Sophie's Choice, Hobson's Choice, travelers' choices

Arnie Weissmann

If you’re confronted with a Sophie’s Choice, you must give up one thing you love in order to preserve something else you also love (in the book and movie of that title, the protagonist must choose which of her children will live and which will die).

If, on the other hand, you’re presented with Hobson’s Choice, you have no choice — you take what Hobson gives you (Thomas Hobson rented horses in 16th-century England).

I have always viewed travel as involving a bit of both. If you love Italy and also cruising the Caribbean, you will choose one and eliminate the other. (Perhaps not as consequential a decision for you as Sophie’s choice was for Sophie, but still …).

And travel involves Hobson’s Choice because travelers shouldn’t want to always have their own way. A concierge could, if you force the issue, give you directions to the nearest McDonald’s, but why not let her decide which nearby restaurant best represents the local cuisine?

It would seem logical that our choices about travel would be tied to our unique characteristics, i.e., our preferences across a wide range of subjects, our temperaments, our physical abilities and our past experiences.

But could a multiple-choice test be able to guide us to a satisfaction-guaranteed trip?

Many attempts have been made to design such a test. In 1974, researcher Stanley Plog came up with a test to determine a client’s dominant travel personality and how it impacts their travel decisions. Much of it focused on how introverted vs. extroverted a traveler was, whether she or he is active or passive and their tolerance for risk.

What is interesting about the format is that most of the questions are not overtly about travel but rather ask people to rate their agreement on a seven-point scale about statements such as, “Chance has little to do with the successes I’ve had in my life.” The test can be found at

British futurists at the Henley Center came up with the “Model for Holidaymaking,” which assumes that travelers evolve through travel experiences in four predictable phases: Bubble Travelers (who like to travel in a group), Idealized Experience Seekers (now willing to go off on their own), Seasoned Travelers (willing to take on more complex independent travel) and Complete Immersers (who engage deeply in a foreign culture).

The Virtuoso Wanderlist also asks travelers their preferences, which enables a travel advisor to plan not just one upcoming trip but a lifetime of trips; similarly, the Departure Lounge has a Travel Persona quiz.

And earlier this week I received a press release from the British luxury agency Brown and Hudson about its Values Interests and Personality Travel Type Test, created in conjunction with two “travel psychologists.” It classifies travelers into one of eight archetypes: Adventurist, Recreationist, Extravagant, Escapist, Spiritualist, Hedonist, Erudite and Traditionalist. 

The knock against standardized tests is that they inherently incorporate the biases of the test designer. And they run contrary to our sense of individualism; we like to believe that our unique set of experiences won’t let us be predictable or pigeonholed.

And yet … how many times have you begun to type a question into the Google search box only to have Google autofill the rest? I’ve come to regard it as a sign of my rugged individuality if my question isn’t in the top three.

That said, when I received my traveler profile from Brown and Hudson, I saw the limitations of this particular type of test. Although I had said my most memorable trip was to North Korea and that among the six places I hoped to go were Brunei, the Falkland Islands and Iran, the report concluded that “you don’t like change and novelty,” among other things I thought missed the mark.

On the other hand, much of the rest of the report was spot on (or so flattering that, well, who was I to quibble?). But it did leave me wondering whether a) the test didn’t know me, b) I didn’t know myself, or c) the scale of 1-to-5 didn’t match my scale of 1-to-5. (A midpoint response indicated you agreed “to a point,” and I think that’s where we may have parted ways: I’ll take risks “to a point,” though that point may be much further along the risk spectrum than for others.)

I would assume that a travel advisor would follow up with any of these tests to see if the clients perceive it to be accurate and, if not, make adjustments. But I would also say there may be some risk that the test might alienate clients if, in the report, they don’t recognize themselves.

I do think that tools that help advisors understand clients better have a place in travel counseling, and I’m impressed with both the Wanderlist and Departure Lounge Travel Persona approaches. But an intuitive advisor who knows how to qualify and counsel a client is not necessarily at a disadvantage. 

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