A friend told me something recently that got me thinking. They talked about how little they’ve travelled, and the expectation that someone who’d travelled a lot more than them would have proportionately more interesting stuff to contribute to a conversation. They went on to say that actually this expectation had come up against reality recently by talking to someone who had indeed travelled a lot, but was actually very dull.
“You’ve travelled that much, and you’re still this boring?” my friend expressed to me, their inner dialogue from this disappointing interaction coming out only in telling me about it later.
It occurred to me, of course travel doesn’t necessarily make you a better, more interesting, more thoughtful or conscientious person just by itself. You have to do the work to get there yourself. I’d never had this conscious thought before, and indeed I had probably had this similar expectation, even if unconscious, that my friend had previously held.
When I started to think about it, I realised there’s this idea that simply by visiting lots of places, you can become a better person without any other work, and that we reward people who are able to (and do) travel with praise, encouragement or envious awe simply for the fact that they’re visiting places we’ve never been.
Naturally, there might be situations we come across through travel that lead to self improvement that may not have happened had we stayed in one place. Or that giving ourselves the time to travel means that we’re also giving ourselves the attention that allows for such changes that we may neglect otherwise if we were at home, working a 9 to 5 job every day.
Nonetheless, this does not make travel in itself virtuous or the direct cause for any deep and meaningful change in our mental states. That requires work, and unfortunately, that kind of work is not something we often praise or encourage people for, at least not in the same way that work on physical appearance may be seen, for example.
As someone recently becoming aware of just how much I struggle with allowing myself to become the more patient, kinder, more rational and level-headed person I can see that I could be, I’m starting to see just how much work this entails.
So, no, I’ve not got better at communicating with my husband (for example) because we’ve travelled to however many countries together; it’s because I’ve put in the work to make that happen, and so has he. Let’s start praising that more, and letting go of this silly idea that travel is the answer to all your problems, and that quitting your job and flying to the other side of the world all by itself will make you into a better person.