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July 8, 2013

Emmett Dulaney: Westward, ho!

By the time you read this, I will be gone. If all goes as planned, last Friday I hopped a passenger train and headed west to spend some time at Yellowstone National Park with my youngest son. We rented a car and will be driving back at our own pace without any real itinerary in mind. While it may sound like a flight of fancy that has nothing to do with business – and thus not a good fit for this column – I assure you there are a number of correlations to be made.

The first is that you never appreciate where you are when you are there. When I was a young college dropout, I lived and worked at Yellowstone for most of a season; it is the first of the national parks and one of the most beautiful treasures our country has. The whole time I was there, though, I plotted how to leave. For every five days the employees worked, we earned two days off. A group of us would work for weeks straight to accumulate a large chunk of days off and then use them to go elsewhere – hang out in the city, go to other parks, etc. For over 30 years now, I’ve envisaged going back to the park just so I can see the sites that I shunned while I was there. This inability to appreciate what is in your own periphery and prize what is elsewhere is universal and should lead to questioning what is right here right now that we are overlooking or downplaying instead of being grateful for.

The second is that economic rationale goes out the window when wistfulness enters the picture. If my calculations are correct, there is only a small window of opportunity for doing things like this before all my kids are too involved in other ventures and/or I am not well enough to want to. Everyone in the travel industry – from theme parks to national park vendors – understands this and that is why they market to that Achilles’ heel: if they can play on your sentiment, they can get you to spend one week’s pay each and every day of your journey.

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