Travel Broadens the Mind?

Maybe so, when you’re younger. Travel did that for me long ago in trips to Europe and South America, later to the Caribbean and Mexico. Living in France for a summer I think changed my outlook more radically than my years growing up in Chicago. One reason is that you are compelled to adapt to new values and lifestyles.

The appeal of travel has waned as I’ve aged. The world has become a lot less engaging as its problems have escalated. Better communications have brought distant peoples (and their predicaments) closer. The hassles with air travel, Covid, and crowds of tourists don’t seem worth it.

Becoming an expat has forced me to look at travel differently from how my fellow expats view it. They have ties and needs that I do not. My family is small, dispersed, and I feel somewhat dislocated from them.

One friend is now on a trip to the East Coast, nominally to get her Covid shots but also to visit an old school friend, family, and rediscover the U.S. after an 11-year absence. A couple just returned from a hectic trip to Philadelphia, seeing doctors and friends and rushing to three other cities. Another couple flew to Minneapolis for a week to finalize the purchase of a condo.

I view these activities with a sense of wonderment. There but for the grace of God don’t go I. Studying French literature years ago I encountered a wonderful decadent novel, À rebours (Against Nature, 1884) by J.K. Huysmans, which contains a remarkable interlude with its hero, Des Esseintes. This reinforced the notion that travel is, of course, a mental as well as a physical act.

In another episode, he decides to visit London after reading the novels of Charles Dickens. He dines at an English restaurant in Paris while waiting for his train and is delighted by the resemblance of the people to his notions derived from literature. He then cancels his trip and returns home, convinced that only disillusion would await him if he were to follow through with his plans.

I’m not an aesthetic recluse, at least not yet, and I surely don’t reject nature and normal life in favor of artifice, as Des Esseintes did. But I’ve discovered that by not having to resort to travel I can keep alive some of the illusions and discoveries that it brought to me long ago.

Now celebrities and people like Bezos are going into space—in search of new sensations perhaps. For me, travel is just a short circuit for living extensively in another place. A typical article on the benefits of travel finds seven:

      1. Travel Makes You Happier
      2. Travel Lets You Disconnect & Recharge
      3. Traveling Relieves Stress and Anxiety
      4. Travel Exposes You to New Things
      5. Travel Exposes Others to New Things
      6. Travel Makes You Physically Healthier
      7. Traveling Can Boost Your Creativity.

I submit that none of these are really true. They may happen or they may not.

In a way, becoming an expat is the ultimate travel experience because it implies committing to a place rather than just sampling it. Your perspective changes totally, and you see the follies of your home country, for instance, more clearly when you’re detached from them.