My family just returned from a trip to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., where we toured many of the wonderful attractions of the City. It was an awesome experience that lived up to our hopes of the trip, including visits to three of the Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust Museum, several memorials around the reflecting pool, Ford’s Theatre and Mt. Vernon.
As my wife and I tend to do upon completion of the trip, we asked our kids their favorite part of the trip. Our kids span the ages with one in each level of primary/secondary schooling, one in elementary, one in middle school, and one in high school. Our oldest, a freshmen, stated that her favorite part was walking around Old Town Alexandria. Our sixth grader stated that her favorite part was riding rented bikes around the memorials. And lastly, our youngest, a kindergartner said that his favorite part was riding the metro (train) around DC.
Without question, their responses caught us off-guard citing moments and activities not necessarily planned nor “on the agenda.” It wasn’t a matter of the kids not enjoying the sites and attractions per se, but it reminded me how much it matters to visitors of the experience between attractions.
This is something that is often lost on cities that depend on tourism as their tax base. A city and can have amazing attractions, and even be mostly free, but if the moments between (including the mornings or the evenings) are not as enjoyable, the likelihood of returning is reduced. Cities are most successful are those that do not require the automobile, whether rented, or ride-share, as the primary means of transportation. When travel is clean and easy, as is with cities with robust, frequent, and predictable transit systems, or better yet, when walking is the convenient, desirable choice, the in-between moments become the memory that brings visitors back, sometimes as permanent residents.