Travel Narrows the Mind: From Here to There In this audio essay from his KUCI fm radio broadcast, The SoCal Byte, Nathan grapples with the belief that in order to achieve fulfillment, a person needs to put on mileage.
"They change the sky, not their soul, who run across the sea," said Horace, the Roman lyric poet. Think about where you are right now, he might have added. Do you want to leave? Do you want to see more of the macro-geographic world, and less of where you call home? Do you think that travel broadens your perspective? Donít. Travel narrows the mind.
"Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home," Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, knowing that travel is a great distraction. It seduces you to believe you’re experienced, but it gets you nowhere except there.
“I got a flat tire,” is nothing to brag about. Now say, “I got a flat tire in Istanbul.” See the difference? It’s the mawkish inflation of space that travel provides — the distance between you, home, and a shared social deception.
That’s not to say that travel is bad for you, only that it’s become an enormously overrated activity. We get aroused just thinking about it.
Traveling to be amused is gauche, and traveling with the expectation of expanding your soul is disillusionment. It is traveling away from yourself.
A shallow romance that leaves you nothing, travel is pretense with luggage.
Travel may have broadened the mind minimally when we lived in rural communities, but that’s when, in the course of a day, our social life was limited to our family and a few neighbors. We all went to the same church and shopped at the same store. Meeting people from another land was unique. Not so much anymore.
Here, where I live, in Southern California, five miles to my west — in Santa Ana — 70% of the population considers Spanish their native tongue. Another 5 miles away — in Westminster — lives the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. Two miles to the west — in Newport Beach — Saudi princes negotiate. Three miles to the North — on the Loma Ridge — mountain lions prowl. I can see red-tailed hawks, Mormons, Buddists, possums and melaleucas blooming from my front porch. My immediate neighbors are African, Russian, Armenian, Persian, Pakistani and Chinese. If I need exotic experiences, I walk around the block.
To travel, said David Foster Wallace, “is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you.” And yet, the practice of travelism — the belief that in order to achieve fulfillment, a person needs to put on mileage — has become a primary human preoccupation.
There are people who can’t wait to tell me where they’ve traveled — as if it has anything to do with who they are or what they do or what I care about.
They travel to find meaning, but instead come home with empty words and burned resources.
They look away instead of inside.
It’s a vacant proposition, this thing they call travel. Beware. It narrows the mind and flattens the soul.
If you want to find yourself — if you want experience — stay where you are and look around you. The world will follow.