Asking why travel is like asking why exercise. Just as it’s a lot easier to be sedentary, it’s a lot easier to stay home.
I have less travel energy than in decades past, but every time I do take off for distant lands, I’m better for it. Better because my understanding of differences expands, which pay dividends long after I return home. Most everyone makes different choices than me about not just where, but how to live. Traveling helps me understand that while I would not make some of the same choices, theirs work out well for them.
Early in our recent trip to Spain, I noticed one of my travel companions saying “That’s weird” on multiple occasions. “That’s different,” I suggested as an alternative.
I’ve been fortunate to see half the world and that one subtle difference may be the most fundamental travel insight of all.
Consider that the Spanish:
- are more honest about their meat, openly displaying deer legs and dead rabbits in open air markets
- close most things up from about 2-7p and begin thinking about dinner around 8p
- pronounce words with an “s” sound—z, s, c for example—as “th”
Not weird, just different. Overtime, if you don’t travel, you run the risk of thinking other ways of life are odd, even inferior to your own. The social scientific term for that is ethnocentrism, but arrogance suffices.
The classic example is the American in London who can’t believe Brits “drive on the wrong side of the road” as if there’s one right side. Actually, that’s not the best example, because most of the time, our arrogance is more subtle and nuanced. When we travel very far at all, we regularly see or hear things that we’re unaccustomed to. We label them weird because we have a hard time assimilating them into what we’re most familiar with. But if we take any time to consider the unique positive aspects of the cultural context, the contrasts in daily life are not weird at all, just different.