The dinner that night was memorable. Imagine the scene: in a cozy corner of one of Barcelona’s more renowned restaurants we sat, all seven of us, crowded around the wooden table, celebrating my cousin’s recent accomplishment over mouthfuls of tomatillo pan and pulpo. In June, he left his lifetime home in the United States and moved to Barcelona. He now studies Spanish in whatever time is left over after caring for two roundy young boys.
It is difficult for someone to leave their entire life behind to start another. It is fortunate that my cousin had the opportunity and support to be able to do so. For some of us seated around the wooden table, it was our first or second time in Europe. For some of us, who live in Europe, Barcelona is nothing too exotic. All of us, however, wished that we had more time and opportunity to travel. In our over-scheduled day-to-day lives, who wouldn’t?
As the dinner was being cleared away, my cousin leaned back, and with a conversational grin, started to explain ‘You know, it is incredible living in another country, another culture. You learn so much about yourself. I think that you can never understand yourself as a person, or even the world, until you’ve truly experienced another culture.’
His comment rang wrong to me, and it bothered me a long time afterwards. I’m sure my cousin thought that it was just a passing remark, but it rubbed me the wrong way. .
The sentiment my cousin voiced is not unique to him: a quick search on the web proves that there are countless articles about the personal and emotional benefits of traveling, which are quick to cite the acceptance and perspective you acquire through visiting other countries and cultures. Are these sources wrong? Not really. In fact, one could argue that most everything they say is spot-on. Doubtless, there are many personal and emotional benefits that accrue from traveling and experiencing other cultures. It makes sense that one gains empathy from a personal experience with the other. So why do I have a problem with this idea? Does this imply that one must travel in order to gain insight and wisdom? I don’t believe so.
Surely travel is not a requirement for emotional maturity. One can still be an emotionally mature, worldly person with great perspective without having traveled. Is the sentiment not inherently elitist? Does it not imply that those with money, those who can afford the hefty costs of travel, are the only ones who can have perspective? That the wealthy truly are the wiser? Does it not, create an unnecessary division between the haves and the have nots?
Daily life provides sufficient opportunities for personal growth without the need for travel. It is not necessary to travel in order to interact with a variety of people, to place oneself in unfamiliar situations, or to challenge your assumptions.
This can be illustrated by famous authors and philosophers such as Jane Austen, Immanuel Kant and Emily Dickinson, who never ventured far from home. Their works illustrate an uncanny insight into the human experience and provide tangible proof of the respective author’s depth and perspective. Who is to argue that they should have developed themselves more through travel?
There is no question that traveling provides a very stimulating opportunity for many people to broaden their horizons. However, I would posit that traveling is not necessary in order to develop oneself or to have a mature perspective on life. Simple observation, education and mindfulness in day-to-day life provides every opportunity for well-rounded development, proving that the idea that traveling is necessary for development is just another tool for dividing classes.