Does travelling make you a better person?

The age old debate of travel giveth wisdom is tangible.  I hear people saying that travelling makes you a better person, and I’m not entirely sure I agree.  While I have travelled quite a lot, does this really make me a better person than someone who stayed in their home country and studied to be a doctor, a nurse, a firefighter or a teacher?  In my opinion, no.  I don’t like the attitude that travelling therefore means you are better, but I do believe that travelling gives you other skills which help you to become a better person.

A view of Prague, one of the places I went during my Easter holidays
A view of Prague, one of the places I went during my Easter holidays

I don’t believe that lads’ holidays to Malaga or Kavos, i.e. ‘Sex and suspicious parents-esque’ type locations are particularly cultural,  but I am not sure why people feel the need to degrade them as such.  If you are 18 and it’s your first time abroad in a Greek or Spanish island you will probably learn how to control yourself (or, at least, how much alcohol you can take) when you’re in a  foreign, clubbing environment.  I see it as almost a way to let off steam, as sometimes you just want to have fun and forget the rain back home.   While I would argue it doesn’t help you particularly culturally at least you’re trying to expand your horizons.    Is it better getting hammered at Ocean in Skegness or Oceana in Ibiza?  At least with the latter you are deliberately putting yourself into an environment which is vaguely unfamiliar, even if the only Spanish you speak the whole holiday is “Gracias”.

Inter-railing in my opinion really does help you as a person.  I would call my 21-22 year old years as the years I transitioned from teenager in denial to a young adult.  I have been inter railing three times now, and each time I have learned and experienced new things.  This time I inter-railed from Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw and Prague (hence the month absence of blogging).   I put myself in charge of planning the trains and hotels I had to force myself to realise I was my own person who had to take responsibility for myself and my travelling companion.   By this third time I inter-railed I could notice and adapt to problems which would have led to a breakdown a few years ago.  I also learned to be a lot calmer as a person and to remain silent and try to calm down when I am sweaty, with no sleep, in a terrible mood.  I really feel these skills would be beneficial for a lot of people to start steering their life towards maturity.

Where would you go?
Where would you go?

What annoys me is the people who are so close minded they hate the idea of leaving at all.  In many ways, this is fine, as the UK has a lot to offer too, but it’s the cynical (and, lets be honest, Daily Mail readers) who complain incessantly about everything British and yet are so close minded to see that actually the UK has a lot to offer.  The sense of privilege astounds me – how can you legitimately complain and complain about England and how everywhere has it better if you’ve barely left your home town?   You didn’t choose to be born British,  it was circumstance.  You could have been born in Malaysia, Samoa, a remote tribe in the Amazon or not born at all.   I can’t stand the hypocrisy of people who claim that immigrants are “taking our jobs” and “don’t know our language”, and then conversely buy time-shares or emigrate to Spain without integrating with the locals.  Obviously this is a generalisation, but how is it one rule for them and one rule for us?  If you travel, if you learn to integrate, if you try and learn the language then worlds will open for you.  People complain about the rude, snobby French, but how many times have you gone abroad and just spoken English slowly to a waiter as if they are imbeciles?  Obviously you can’t learn every language of the world, but to try and learn “thank you” and “do you speak English?” at least shows you’re willing to go some way to appreciate another person’s culture.

On the other hand I’m not too keen on travel snobbery either.   When we went on a walking tour of Bucharest I was made to feel like a spoiled, rich kid of privilege because we’d booked an IBIS which was £12 a night rather than choosing the £8 hostel option.   I felt I had to constantly justify our decision when in reality wouldn’t most people have liked to have chosen the second option for £4 more after a horrible 20 hour train ride?!   There seems to be a case of one-upmanship with some people where you say, for example “I went to Budapest”,  “oh, did you go to the geothermal baths?” “oh, no”, “oh… well that’s the most famous thing there”.  I still feel guilt-ridden occasionally when I have to admit I have only visiting the North island of New Zealand and we didn’t have a chance to visit the South. (“Oh, but there’s nothing IN the North” “The south is much more beautiful” etc.etc.)    Are these people really soooo much better and cultured because they did the more ‘conventional’ route, or are they just travel snobs?

Holidays should ultimately be for you to experience something new and learn something at the end of it, even if it’s just to relax more.  It gives you a time of reflection or a time to challenge yourself into the unknown.  I remember being in awe of people who travelled across South America by themselves in their gap year, and these people seem to be now the calmest and most rational people I know.   While travelling doesn’t make you a better person, it does certainly help you to realise there are other ways of life and other things to do in the world.   I really think everyone should take the opportunity to move abroad for a few months and see what the world has to offer – even if it just makes you realise Britain is Best.

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