Previous Next

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.

Travel Illusion

 

About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Turner Wright

    I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think you argue the point very well. Of course there are going to be open-minded people who have never left their countries, but you didn’t really provide a good example of a long-term traveler who is still prejudiced, bigoted, and narrow minded. I don’t know of any firsthand.

    • Carlo Alcos

      “Travel” itself is a relative term. Many people will have different definitions of travel. You used the term long-term traveler…that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about “travel”…whatever that may mean to someone. I think anyone who decides to become a long-term traveler is, by definition, open-minded…actually, that may not even be true…I could argue that some are egotistical, just checking places off their list, bragging about how many countries and continents they’ve visited…I don’t think I have to give any examples (not that I have any in mind)…but I’m sure you’ve come across them on your travels. Maybe they’re not prejudiced or bigoted, but I wouldn’t call them open-minded…sometimes travel becomes a narrow filter through which people view the world, as ironic as that may sound. That in itself is closing your mind off from other possibilities. Sometimes I get a sense that travelers just take for granted that everyone else will travel…I don’t know if it’s because they’re so immersed in the travel world that they forget that there are billions of people who don’t travel.

    • Katka Lapelosová

      I know a couple of long term travelers who just don’t seem to “get it” no matter where they are. True, experience is subjective and it’s not fair to invalidate anyone’s journey because they don’t fit into our own idea of what it means to be a traveler. But there are things, such as cultural insensitivity, that are unacceptable no matter if you are a budding traveler or a seasoned journeyman. I knew a couple who traveled around the world for a year but refused to speak any language other than English, and flaunted their wealth inappropriately (they do that in the USA too). If anything, they came back more narrow-minded because, compared to their lifestyle back home, nothing was good enough for them. Although they could tell me where to find the best McDonalds in the 20 countries they visited.

    • Scott Hartman

      Kat, I “Like” your response, but it raises a question for me: what is “It”?

    • Katka Lapelosová

      Just one of those things people say when they are trying to figure out what to say ;)

    • Josh Woolsey

      Great response Carlo! Like your charming and beautiful partner, I have not had the pleasure of traveling outside North America. However, during my travels within the continent I have met a handful of individuals who have left footprints in numerous countries around the world. Some individuals were simply grateful for those opportunities to expand their world view, while I felt others championed their travels as a token of worthiness, leaving me to feel that I was not able to appreciate the greater virtues in life due to my lack of “travel”. Open-minds develop through internal reflection on one’s experiences and I don’t believe that any amount of “travel” can further that process unless the willingness to reflect is present.

  • Christine Garvin

    Hmmm, to Turner’s comment – I actually can think of a couple of long-term travelers that tend to group and classify people based on their experience in that country more than others that haven’t, and all under the guise of “it’s not prejudice because I’ve been there and experienced it myself.” I think it can go both ways.

    But I like this paragraph the best: “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.” Beyond the question of whether or not travel makes us completely open and without prejudice (which is impossible) in a way that staying on home turf doesn’t, this constant “should” that Carlo points out is, to me, the bigger issue. We tend to be chained more in our heads than our hearts, and unfortunately, landscape change doesn’t necessarily heal this. We have to deal with ourselves as we are, no matter where we are.

    • Carlo Alcos

      “We tend to be chained more in our heads than our hearts, and unfortunately, landscape change doesn’t necessarily heal this.” I think you just said it better than I did.

  • Maddy Vonhoff

    I’ve seen this with people that visit developing countries and still view the people compassionately and affectionately but as helpless, irresponsible, “child-like” etc. Or the “my culture is better than your culture and I will work to make you more like me”. This is not being open-minded. While I think you could have used more examples, keep developing this idea!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks Maddy…yes, this idea could have been more fully developed, however it is purely a thought piece that I wanted to use to open this discussion.

  • 1 Life 196 Countries

    The conversations you all are having here are the premise of my new blog! I am glad I stumbled across your site! To you and all your fans; Stop by mine – we can collaborate! 1life196countries.wordpress.com

  • 1 Life 196 Countries

    Hey Carlo, we were neighbors, I lived in GF for 6 years! Cheers! Really enjoy your work!

    • Carlo Alcos

      I’m trying to figure out what GF is…

    • Kelli Renee

      Grand Forks…

    • Carlo Alcos

      Ahhh :) I used to live in Guildford, Surrey…thought maybe that’s what it meant. Thanks for the compliment!

    • 1 Life 196 Countries

      I was a reporter for the Grand Forks Gazette and spent a lot of time in Nelson and at Ainsworth…miss the Kootenays a lot!

  • Digital Yak Studio_Deepika Shrestha Ross

    Thanks for the article.

    I wholeheartedly agree that “Being a traveler doesn’t automatically mean you’re open-minded” and appreciate the content. But I find the subheading “Carlo Alcos debunks a travel myth” annoying. Perhaps the statement was chosen merely to catch our attention?

    Too often we want to point to a singular experience that has changed our worldview…changed who we are…but more often than naught, there is no “aha” moment, but perhaps rather a series of moments that gradually open us up to receive that experience that we consider THE turning point. For some it is travel, for others it’s going away to college, or becoming a parent, or facing the possibility of a terminal illness. For every person who was marked or changed by the experience, there will be just as many who will not.

    So I would say that there is no “travel myth” to debunk. People who travel come in all types, with different goals, with their own baggage. Some unknowingly travel to confirm their own preconceptions. You do get a different perspective traveling the world by cruise ship vs traveling in an air conditioned motor coach, vs public transportation…but some exceptional people can be open-minded and brave and thoughtful and caring without the benefit of seeing much of the physical world….which makes total sense to me.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks, appreciate the well thought out comment. Saying “travel myth,” in my opinion, isn’t hyperbole. I would argue that there’s a general sentiment out there that travel WILL open your mind, as if it’s this one thing alone that could do it. Whether or not this is a “travel myth” (what is a travel myth anyway?) is just another point of debate…doesn’t really matter for what I was getting at, I don’t think. I’m glad you kept reading even after that annoying subheader! :)

  • Ben Paviour

    Good to see someone bringing this up. On my recent half year trip in Asia, I realized that long-term travelers have their own cliquish set of rules (eat local food, take the cheapest form of transportation, avoid comforts, etc.). And while I generally believe there’s lots of merit in travelling that way, the fact that it was presented as THE single right way of doing things suggests there’s a whole orthodoxy that sounds an awful lot like mob-mindedness we’re running away from.

    • Carlo Alcos

      It reminds me of people who want to be “different”…and by being different they conform to a group who fits outside of the cultural norm…in one way they’re being different but in another way they’re being conformist. It’s not really a matter of being different, just a matter of expressing who you are (at that moment in time). This probably fits better with the whole traveler vs tourist debate…but there ya go. Thanks for the comment!

    • Candice Walsh

      Agree 100%. Especially this: “I realized that long-term travelers have their own cliquish set of rules (eat local food, take the cheapest form of transportation, avoid comforts, etc.)” Good gravy. There’s no such thing as finding “real” experience. Whatever experience you live is REAL.

    • Scott Hartman

      Nicely, succinctly said, Candice.

  • Scott Hartman

    Really nice subject Carlo. Really nice. I’m working on an article for Matador that deals much with this very subject.
    In my mind, “travel”, in it’s most basic sense is moving from one place to another; within the city one lives in, the continent that one lives on, or the anywhere else on earth. Nothing, except a stamp in your passport, comes inherently as a result of travel. In my own mind, and due to my own experiences, I’ve found that travel gives back to me what I put into it. A lot of it is about how open I am, how available I am, to people/experiences/ways of thinking/etc.
    I have found that travel, in a very large way, does make me more myself, and, offers me glimpses into that Self that I may (or may not) feel I want/need to change. Travel has certainly offered me (and in spades) perspective; and it is ultimately up to me what I chose to do (and/or not do) with that perspective.
    I’ve been traveling for well over 30 years now. Travel remains the greatest education that I’ve had, about both the world and myself. That’s why I go. “Why” other people go, and “How” they go, is their business. For each of those thirty years I have heard this very discussion bandied about from Peru to Iceland to China and Tibet, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and many places in between; it is as old as my own relationship with travel. In a way, travel is simply Life – along the way we meet people whose opinions we agree with, people we don’t; in The End, it’s (Life and Travel) our individual trip; and I hope we all have a good one.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks Scott…looking forward to seeing that submission. And for the record, I haven’t forgotten about your book manuscript excerpts! Thanks for your patience :)

    • Scott Hartman

      No worries Re: my manuscript/excerpts/submission . . . another Gift that Travel has honed in me – Patience ;)

  • Luggage Paradise

    You have raised some good points in your article. Very interesting reading in regards to travelling and different perspectives of travellers.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks. I think it’s important to have these different perspectives…which is the point of the piece. That’s the irony in it all, that as “travelers” we can get locked into that one perspective, which really is antithetical to keeping an open mind.

  • Kate Newman

    This is a really important point, Carlo, and so nicely put. When I studied in Senegal years ago, I was struck by the fact that some of the most open-minded, respectful people in my program were having their first experience abroad. It’s true; seasoned travelers are not necessarily more aware or culturally sensitive. A great reminder to be kind wherever we are.

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri Photography

    Well I have read the accounts of many travellers and I have always been awestruck with their sense about most of the things. Even the many accounts here on Matador site. I always had this though that travelling helps open our mind but thanks for this great article. Thanks for writing such an awesome article. :)

  • Tim Tuttle

    I totally agree with this article. I’ve been to Canada, like 20 times, and those guys are assholes.

  • Agu Walulik

    To sum up (as my friend’s grandfather supposedly said): travels teach, but it depends on who’s travelling. Excellent article!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks!

  • Sean Kois

    I’m caught up on the idea of “open-mindedness” here. It seems, in the context of this article and these comments, that we’re equating “having an open mind” with some sort of “relativism”. Sure, being a traveler doesn’t automatically mean that you’re open minded… but likewise, being open-minded doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a good traveler. My point is looking at this topic from a different angle.. that in the same way in which travel opens minds, it can also teach us some harsh realities too… which in my humble opinion are just as important. I currently live in a place where it’s OK to smack children in school… am I supposed to have an open mind about that? That may be a poor example, but I’m sure we all have thousands more. Of course I mean no disrespect to your partner Carlo, or anyone else. I’m just saying lets be careful not mistake someones naive open-mindedness about the world (as innocent or well-intentioned as it may be) for the relative wisdom of an experienced travelers worldview. A good friend of mine once said it best when he told me that if you’re mind’s too open, your brain might fall out.

    • Carlo Alcos

      “I’m just saying lets be careful not mistake someones naive open-mindedness about the world (as innocent or well-intentioned as it may be) for the relative wisdom of an experienced travelers worldview.” This is a good point, and true, although not really on topic to what I was discussing (I wasn’t arguing the benefits of traveling or not traveling). You’re saying, for someone who’s never traveled but is “open-minded” they may, for example, try to help out in another part of the world (because they’re so open-minded) but because they don’t have the experience of ever being there, they don’t really understand the reality of the situation, so they may in fact be doing more harm than good. Somewhat related to these articles we’ve posted in the past: http://matadornetwork.com/change/only-the-weird-volunteer-abroad-and-thats-a-problem/ and http://matadornetwork.com/change/why-you-shouldnt-participate-in-voluntourism/

  • Alex Liska

    my best friend’s mother-in-law makes $71 an hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for 10 months but last month her income was $15740 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more http://trunc.it/lsa84.

  • Amanda Halm

    I really liked this article. I know a lot of non-prejudice, kind people who simply can’t afford expensive plane tickets and aren’t the hostel, backpack type. Or for whom travel is an insane luxury, something you get to do upon retirement. Sometimes it’s not that they don’t want to travel, it’s that they don’t have the opportunity. Or they don’t realize it’s a lot easier that it seems. I have met travellers who condescend to others without even realizing it. Or they speak from members of a country when they aren’t from the country. “I’ve been there, so I know.” Just because you’ve “been there” doesn’t mean you know what it’s like to live there or be from there. I think my little bit of travel has made me realize how much I don’t know and how big the world is.

  • Jim Harrelson

    Excellent article and I believe completely accurate. Gracias!

  • Lani Cox

    Good post because we’ve all seen Tourists Behaving Badly.I remember my own experience in Ecuador, sitting for lunch with friends. They couldn’t stop howling with laughter over the chicken feet in their soup. I sat there embarrassed since there were other patrons in the restaurant and my own mom cooks chicken feet stew :) and for some reason this surprised me. I thought as travelers, teachers, expats abroad, shouldn’t they act better?

  • Alexander Navarrete

    Great article! Although I do agree that travelers generally gain an open mind or broaden their perspective, you are 100% right that not all do. As travelers we need to check our ego’s every now and again.

  • King David Moving

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. http://kingdavidmovers.com

  • ahmed

    i totally agree that generalizing anything is actually stupid , u cant say that being a traveler would automatically make u an open-minded person , but u can look for the percentage of open-minded travelers i bet it would be more than 75%

Once I get it in my head that in fact I may be The Dude, everything starts to pick...
And so he does, of course, and is immediately transported far beyond his cluttered desk,...
Maybe I am just an Antarctica scrooge.
A ‘Tibet’ beautified for tourists while its real identity is suppressed.
There is a weariness that comes with taking photos.
When you get right down to it, what’s the real point of bucket lists?
One of my more poetic students remarked that I looked like an Amazon warrior.
A discussion of writing African stories turns to the fundamentals of self vs place
The destination that everyone seems to pick last.
International officials say not to panic, but travelers are definitely being affected by...
Just having the opportunity to travel abroad once in a lifetime is an accomplishment in...
In which I attempt to capture my progression as a traveler, both physically and...