in The Art of Travel, Alain de Button discusses how we are actually quite ignorant of the art of travel: when we go on holiday, we take ourselves, complete with our habits and worries with us.  Yet escaping from the day-to-day is still an important ritual.

With this as our framework, we turned to respondents to discuss their recent travel experiences using the two biggest conventions of travel: photos and letters. We gleaned patterns of codes from these and overlaid the observations with our cultural intelligence studies (such as Grit Generation, Wabi Sabi, Recasting the Mould and Mindful in the Madness) to cluster the correlations according to dominant and emerging trends, common forces and shared impacts most relevant to Australians today.

To make each of these clusters watertight, we then peeled them back, retested them, questioned them, pulled them apart, put them back together and verified them through crowd interpretation, returning to the original respondents for a second stage of research and sourcing input from Fairfax and our fellow Labsters.  In the end, we were able to map the final clusters onto a semiotic square according to their meaning (see Australianness Meaning Map for an example), where the relationships between the clusters were made clear.  Although each area had a number of different expressions, it shared common drivers and implications for specific demographic cohorts.

The four main areas were potential, mindfulness, belonging and excess.  Unfortunately, it would take another essay to properly explain these areas and the relationships between them, but get in touch if you’re interested to know more.

On Tuesday September 30th at the Sydney Opera House, after an interview with AdNews, we revealed the square and discussed the implications it had for brands, experience, communications and products, and how the findings could be made affective in a myriad of ways. It was the culmination of a long and exciting project and we loved being involved in the launch of the new look Traveller.  Read more about it on AdNews, Mediaweek and The Newspaper Works.

The Labsters:  Lucy Baldwin, Paul Labagnara and Amelia Moulis