Photo: sebadella

Carlo Alcos debunks a travel myth.

THERE’S A GENERALLY ACCEPTED NOTION — amongst travelers, at least — that if you travel you will become wise, more knowledgeable, more compassionate, that your mind will open like a lotus flower. From this flows the idea that to travel is to reach for an ideal, a heightened sense of humanness, of becoming more “one” with the world.

Over the years, since I’ve been involved in the travelsphere, I’ve seen tweets, Facebook statuses, article submissions, and blogs that make it evident to me that this is the prevailing thought — that to become wise and compassionate, you need to travel. Travel becomes religion, and the congregation loves to spread the gospel.

While travel can be a means to an end, it is not the end. Travel, by its nature, is like a hammer. Same with social media. None of these things is “good” or “bad” on its own. They’re tools. A hammer can build a house, but it can also end a life. Social media can help raise money to treat someone’s cancer or support a charitable organization, but it can also be used to bully people, driving them to suicide.

While there is no substitute for travel to see, firsthand, different cultures and places, the question remains, does one really need to see, firsthand, different cultures and places? Here is a famous quote that commonly makes the rounds, which seems to support that, yes, everyone needs to travel:

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain

It would be a stretch to conclude from this that anyone who doesn’t travel is a bigot, prejudiced, and narrow-minded. That’s obviously not what he meant. Yet the way it’s used within the travel community sometimes leads me to believe that that is one of the insinuations of the person sharing the quote.

Travel becomes religion, and the congregation loves to spread the gospel.

Isn’t it possible that even travelers can be narrow-minded? Just because a trip round the world was “enlightenment” for one doesn’t guarantee it will be “enlightenment” for another. But within the travelsphere, there seems to be a presumption that travel is necessary to open your mind.

Just as there are many travelers who return home without any profound shift in their worldviews, there are many who do experience that shift without stepping foot outside their hometowns.

I’d like to use my partner as a case study. While she has lived in various cities across Canada and has driven some great distances, she has never traveled outside of North America. She has never been immersed in foreign languages, customs, and different ways of living. Yet she is one of the most conscious, aware, compassionate, sensitive, open-minded people I’ve ever met. She is much more open-minded than the majority of travelers I’ve met. And I’m sure she’s not the only one.

What if we look at travel from another perspective? Rather than travel being arriving at some foreign destination, what if it were just a departure from our own culture? Following that, do we need to physically go somewhere to remove ourselves from our culture? I think Daniel Suelo would argue that we don’t.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are guided along our path by a culture that is incessantly chattering in our ears, telling us how to behave, what to wear, what to like, how to think, how we should feel about ourselves. And since the way we treat others is a reflection on the way we treat ourselves, it should follow that if I free myself from thinking how I should be, then I free myself from thinking how others should be. To me, this is a step in opening our minds, in beating down prejudice.

In this context, perhaps to travel would mean to turn off the television, boycott “lifestyle” magazines, stop reading newspapers.

What I’m getting at is this: Travelers don’t own the patent on how to be a better person. We all have our own paths in life and we should be encouraging and supporting each other in whatever it is we want to do.

By all means, travel. Or don’t. Go to college. Or don’t. Just think for yourselves, and keep an open mind.