Tourist experiences and life trajectories. Relations to nostalgia

Philippe Bachimon,
Université d'Avignon et des pays de Vaucluse,
Jean-Michel Decroly,
IGEAT – DGES – Université Libre de Bruxelles,
Rémy Knafou


We think we precisely remember the holidays of thirty years ago, each day, each landscape, each emotion, but those are merely images, always the same ones, which we have selected and rearranged according to very personal criteria, like a camera that films only one angle, one part of the scenery (…). Our brain only classifies and remembers what interests us according to our subjectivity.

Michel Bussi, Maman a tort, Paris, Presses de la cité, 2015



Over the last two decades, an increasing number of works have been dedicated to the tourist experience, in the Anglo-Saxon world (for a review see for example Sharpley and Stone, 2012) as in the Francophone (see, for example, Decroly, 2015). In addition to their great diversity, they have in common the observation of what tourists experience during their stays or trips. In this sense, they consider the tourist experience as a set of psychic and physical states engendered by what the individual lives before, during and after a tourist stay. The approaches adopted thus conform to a synchronic perspective. They focus on what happens at the time of the trip or stay, eventually taking into account the preparations and ensuing memories. On the other hand, these works do not pay attention to the way in which the instantaneous experience falls within the individual’s life trajectory, or in which way it depends on a previous tourist experience and influences subsequent experiences[1].

Through the tourist practices that he achieves in a lifetime, an individual accumulates experiences – by confronting other places, people, cultures, situations… – than those familiar to him. This accumulation of tourist knowledge and skills is all the more noticeable as the first generations to have a majority of members who have had a life full of varied tourist experiences, the duration of which approximates quantitatively their experiences of everyday life, reach retirement (Viard, 2006). This unprecedented situation prompts us to question both the singularity of the tourist experience in relation to other life experiences, the way in which this experience builds up over a lifetime, the relationship between tourism and nostalgia, and finally the influence exerted by the accumulated tourist knowledge and skills on subsequent practices as well as on other aspects of life.

Singularity of the tourist experience?

Following the reflections of D. MacCannell (1976), the tourist experience is often conceived as a singular experience distinct from what the individual lives and feels in the routine of his daily life. By means of a trip, it is a matter of « encountering » otherness by confronting situations, potentially different from those of everyday life (Laplante, 1996). This confrontation is itself part of a time of opening-up for the individual, an open time and open space, in which constraints have been reduced to their minimum (or are experienced as such), while receptivity – curiosity, attention, interest – is optimized.

In this sense, tourist mobility can lead to various bifurcations. Through the temporary autonomization from the place of domicile, it allows one to distance oneself from the roles one usually plays, the people one socializes with or the institutions and social norms (Rémy, 1996). At the same time, the tourist’s condition turns him into an outsider to the destination he visits, a person who has no familiarity with the places (Relph, 1976). This double autonomization, in relation to the place of origin as well as to the place temporarily inhabited, opens a window of freedom. Tourist travel thus appears to favour the experimentation of new lifestyles through confrontation with unknown ways of doing (Löfgren, 1999) or unexpected situations (Urbain, 2008). Even if travel is based on deliberate choices (choice of destination, booking of transportation modes or stays…), it always involves an element of the unexpected, linked to last minute decisions, the chance of encounters, but also to the mishaps that many tourists experience (Urbain, 2008).

At least in this respect, each tourist stay produces new assets, in terms of skills and knowledge, but also in terms of emotions and sensations. Above relaxation, this is the added value of holidays. Experience constitutes the capitalization and return on investment. Thus, the tourist of course returns to his starting point, but changed, a fact that can easily be implicitly noted through contact with those who « did not have the chance to leave ».

He brings back memories to remember, to tell, to show (photos, tattoos…), to keep, or even to collect. These mental or material representations that remain after the tourist trip are not only used as a token of truth for others. Repeatedly, they also remind the individual that he is able to integrate diversity and the unexpected into his daily life (Löfgren, 1999).

Over at least the last three decades, the experiential added value of tourism has been genuinely marketed. For operators – tour operators, hosts, managers of attractions – it is no longer a matter of selling a service, but an experience. This is in fact the meaning given to « experience » by part of the Anglo-Saxon literature (see, for example, Pine and Gilmore, 1999), for whom it is a matter of living a predetermined experience through the staging of an original tourist service, such as, for example, spending a night in a disused prison. The cumulative principle of course plays a key role here. It is all about multiplying or diversifying stays in order to accumulate life experiences that one would probably never have, if we think back to the prison. The «fragments» of experiences of other lives (the poverty of a village in the Sahel, the natural environment of an equatorial « virgin » forest, …) to give meaning and coherence to our own.

On another level, tourist experiences have a reparative function: while reinforcing, by contrast, the banal or even tiresome nature of everyday life, they help to make it bearable (Bourdeau, 2011). Two movements are here at work. Before the stay, first of all, during the « hibernation time », when the individual is immersed in his routine and enters a form of lethargy of his imagination, the anticipation of the trip to come makes existence bearable. At the time of social acceleration (Rosa, 2012), this anticipation often has a saving role because it allows to break with the hyperactivity of everyday life. To the feeling of having so many occupations and so much work that there is « no longer time to think nor of oneself… nor of anything else in fact! », responds the leitmotiv drawn from a consensual popular wisdom: « Roll on the holidays, Roll on retirement. » After the stay, the individual is then likely to draw from his tourist experience a renewed vital force that facilitates the resumption of his routines.

The singular character of the tourist experience was questioned from the 1990s, first by S. Lash and J. Urry (1994), then by their laudators (see, for example, Uriely, 2005). As part of the post-modernist movement, the first as well as the second put forward the idea of a growing similarity between everyday life and tourism with the term « undifferentiation ». In developed capitalist societies, each individual appears to have increasing access, whether virtually or effectively, to experiences that are characteristic of tourism: the sometimes in depth discovery of the « world’s top destinations » via webcams or other new communication technologies; the possibility in one’s usual living environment to eat exotic products or to rub shoulders with people from distant countries, etc. At the same time, as suggests P. Bourdeau (2011) in his work on post-tourism, tourist trips tend to increasingly look like a working day, particularly given the importance of the tasks that are left to the traveller himself for the preparation and the fulfilment of his / her stay (prior search for information on the internet, online booking of accommodations, printing of tickets, etc.), but also the sometimes fervent activism that tourists must show.

Although everyday life and tourism are increasingly intertwined, the fact remains that tourist trips and stays produce a temporal and spatial break in the life of individuals. Even if it diminishes, this break nourishes an experience that holds singular features: for an inhabitant of Brussels, a meal in a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo during a stay in Japan, or in Brussels during an evening in the week, will not produce identical emotions and feelings. As Löfgren (1999) suggests, confronting otherness, not from within but from outside of one’s daily life, creates a singular relation between individuals and the products they consume, the relationships they build or maintain, the places they visit.

The construction of the tourist experience

The experiential added value and the impression of regeneration that derive from a tourist stay build up in the bodies and minds of individuals. The aggregation of these post-holiday impressions over the years operates according to a cumulative principle: while mixing with the other life experiences, they nourish a constantly renewed stock of knowledge and skills (Ceriani et al., 2004), but also of memories. On the scale of a lifetime, the tourist experience is constructed following a logic of addition, even when the stay is a failure, as recalls J.-D. Urban (2008). This logic is reinforced both by the expectations related to the stay and by its subsequent evocation. To the « holiday assignment » (Amirou, 2000) which, sometimes following a Stakhanovist logic, encourages the transformation of the stay into a moment of experiential enrichment, of discovery of new places, new cultures or different nature, responds the debriefing upon return, through the photo album, the video projection or the story.

Since the amount of time devoted to tourism takes up a growing space in the lives of individuals, the associated experiential sequences multiply in serial ways. Retrospectively, these sequences can be noted as a series of episodes of the same story, the content of which is rewritten after its passage through the airlock of memorial reconstruction. The multiplicity and diversity of tourist experiences lead the individual to forget the factual order or to mix up memories as if he were in a somatic state, which brings us to draw a parallel between tourism and the reified dream (after all, doesn’t the tourist visit the destinations of his dreams?). The most meaningful facts and their interpretations are however, fossilized in order to adapt to the invariability of resilience. Likewise, buried tourist memories are able to reemerge in response to the curiosity of others.

Tourist experiences follow each other and accumulate throughout a lifetime, even more so as life expectancy increases. After the (formative) experiences of childhood with the parents, of adolescence with or without the parents, follow those of adulthood within renewed family configurations, then those of retirement age, etc. Throughout a lifetime each person accumulates such experiences, which are unequally numerous and varied according to a large number of factors (economic, sociological, psychological, sanitary, etc.), while mixing them, through the processes of free or constrained recollection, with those of other family members, friends, or nowadays, members of the same social networks. Incidentally, the growing influence of the latter has changed the status of memories and recollection: part of the memorial stock buried within us is now exposed while it used to be private, or even intimate (Bachimon, 2013).

While the cumulative construction of life experiences remains little known, it is not a virgin area of research. As early as the 1970s, the question was addressed in the field of leisure studies (Buse and Enosh, 1977, Kelly, 1974). The work carried out in this context highlights the decisive influence of childhood practices on subsequent practices. For example, several longitudinal surveys show that activities in adulthood, whether social, artistic or sporting, are closely correlated with those undertaken during adolescence, all the more so as the practice was regular at that age (Scott and Willis, 1989; 1998). At the time, this result was interpreted in the light of the life-cycle model (Neugarten, 1977): in the face of the many changes they confront as they age (coupling, childbirth, evolution of income, decline in physical capacities, etc.), individuals perpetuate the mental structures (ideas, preferences, skills) acquired during childhood, thus guaranteeing a certain continuity in the conduct of their lives (Atchley, 1989).

It was not until the 1990s that the first studies specifically dedicated to lifelong tourism emerged. These fall within the scope of two different directions. In the field of marketing, first of all, several surveys highlight the influence of past experiences, in particular the holidays of childhood and adolescence, on subsequent choices of destinations but also on tourist practices (Mazursky 1989, Bojanic 1992, Gitelson and Kerstetter 1992). For example, in a survey carried out upon former students aged 55and over from a university in the Northeastern United States, R. Gittelson and D. Kerstetter (1992) found that 80% of the respondents returned at least once during their lifetime to the favorite destination of their teenage years. In order to interpret these converging findings, the researchers involved rely on the emotional attachment to childhood or the inertial nature of consumer choice (Gitelson and Crompton, 1984).

Lifelong tourism has also been approached from a more sociological perspective in the analysis of tourist careers (Oppermann, 1995, Frändberg and Vilhelmson, 2003, Frändberg, 2008, Guibert, 2016). The objective pursued in this framework is to reconstruct, through longitudinal surveys or life stories, the succession of tourist stays during all or part of the life trajectory. The results obtained are in part consistent with those of the transversal analysis carried out in relation to the decision-making process. L. Frändberg thus shows that if the range of individual destinations diversifies as age increases, particularly in connection with the migrations undertaken by individuals or their relatives, certain places are nonetheless regularly visited since childhood. According to the author, the repetitive nature of the spatial holiday frame originates less from an affective attachment to the first holiday destinations than from a logic of routinization in decision-making. With the use of the work by C. Lindh (1998), she suggests that tourists organize their trips according to their previous experiences and that the more they are used to go to the same place, the more the decision-making becomes routine and self-imposing.

As part of a survey conducted with semi-directive interviews upon around forty adults from Angers in France, C. Guibert (2016) highlights the diversity of individual tourist trajectories. While noticing the unmistakable effect of childhood experiences on those of adulthood, he also observes among several interviewees a late learning of tourist practices, mainly among those originating from the agricultural professional fields and the working-class. Similarly, in quoting B. Lahire (2012), he notices tourist configurations « under marital influence », which are characterized by the decisive influence of the member of a couple who has the most tourist experiences on the choice of destinations and practices. With the application of a Bourdieu perspective, C. Guibert (2016: 12) puts forward a convincing interpretation of the construction of the tourist experience. In his view, the cumulative tourist experience is built « according to social processes which are, in the end, quite similar to those studied in the sectors of cultural practices or sports practices. (…). While tourist learnings usually begin in childhood (within the family, at school) and continue as individuals grow older, cumulative socializing experiences or, conversely, contradictory socializing experiences, reinforce the idea that nothing is ultimately linear, thereby effectively limiting the mechanical and essentialist scope of family cultural heritages as the only explanation ». From this point of view, tourist practices that are undertaken at a given moment by an individual are thus sometimes based on the reproduction of past experiences, and sometimes on the invention or on the discovery of new practices which might break with those inherited from family socialization. There are a number of factors that can be taken into account: the varying prevalence, depending on the social background and the individuals, of childhood learnings, the diversity of individual life trajectories (evolution of personal economic capacities, choice of spouse, family configurations, friends or professional encounters), not to mention the evolution of the tourist context (dominant models of practice, characteristics of the offer, cost and comfort of transport, etc.).

Tourism and nostalgia

The close links between tourist experiences at different stages of the life trajectory bring us to examine more closely the interactions between the cumulative tourist experience, the construction of individual memory and the constitution of self.

According to contemporary cognitive psychology, far from being a homogeneous mental function, memory appears to be organized by several independent but interacting systems (van der Linden, 2003). Among these systems is the episodic memory, which is dedicated to facts experienced in person and to their spatio-temporal context. According to Conway (2005), the episodic events that are most salient or relevant to the individual are maintained in the long term through their integration into another memory system, the autobiographical memory. The latter, which is not only composed of episodic elements since it also includes general knowledge about oneself (names of people in one’s environment, for example) taken from the semantic memory, gathers cumulative knowledge, including images, feelings, smells… that are present during the encoding. In this capacity, the autobiographical memory allows time travel by reliving past experiences as well as by projecting oneself into the future. It is also available to inform any action that the individual must undertake.

The encoding and the preservation of certain events in the autobiographical memory, as well as their subsequent reconstruction as memories, closely depend not only on what Conway calls the conceptual self, that is to say the set of goals, beliefs, desires and emotions of an individual, but also on his present experiences. In this sense, if the autobiographical memory contributes to the constitution of self (see, for example, Duval et al., 2009), it is also closely dependent on what the individual is and what he experiences in the moment: the three elements interact reciprocally. There is thus a continuous interference between the memorial, the existential and the experiential. In the field that concerns us here, this means both that present tourist experiences are influenced by the memory of past ones, and that the selection by memory or the burying of tourist events experienced as the subsequent reconstruction of memories depends not only on the conceptual self, but also on present experiences. This explains that the autobiographical tourist memory is not a reservoir containing stable and faithful memories of experiences, but a moving set of memories which are more or less well encoded and regularly reconstructed a posteriori. How often are we struck by memorial distortions when confronting them with the memories of one of our close relations. Returning to places of remembrance in order to confirm them thus brings as much satisfaction (the confrontation of memory with reality) as disenchantment (the places have changed and their inhabitants even more). The reminiscence, the memory of places, the objectivization one thinks to draw from it, turn out to be a source of confusion if the experiences of returning to the past are reiterated.

Childhood memories, or at least their reminiscences, are often considered to be the foundation of idiosyncrasies and attitudes, of personality and the sense of self (Turmel, 1997, Conway and Pleydell-Pearce, 2000). Without attempting a psychoanalysis, we know the part played by holiday memories. Many articles devoted to autobiographical memory incidentally start by an evocation of these memories. Due to the singular nature of the tourist experience, the first holidays spent away from the usual living environment that children remember will strongly permeate their autobiographical memory. In addition to marking the first enlargement of the experiential, they provide them with the opportunity to give concrete meaning to what was previously known only through the stories of close relations, books, films or the media. The first tourist experience of being abroad, of the mountains, of war (visit to a battlefield), of deportation (visit to a camp)…, while the child had at best only vague related knowledge, gives a new meaning to these territories or to the events of which they were the scene. From being a marker, this experience becomes striking fact.

When they are idealized, childhood memories can generate personal nostalgia. While it was conceived for a long time as a pathology caused by exile or any form of distancing from the place of residence (Staszak, 2016), personal nostalgia linked to the individual experience is nowadays defined as a feeling or an emotion with very variable contours: sometimes a vague regressive drowsiness (Bartholyns, 2015), sometimes melancholic joy (Bishop, 1995), or yet an aspiration to return to or relive earlier times perceived as being pleasant (Boym, 2001). Whatever definition is chosen, it is accepted that if nostalgia feeds on childhood memories, it orientates present behaviours in return, for example through the purchase of objects that are evidence of a bygone past (Havlena and Holak, 1991) or the participation in childhood activities (Fairley, 2003).

Historical nostalgia related to the past of groups is a clearly demarcated field of investigation in the domain of tourism studies, especially in the context of works devoted to the meanings associated with the visit of heritage sites (Caton and Santos, 2007, Dann, McCain and Ray 2003), or places that enable a connection with the family or ethnic history (McCain and Ray 2003). On the other hand, we still don’t know much of the way people remember, forget, reinterpret and update their own tourist past (Timothy, 1997). Several studies in management sciences indicate that nostalgia constitutes an important factor in the choice of destinations and / or practices, even for young adults (see, for example, Robinson, 2015). Other studies focus on the regressive opportunities presented by tourist experiences: Ryan (2010) notes that beaches are one of the few places where adults can rediscover their inner child with total peace of mind and, by this way, get in touch with their childhood memories. In more detail, through a dozen in-depth interviews with elderly tourists at the Morecambe resort in North West England, D. Jarrat and S. Gammon (2016) highlight the importance of the feeling of nostalgia not only in the choice of the destination but especially in the on-site experience. For the interviewees, the seaside holiday is an opportunity to remember the people who counted in their lives but are no longer there, to remember their own childhood, but also to become fully aware of the passing of time. If the feeling of loss predominates, it is however tempered by the impression that respondents have of setting their own stay within a continuity: having become parents and / or grandparents, they perpetuate tradition by taking their children and / or grandchildren to the seaside. Finally, by visiting a timeless environment embodied by the sea and the beach, the respondents have the feeling of escaping from the routine of their daily life. Seen from these different angles, stays at former holiday destinations fall under geopiety. Invented by the humanist geographer Yi-Fu Tuan (2006), this notion refers to the intense, personal and introspective relationship that the individual can maintain with specific geographical entities, in particular with his places of origin, where he was fed and grew up. From this affective relationship arise strong feelings, which particularly contribute to the construction of the personal identity.

The updating of memory through the revisiting of the tracks of past holidays is therefore laden with several meanings. For individuals, it is a question of making sure in one move that these tracks – and all the memories they carry – do not totally vanish, of being in contact with places that are laden with meaning for them, and of putting the constraints and sufferings of everyday life into perspective, thus of relativizing them. In respect to these three meanings, the actualization of tourist nostalgia constitutes a counterpoint to the spatial and temporal compression which is distinctive of post-modernity (Harvey, 2000). This observation echoes the idea defended by C. Routledge (2016) according to which individual nostalgia, far from being a psychological illness, constitutes a psychological resource which, when mobilized, gives meaning to life, despite the tiresome or dreary nature of everyday life. This has particularly been noted within migrant communities: nostalgic episodes reduce the stress caused by acculturation and can contribute to making exile bearable.

In a metaphorical form, the figure of paradise constitutes, if not the central nucleus of tourist imagination, at least one of its main components (Amirou, 2008). Historically, tourist destinations have been promoted and marketed using Edenic references: tourism stakeholders convey the image of a utopian and uchronic anti-world, a better primordial place breaking with the conflicts, sufferings and injustices of everyday life (Bachimon, 2013). This neatly maintained narrative contributes to forge the tourists’ desire: for the latter, practices of leisure mobility correspond among other things to a quest for paradise. If the figure of Eden strongly structures the imaginations and collective tourist practices, we suggest here that the nostalgia of childhood holidays plays a similar role on an individual scale. By their idealization through memory, they become metaphors of an original lost paradise: one of a state of bliss, of carefreeness, of simple happiness, which one seeks to subsequently rediscover.

Tourist space thus includes many places of which the attendance rests at least partially on the quest for childhood’s lost « paradise ». These places of personal nostalgia, which are vectors of roots tourism, are varied: secondary residences where childhood holidays were spent, family residences located in the migrants’ country of origin, seaside or mountain resorts where childhood’s initiatory stays took place… Some of them blend with places of historical nostalgia, such as memorial sites, which welcome tourists who are sometimes on the tracks of their own history, and sometimes on the tracks of collective history.

Places of personal nostalgia are thus places where one goes because they were previously holiday destinations, in order to look back into the past. A cyclic – and thus fragmented – return which acts as a continuum, with varying situations depending on whether one returns to places which are frozen in abandonment (tourist wastelands, abandoned in the hinterland) or to areas which have been deeply transformed by modernity. The need not to cut with the past, even if it means reinventing it partially, thus participates in heritagization. A visit to places of personal nostalgia can indeed lead to the inclusion of the ones left out in materiality (Bachimon, 2013). This is the case when a wasteland is transformed into a memorial site. Despite its interest, this tourist reification of resilience is a relatively unexplored aspect of tourism development.

The purchase of a secondary residence, which appears as an idealized substitute for the main residence because it is kept away from everyday constraints, is also part of the updating of personal nostalgia. From the steps taken to « unearth » it to its regular use, the individual is often led to call upon his memories: he nostalgically recalls the house of his holidays, the house of his parents (or grandparents) where he used to spend summers which seemed to expand immobile across identical days, where the sun was shining… memories in which the meteorological alternation is truncated and embellished.

A constant in an ideal era, as if it were « forever » frozen in the memory. The person who occupies a secondary residence thus follows a voluntary approach of nostalgic reappropriation of his youth, which of course pertains to the past but which he does not believe to be irremediably lost. The process consists in reproducing these moments of profound happiness (or « experienced » a posteriori as such) by restaging his formative holidays in an ersatz of their initial setting. The process includes his children. They will thus have lived the same experiences (in particular a « visceral » attachment to the place) during their childhood as their parents did. They will have an identity to share in the form of a place of belonging (a fixed point) in a territory to which one can cling in difficult times (a dismissal, a move… and all other forms of separation). A refuge, from which one can feel far due to distance but not due to thought… and where one always returns. A secret spot, which is a little dusty like an attic. The dust has the virtue of covering up memories with a veil which one can remove with a cloth to find them as they were. Of course one gets bored on holidays, and especially in secondary residences. But this boredom also composes the retrospective pleasure. Lost time, of the sort that stretches and dilutes itself, turns out to be the opposite of the feverish daily life (eclectic, overcharged, desperate…). This interval leaves one with a taste, a flavor of scents such as the « smell of blueberries in large baskets » that Aragon (1960) used to find, a reminiscence that one can find in the flavor of a dish, in a perfume at the bend of a road. This moment of eternity erases the underside of this false experience, since the present has been kept apart, and the past has been sublimated, idealized through memorial reconstruction. These moments of reminiscence are important because, as provoked and ritualized as they might be (the family barbecue is set on a fixed date), they constitute interludes (revitalizing moments and sceneries) of fusional reunification which are considered indispensable in order to confront the daily life which appears to be their opposite.

When it is driven by personal nostalgia, the recurring stay in places that have already been visited in the past can however bias the relationship to these places. The imagination that has matured over time is indeed at odds with the revisited places, as much because of the evolution of individual goals and beliefs as of the transformation of the places themselves (Jankélévitch, 1983). Two distortions can then emerge, distortions that can accumulate, more rarely balance each other, and sometimes lead to new ramifications. Between the egocentric pleasure and the memorial imperative which pushes to return to places that one has lost sight of since childhood, there is first of all the risk of a large gap, the gap that appears between a place that has continued to live its life and the same place that has been buried in one’s memory as if frozen in a bygone era. In other words, while seeking to get closer to childhood through a stay in previously visited places, the individual often notes a radical transformation of the territory that he used to know and idealized in his memory. Paradoxically, the resulting disappointment may lead him to distance himself from his childhood, even though he wished to get closer to it. However, this first distortion does not necessarily lead to a rift, because the new experience can also be revitalizing for the imagination, a reactivation… which in turn becomes the founding of mixed memories… which remain holiday memories.

Cumulative tourist experience, mental representations and life choices

On the occasion of the review of two books on the history of tourism in the United States, A. Lew (2010: 568) emphasizes the crucial influence that the tourist experiences of his childhood had on his future choice of career: « Summer family vacations were an important part of my early experiences, and may have contributed to my adult interest in tourism and travel as both a vocation and an avocation ». Through this anecdote, he highlights the potentially transforming character of the tourist experience. Successive travel experiences do not merely punctuate a life composed of a succession of episodes which are sometimes oriented towards work and sometimes towards leisure and tourism. They indeed also contribute to changing one’s views on life, places, the others and ourselves, and thus can strongly influence the course of one’s existence (Brown, 2009; Hampton, 2007).

In the wake of J. Urry (1990), it is now widely accepted that the perception of landscape and of its components such as relief, urbanism, architecture or nature is strongly associated with travel. Conversely, it is likely that the confrontation with exotic territories has led to the urban and representational depreciation of suburbs, which have in this diptych become non-places (Augé, 1992) that are associated with function. This sequential relationship to the environment does in fact have « positive » feedbacks. The accumulation of holiday experiences has also influenced the habitual habitat, and first and foremost the suburban « detached house » since its appearance. Looking at old photographs of the interwar period, it is striking to see that the model of the cottage was already operational in the construction of the living environment (small wooden or half-timbered house, ornamental garden surrounded by exotic flowers…), knowing that the distance from the city center made it already possible to mix a Rousseau-like closeness to nature, which was anticipated by the cabin where one used to go on Sunday afternoon a few decades before. In the end, the suburban detached house may have operated as a before (a substitute for the departure because one had to pay off the loan) and after the holidays… a substitute for going elsewhere between two tourist stays. The tourist experience thus induces a positivist comparatism with regard to everyday life, even at the cost of paradox. For if the convened elsewhere is better than the undifferentiated here, one nevertheless might say “I could not live there” or “I will not live there until retirement”. Places of Tourism are little more than landscapes, transitory or deferred contextualizations.

Sometimes tourist experiences also lead to real changes in life, especially concerning the main place of residence, by means of a permanent migration or of the settlement for several months per year in a place of tourist stay (see, for example, Frändberg, 2008). Such changes can occur as a result of an abrupt change in direction, which follows an unexpected or striking event. Ph.D. Duhamel (1997) has thus shown that the over-representation of women among the foreign population living on the Balearic Islands resulted, among other things, from a high number of mixed-race marriages between women from Northern Europe and Spanish men, undertaken following a tourist stay of the first.

Migration to a place of tourist stay is otherwise part of a long-established project, because there is, by definition, an attraction for tourist places, an attraction that may be the origin of the desire to permanently live there. The definitive mobility induced by tourism, which some classify as lifestyle migrations (Benson, 2016), has become a mass phenomenon, especially in the form of retirement migrations (King et al., 1998). The numerous works devoted to the latter indicate that they chose their ground within national or international tourist destinations, both in Europe and in North America (Decroly, 2003). Surveys of pensioners who have settled in these destinations show that the choice of the new place of residence is very largely determined by a previous tourist experience, in particular of recurring stays in a secondary residence.

The interweaving of tourist experiences and life trajectories

At the end of this partial journey, it turns out that tourist experiences are embedded in life trajectories. To understand the former one must therefore question the latter and vice versa.

Beyond appearance, each instantaneous tourist caesura can not be reduced to a temporal parenthesis, even though the experiential is mainly built in the spatio-temporal discontinuity which it induces as a cyclic interstice augmented by a retroactive dimension when it aspires to nostalgia. The representations of our life trajectories are invented on this daily life complementarity and it’s tourist break. Holidays represent a step back, metaphorically called « taking distance » from what, day to day tends to appear as very repetitive, dull, relentless. Tourism that provides experience may well be one of the key moments in the construction of these dreamed identities, expressed in a memorial narrative which is different from the one expressed by those who never go on holiday. First as a privileged time for receptivity, it functions as an alternative to the endured routine which is deemed to lead to the weakening of common senses, and makes it possible to escape from the automatism of repetitive tasks, which is one of the ways to forget the passing of time and to cope with it.

We thus come to a paradoxical conception of the tourist experience. It appears to be the « soft » side of life experience because it is acquired in parenthesis and in a short and intense time that does not become full-time until retirement. A paradox, thus, of a constitutive experience that is inevitably off-the-wall in comparison to everyday reality, which could be considered as the « hard » side. In that case, does it create a bipolarity? One would then have memories of chosen moments, the reminiscence of an ideal universe made of summer beaches, leisure parks, paradise islands… a stock of memories poorly connected to our usual experiential. This singularity being constitutive of an off-the-wall imagination which is apparently chosen, while the other appears to be endured. The generalized touristification that marks our societies could then be grasped as an attempt to extend the magic of tourism (Picard, 2011) to everyday life. And also thus as a principle of servitude, the ideological price to pay, in the same way as a religious belief, the anesthetic that makes everyday life bearable.

Tourism of personal nostalgia only amplifies this phenomenon through the incompletion of an impossible return to the past. To quote Jankélévitch (1983): « The traveler who returns to his starting point has in the meantime grown older! » and he returns to a place that is no longer what it used to be. From his point of view, this double spatio-temporal gap represents a « temporal opening in the spatial closure that inflames and makes the nostalgic concern appear as pathetic ». A vicious circle – that of the tourist routine as feedback – in a way, from which it turns out to be difficult to escape, if not at the risk of a break with the past and more surely of the burial of memories.

Experiential variations

The texts proposed in this issue of Via@ develop a fairly wide section of the approaches to the tourist experiential dimension with regard to life trajectories, an approach targeted by the original call for papers. In order to outline the content of these texts and to highlight the relations they maintain with the common thread of the issue, we shall use once more the structure adopted above.

The first four texts are directly or indirectly related to the question of the singularity of the tourist experience. First of all, Hecate Vergoupolos provides us with a stimulating critical analysis on the way the notion of experience is used in the field of tourism studies. After noting that numerous works are based on a broad and non-discriminatory conception of the tourist experience, as a « way of apprehending everything that can happen in a tourist situation », the author highlights two main trends in the definition of this experience. The first considers experience as a cumulative process: it is both the experience during a stay and the knowledge that the individual draws from it. Such an approach thus leads to closely link the tourist experience and the life trajectory: the first, as a « store of knowledge or habits », is continuously built and rebuilt throughout the life cycle. On the contrary, a second trend conceptualizes the tourist experience as an instantaneous phenomenon, a moment to live out, which must keep its promises by bringing pleasure and satisfaction to the individual. Hecate Vergopoulos then questions the link between the tourist experience and authenticity by showing that a tourist experience, as a way of relating to the touristic world, always has an authentic characteristic, whatever the features of the offer may be: « one can thus be authentically disappointed by a simulacrum that one recognizes as such ».

The paper by Laurent Gagnol and Pierre-Antoine Landel on the touristic development of sand dunes in the Moroccan desert also questions the singular characteristic of the tourist experience. It shows that the Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga, is no longer only the setting for guided tours but also the venue for therapeutic sand baths. Far from being a Moroccan specificity, these baths, which resemble a dry type of « hydrotherapy », are used by Moroccan and international therapy clients who are eager to benefit from the therapeutic virtues attributed to the Merzouga sand. In at least two respects, the immersion of the body in the dunes of the Erg Chebbi constitutes a singular experience which breaks with daily routines. Firstly, the act itself provides an unprecedented sensation which contrasts with the sensations provided by other therapeutic or well-being practices, in particular those that are used in everyday life and space, such as the sauna or the Turkish bath. Secondly, these sensations are somewhat enhanced by the meanings that tourists attribute to the physical and social setting in which they take place, and by the services that the local population offers (from the sale of camel’s milk to the visit of the mausoleums of the Saints in Tafilalt) in order to simulate « a healthy and authentic environment considered to be the one of the Bedouin origins ».

The paper by Juliette Augerot on the mental representations of the Angkor site leads in turn to qualify the singular characteristic of the tourist experience. The author in fact emphasizes that young tourists who go there have acquired them very young, either in class or through school or library books, and then through documentaries. The site itself is therefore first a literary, cinematographic… abstraction, and finally a mental image. And as the author reminds us, it is confronted during its tourist experimentation with its conformity with the a priori representations that visitors have. The satisfaction or disappointment related to the experience is a direct result. For this reason, the managers erased from the site everything that could be related to the present and that was unwanted, in this case the populations that live in and around the ruins, in order to give it the solemnity of an object frozen out of time that corresponds to the realistic memorial demand. These ruins then appear as the dead memory of an ancient civilization which has disappeared and is cut off from the present. This caesura is important for the preservation of places which are supposed to wake up only on the occasion of tours, namely on the interpretation visit. An attentive silence then reigns within the group. A ruin is in itself a sacred place which must present the least possible interference from the outside… even if the inhabitants, who constituted its living interiority and even the continuity of ancient times through tradition, must go live elsewhere. This decommissioning is thus undertaken out of conformism.

The paper by Rémy Tremblay on « Floribec », an area of migrants and tourists from Quebec who have settled in Florida, also leads to qualify the singularity of the tourist experience. Following the double effect of an old labor immigration dating back to the 1930s which took place during the great works undertaken to clean up the Florida marshes, and the regular attendance of tourists from Quebec, a concentration of businesses offering products and services to Quebec clients was established in the cities of Hollywood, Dania and Hallandale, in the eastern suburbs of the Miami metropolitan area. This concentration forms an « ethnic island ». Through the language used, the products sold and the architectural style, this island contributes to reduce the otherness which could be experienced by the tourists of La Belle Province[2] when they travel to Florida. In this sense, it brings the on the spot experience of tourists closer to their daily life in their place of origin.

Through her historical analysis of holiday camps in Rimini, Italy, Fiorella Dallari contributes to the little-explored field of child tourism, and consequently to the cumulative construction of the tourist experience. For the generations preceding paid leave, holiday camps were children’s first leisure experience outside of the family circle, the residence or the resort. And it is known that fascist systems and dictatorships have exploited them to provide quality time for indoctrination by counting on the effects of the extraction of young adolescents from the family bosom. But the camps also originated from working-class towns. The « Party » (implicitly, « communist ») at the head of such municipalities had thus promoted its municipal holiday camps (with their « scouts »), sometimes in order to counterbalance the « scouts » of the parish. Political and doctrinal hidden agendas have thus marked the camp from the outset of the collective experience, breaking with the maternal protection of childhood, acting as a transitional rite. The swim in the river and in the sea, with the rite of passage of near nakedness and learning how to swim, and in this instance the separation of the sexes, remained the highlight of a collectivist experiment (that of a group entrusted to a monitor, sleeping in dormitories and eating at the canteen). The community experience will further be extended through youth hostels and holiday clubs (the Club Med, with its GMs[3], was communitarian for a long time) and according to the promoters, the memory of youth, which is foundational to an altruistic adult life serving one’s country, would remain.

The story of Aimé Vincent, a textile manufacturer of the early twentieth century, collected by Franck Petit, feeds the reflection on the relationship between tourism and nostalgia. Indeed, it evokes a family trip which was foundational to the family memory, for lack of a colonial destiny. At the beginning of the 20th century, Aimé leaves with his family to discover the colonies of North Africa. This journey does not take place without thoughts of settling there as, during a stop, he considers the possibilities of settling in Constantine and consults some notables on the spot. He will eventually not settle there, but the memory of this trip is somewhat initiatory for his children. It is a dream land of which they have acquired a shared family memory that is made of « peculiarities »: the most superficial and exotic aspects such as landscape, folklore, « natives »… and components of colonial modernity such as railway, roads and settlers. The approach by Franck Petit, who is a descendant of Aimé Vincent, to publish (partly, and with comments) this family text, stems from the desire to make public a text that was left in the intimacy of the family memory. The diary of Aimé Vincent is still part of a happy period at the dawn of the twentieth century, prior to two world wars that will disrupt this family from the East of France. A period that he definitely does not wish to bury in the oblivion of daily routine and the sadder periods that follow. It then becomes a reference point in conversations: « you know, we almost lived in Algeria! »… and this ancient past, this unrealized retrospective prophecy, will take on its full meaning during the decolonization that took place 50 years after this journey: « In the end Aimé made the right choice because we would be in the stream of repatriated today. » The subconsciously deliberate mistake, the tourist trip that could transform into emigration, has an interpretative and identity value.

In fact, it even has the very positive benefit of providing an indissoluble link with North Africa, where Aimé’s descendants will follow in his footsteps. Because they are on known territory: the diary (like the accompanying photos that are kept in a box) constitute fixed points of reference. Points of reference which are however quite relative as the texts age, the pictures turn yellow and the poses taken by the characters in front of the photographer also seem dated. But Franck Petit tells us that during his visit to Tunisia he took a photo of the same citadel with the same angle or tried to find descendants of the « natives » on the ancient photographs. Descendants’ tourist trajectories thus sometimes follow those of their ancestors, and even more so as they could have been shared life trajectories. Such nostalgia tourism is now highly on the rise as it is a cultural extension of affinity tourism.

The text by Joan Carles Membrado, Raquel Huete and Alejandro Mantecón on residential tourism in Spain illustrates the relationship between the cumulative tourist experience and lifestyle choices. After pointing out the extent of the phenomenon of the settlement of elderly people from Northern Europe on the Mediterranean coasts of Spain (multiplication by 7.5 of European pensioners in Spain between 1991 and 2002), the authors put forward its substantial effects on planning, real estate, the environment and structures of activity of the Costa Brava. Residential tourism not only contributed to the coast’s overbuilding but also fueled the Spanish real estate bubble that eventually burst in 2008, leaving the national economy bleeding, destabilizing its governance, and changing the Spaniards’ way of life. The lack of control of the settlement of pensioners over 20 years also impacted the coastal environment, while changing the local employment, nowadays dominated by social care. This suburban growth also led to degraded the tourist experience of pensioners, who were confronted with endless construction works in their neighborhood and consequently the deterioration of their quality of life due to housing density. Directly and indirectly linked to tourism, this urbanization ended up devaluing the heliotropic destination, whereas the high consumption of water in a region of scarcity, as well as that of energy, kept the costs high. Moreover, the problems of urban congestion, which did not lead to the implementation of any public service policy, made the stay less and less pleasant in a degrading environment. This decline in the destination and therefore in the tourist experience also contributed to the deterioration of the daily life of the Spaniards themselves. Heavily in debt after losing their investment due to their participation in the speculative tourist real estate madness, whole families ended up living in their parents’ small family flats, sometimes in their childhood room, and the youngest affected by unemployment are obliged to live there as neo-bachelors. So appears the underside of a paradoxical tourist real estate trajectory. At the end of the thematic section of this issue, Anna María Fernández Poncela proposes to focus on how children and adolescents who live in a tourist destination (Huasca de Ocampo in Hidalgo, Mexico) see the tourists’ experience. What emerges from this study is that the public education students who were interviewed became aware of their heritage in the light of the related tourist visits, which they observe with a certain detachment but to which they give very positive value (economic and cultural), even more so as they get closer to adulthood. The tourist experience of visitors seen in the street on the way out of school or high school reveals to the young people of Huasca de Ocampo the interest that their territory arouses in the eyes of the rest of the world. This outside view is then mobilized for the creation of the image that young people make of themselves and their environment. By observing that the experience of others reflects on the life trajectory of those who are visited, Anna María Fernández Poncela thus highlights a singular form of interweaving between tourist experiences and life trajectories.

On the whole, we could retain from this issue that the apparent simplicity of the tourist cycle, in other words a round trip, can be assimilated with a spiral movement throughout a lifetime, through its repetition and the accumulation of experiences. The tourist returns to his starting point with a new experience which accumulates on the previous ones and serves as a starting point for those that follow. We return as often as possible to our secondary residence, we return to the holiday places of our youth, we avoid such and such a place where the experience was negative… We can not of course only consider this mechanistic aspect since memory, and especially that of holidays, is selective, memories being only the emerging part – fortuitous or provoked reminiscences – while other experiences remain buried in the unconscious. Memory is above all a deconstruction / reconstruction of the factuality of holidays whose status of uniqueness makes it a time that is favorable to the production of salient markers on which it is consolidated.


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Translation French > English

Jean-Michel Decroly, IGEAT – DGES – Université Libre de Bruxelles


[1] As early as the mid-1990s, one of the signatories of this article who was made aware of the methodology of life stories through his exchanges with Françoise Cribier (research director at the CNRS) and her team, wanted to start work on the very neglected issue of the link between tourist destinations choices and holiday experiences during childhood and adolescence within the family unit. This topic was proposed for a M.Phil. at the University Paris 7 – Denis Diderot in 1997 by C. Duflot (under the supervision of R. Knafou), but was unfortunately not developed as a thesis – the doctoral candidate preferred to turn to other studies with less uncertain prospects, before embarking on a political career.

[2] The expression « La Belle Province » (the beautiful province) is used mostly in tourism as a nickname for the Quebec province. (T.N.)

[3] GM stands for « Gentils Membres », or Gracious / Nice Guests / Members. (T.N.)