Lately (aka the past several years), I have been brought into conversations where someone says something like, “You need to be well travelled to really understand [a perspective],” or “Those who are well travelled have a better grasp on what is happening [in the world or around them],” or “Until you’ve been to allot of places around the world [“well-travelled”] you can’t fully understand [some topic or another]”.
Having a better idea of everything around you is always a good idea. Especially if you plan on educating others about whatever that idea is. But just because someone has travelled to a variety of places doesn’t necessarily mean they have any more knowledge … or understanding … than someone who hasn’t travelled. In fact, I find that those who are so “well-travelled” tend to have some of the narrowest opinions and the oddest perceptions of the places they visit.
Most people when they travel tend to stay in one area, or location. They are only there for a short amount of time. And they tend to either hangout with the group they came with, or stick to places that seem safer or more familiar. I’ve never been to Mexico. Does that mean I don’t know a lot about the country, the people, or the culture? You see, that’s the problem. I might not have been there, but I have friends who grew up there. They visit regularly or, they have family that they are in contact with who live there. I also have friends, and others, who travel their regularly. Sure, I’m not there in person, but these people all tend to go places that even I wouldn’t visit if I did go.
What I’m trying to say is that you can gain perspective on other locations in a variety of ways. Visiting and being well travelled is fine. But to really know a place, you need to live that life. Surround yourself in that world. I think people assume that just because they got the chance to visit some location that others haven’t, they have earned the right to ‘educate’ others on that location.
Sadly, in many of these impromptu education sessions from people who go places that I haven’t, I tend to end up correcting them or, pointing out things they completely missed or overlooked. And that I owe to the people in my life. These people tell me about their adventures, heck, I know people all over the globe that I stay in contact with (somewhat. I try, but I get side tracked and forget, that reminds me, I need to email someone…crap).
Expanding your circle of people, be it friends, acquaintances, or just the willingness to chat with someone new, can easily make you far more travelled than some of the so called “well-travelled”. I am also very fortunate to have spent years playing online games (MMOs) that reached out to people across the world (Eve at night is a blast as almost everyone is European). Some people I still keep in contact with, and I’ve never actually met them. But now, we’ve been friends for years for so long that we both enjoy sharing in each other’s lives as if we are just a city away.
There’s also another little tool people tend to forget about when it comes to travelling. It started almost 30 years ago, and it has allowed the world to become so much smaller. The Internet. Not everything you find on the internet is true, but as the great ‘cloud’ evolves, ways to share information keeps evolving with it. Now days, you can be standing almost anywhere in the world simply by phoning a friend and turning on the camera. Again, not perfect, but if that friend lives there, you are most likely going to see a perspective you’d never get if you went on vacation alone, to that same location.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t travel, by all means, travel! I would love to travel more. Just the idea of walking through an Indian spice market in the actual country of India, nothing will compare to the smells and sounds of actually being there. Explore the world and touch it for yourself. Just don’t assume that your trip to Venice, Germany, Japan, and the Artic make you someone who has a better grasp on the world around you. If you assume that taking all those trips makes you more knowledgeable than someone who hasn’t, think again. You might have had better opportunities that allowed you to travel, but that doesn’t make you better than anyone else around you. You just did things different in life that got you plane tickets.