Where in the world is Matt Lauer? At home, wussing out

Every spring, Matt Lauer of NBC's Today takes a jet-setting trip around the world, one destination a day, for a week. The "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" series is one of the show's most popular regular segments. This year, though, Lauer isn't going into the world. He's staying home. After soliciting ideas from viewers about where he should go, producers said they decided to keep him in the U.S. because going abroad "sent the wrong message."

"Going from Paris to the Pyramids felt potentially out of touch," explained a producer.

Give me a break. "The wrong message"? I accept that luxury travel isn't cool anymore. But it's not as if international travel is wasteful. Only extravagant travel can be wasteful. And there are plenty of places in America that will drain your wallet, so it's not like staying in America proves anything.

If it's about money, send him to the Pyramids with a backpack and a hostel membership, or fly him to Paris on one of those $700 week-long air-and-hotel packages. First, it would be proof that Americans' dream trips are indeed possible with diligence and saving. But I'd be wiling to bet a scrupulously planned foreign trip wouldn't be much more expensive than what it costs Americans to make pilgrimages to New York City just to hold up poster-board outside Today's Rockefeller Plaza studio.

Besides, did Today's producers ever consider that there are many Americans who truly can't afford to travel right now? Maybe they would enjoy seeing the Eiffel Tower from their armchairs, and let's face it: Today will spend an extraordinary amount of production dollars simply staying domestic, anyway.

There are plenty of wonderful places to go in America. If Today had said that it wanted to explore our own nation, I'd have totally gone with that. But selling this nationalism on the back of our fears about the economy is simply short-sighted.

If anything, I'd say pretending the world outside our borders doesn't exist is sending the wrong message.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. But where I see Lauer's new-found wallflower act as a sign of poor budgeting know-how, some writers are seeing it as another sign of American nationalism, which is something many observers thought was behind us. "Having just returned from the largest travel trade show on earth (called ITB Berlin), I can't even begin to fathom what Lauer is thinking," wrote one commentator, Nelson Alcantara. "For one, it is hard to imagine that anyone who works in the news industry would have such a narrow-minded vision.

"The point here is not to be extravagant, but rather spur travel for those who can still afford it," wrote Alcantara. "The U.S. needs it, so does the rest of the world."

The word staycation is so stale that lexicon writers have officially banned it. Americans don't have to stay home if they don't want to. They just have to spend smarter. If you listen to Today, that's not possible, and you might as well give up trying.
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