My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
(Edna St. Vincent Millay)
DOES IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE IN OUR CHARACTER WHETHER WE TRAVEL? I believe it does — or at least it can. Travel doesn’t automatically make one a better person, and there are some obvious benefits to the stay-at-home philosophy. But those who travel have an opportunity for personal growth that shouldn’t be underestimated. Going outside of the familiar places of our lives opens up new insights and improves our perspective on what’s important.
To begin with, let’s understand that there’s a difference between travel and “tourism.” While tourism may be better than no travel at all, it’s not the most profitable kind. In the words of an old saying, “A fool wanders, but the wise man travels.” Speaking of the older kind of travel, that of the explorer or adventurer, Daniel J. Boorstin wrote, “The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing’.” The traveler, versus the tourist, goes to unfamiliar, perhaps even difficult, places. Going not to be entertained but educated, he leaves the beaten path, taking the backroads — sometimes even alone. And he comes back with an expanded view of what it is to be a human being in this world.
Travel must never be a running away from home or from ourselves, of course. As Thomas à Kempis observed, “No man safely travels who loves not to rest at home.” And Lin Yutang spoke for all travelers when he said, “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”
But love home as we may, the real value of travel lies in its disorientation. We rarely learn without being disoriented, and so the benefit of travel is that it gets us out of our comfort zone. It breaks up the ruts in our thinking, and it does so by surprising us, catching us off-guard, and thrusting us into exploits we’ve never dreamed of.
“If travel has taught me nothing more, and it certainly has, it’s this: you can never know when some trifling incident, utterly without any significance, may pitchfork you into adventure or, by the same token, may not” (S. J. Perelman).