This is a question that still rings in my ears when I travel, particularly when I’m in a war-torn failed state on my own volition. However, I would argue that few things can shift your perceptions as profoundly as travel can. The vast majority of the world’s population will never be lucky enough to see and understand how other people live, love and exist. And until you’re exposed to new and different societies, you’re likely to be left with the overwhelming belief that the society you were randomly born into is (conveniently) the best in the world.
Travel is the antidote to nationalism and bigotry. You grow up thinking that different countries seem strange in comparison to yours. You’ll probably remain stuck in this mode if you choose to stay there. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had discussions with locals – in countries ranging from Australia to Iraq – where the theme has been, “Isn’t where I live the best place in the world?” Normally, I nod along to develop an element of rapport with whoever I’m talking to, particularly in places where I feel uneasy. But a little nudge can pull the rug out from under them. “So, if Adelaide is the best city in the world, what’s your second favourite city in the world?” I once asked a local in Australia. “Don’t know mate, haven’t really seen any of the rest of Australia.”
If forced to leave the confines of your home country, you realise where you were born probably isn’t the best place in the universe. There are places with better food, weather, and scenery. And even if you do live in the actual best country in the world (Norway probably), ask yourself why you’re proud about this? What have you done to contribute to the success of your nation? Aside from the fact you were randomly born here – which is one of the things in your life that you played literally no role in – where does the feeling of national superiority come from? When travelling, the nationalist myths that define the lives of so many people globally quickly unravel under closer scrutiny. This was certainly true for me as I travelled more. Having been force-fed British imperial ‘heroics’ growing up in the UK, and thus believing that my country was clearly the best, it took time for the lure of patriotism to lose its hold over me.
Context For The West
If you’re lucky enough to have been born in the rich part of the world (if you’re reading this you almost certainly were), travel offers the opportunity for humility. The problems and issues that you complain about in your nation seem trivial when visiting places where clean water, basic sanitation, and electricity are the stuff of dreams. You also realise that despite the massive linguistic, cultural, and political divides between our nations, there’s much more that unites us than divides us.
This is perhaps the most overused cliché in existence. But there is truth to it. Whatever a nation’s belief system, human beings are pretty much the same. Wherever I have been, common themes emerge: most people like to spend time with friends, love their children, watch sport, and drink socially (if they’re allowed to). Seeing this firsthand develops your sense of empathy for others. You feel a greater sense of unity with the world, given that we’re the same after all. We’re a species of great ape, who have been divided by borders drawn on maps.
Just For Fun
Before you think that the only reason to travel is so that you can eventually write preachy ‘the world is one’ prose like I just have, a final thought: travelling is really fun. Most who travel go on to say that it’s the best thing you can do as a human. Simple.