I've often thought that I should give credit to Ronald Reagan for making me want to travel the world. Without knowing he was doing so, he challenged me, and many of my clients, to look at the true purpose of travel in a completely different way.
It was Reagan who flashed his index finger every time a camera was present to assert that "We're No. 1," the best, most successful country on the planet.
There is some truth to that. But I had lived abroad, and I wasn't sure that I would agree that America is No. 1 in all meaningful areas of human endeavor and accomplishment.
Is it possible, for example, that closing shop and having a few hours with one's life partner in the middle of the day is an Italian practice of some merit?
Many of the places I've shared with our clients have had profound impacts on their lives. There were times we all felt we were in a better place. New Zealand was like that. It is a tolerant country with a population that seems to understand what is really important in life and, more importantly, what is nonsense.
Ireland can affect the sophisticated visitor because it is the country that Whole Foods would love to be. When the food is organic, I have discovered, the people often are, as well.
The purposeful traveler of today does not believe we are No. 1 in all areas of life and is prepared to be challenged to see things less as they are back home but more as they might be if we could adopt some of the world's best practices.
Not all of my clients are there yet. A few years ago, I received a call from first-time visitors to Europe who reported that they stopped to kiss the ground after getting off their plane at Chicago O'Hare. I'm sure that happens a lot, but they had been attending the Cannes Film Festival.
In the near future, I want my clients to experience Brugge, a small city near the Belgian coast that visitors love for its cobblestone streets, hot waffle ice cream cones, award-winning chocolate and meandering canals.
This is the tourist Brugge. But there is something revolutionary going on there that my clients must see. Brugge has become the world's most "dementia-friendly" city.
Unlike in our country, where more than 6 million suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a number that will soon double, the citizens of Brugge have dedicated themselves to treating dementia patients like everyone else. The effort is to have them out and about with social contact, concerts, counseling and special cafes.
But the essential innovation is the large red handkerchief that visitors will see on numerous shop windows throughout the city. This signifies they are "dementia friendly," and the employees have been trained to deal with forgetful store visitors who might ask repetitive questions. They are patient with those with dementia because they choose to be.
The city of Brugge is No. 1 in the world for demonstrating that successful treatment of dementia has a great deal to do with how we treat one another.
Perhaps there are important lessons in this. I want us to be No. 1 in dementia care as well as all other areas of human interaction. This is the new "purposeful" approach to travel. When we travel abroad, we must bring home best practices, not T-shirts.