This expression is so widely stated and so accepted that it has almost become a platitude or even a cliché. It suggests that the very experience of travel and exposing oneself to other influences, cultures and experiences ensure a better understanding of the world we live in and the people in it; I subscribe to that.
I read a blog today, not about travelling but about politics, (please don’t disappear this blog is not about politics!) and the content frankly shocked me accepting as I do the outlook of this phrase. Without going into detail the blog reflected upon the attitudes of the people of one country viewed from the writer’s country. The shock lay in the fact that the writer, who had been to the country he talked about, ascribed negative attitudes and motivations to the people of the other country with a degree and ferocity that bore absolutely no resemblance to my own experiences. These observations by the writer were not apparently, borne of any bad experiences in the country; simply a set of attitudes or one might call them prejudices that seemed to have overcome the supposed broadening of the mind.
Now I am not naïve enough not to know that politics makes people say things they might not actually feel, nor am I conceited enough to think that my attitudes are always right, but in this case the attitudes were separate to the main thrust of the article, and they seemed to come from the heart. Had I not been to the place I might be inclined to accept them, but that would not have been fair to the country.
Maybe I’m wrong about the idea that travel broadens the mind, maybe the writer’s idea of travel is simply to visit a resort in the sun where the experience given is so close to that of home that it is almost undistinguishable? Maybe the writer was looking for trouble or maybe so set in the idea of the superiority of their own environment that they could not open their mind to a different one?
Being an avid reader of travel writers I wondered whether the real truth is that, as my favourite travel writer Bruce Chatwin writes:
“Travel doesn’t merely broaden the mind it makes the mind”? or
as GK Chesterton wrote:
“They say that travel broadens the mind but you must have the mind” or
as Paul Theroux has written:
“Extensive travelling induces a feeling of encapsulation, and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind”
I am still of the view that travel broadens the mind but I wonder?