Travel
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The Moral Cost of Travel

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When we travel we gain independence and perspective — but what is lost?

It was in Paradise Lost that John Milton introduced the notion that Adam and Eve ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge (thus explaining why your “knowledgeable” elementary school teachers may have had the infamous symbol sitting on their desks).The writers of Genesis left the forbidden fruit unspecified, but scholars have since claimed it could have been a grape, possibly a fig, even a pomegranate. Whatever it was exactly, the first Biblical book is clear that its consumption is the ultimate sin — and ever since the Western world has equated knowledge with a loss of innocence. Banned from Eden, the original sinners were also the original knowledge seekers, and the idea that understanding means corruption is widespread — oft-seen in dubiously well-known phrases like “Ignorance is bliss.”

Throughout history, innocence has been lost when new knowledge is gained, and the most common way for that to happen is by leaving home. By temporarily or permanently saying goodbye to what he knows best, the traveler willfully treks out from the light into the dark, plucking an apple from the Tree of Knowledge on his way.

The realm of the unknown is perhaps mankind’s greatest fear, but as the philosopher Spinoza said, “There can be no hope without fear, and no fear without hope.” To travel is to hope, but it is also to confront one’s fears. To stay in your tiny corner of the globe is to stay ignorant, and, indeed, it can be blissful. Yet what a warped perspective this blind contentment gives. Prejudices and naïve thoughts bask in restfulness and immobility.

The first time I left the United States, I went to Romania, Hungary and Moldova, where my family did charity work in orphanages and hospitals with a local organization. At the time, there was a travel alert from the U.S. government urging Americans not to go to Moldova. No one in my family spoke Romanian or Hungarian nor did we have any relationship with those countries. The reason that we traveled there — going against our own government’s wishes — was obvious to my parents: my brother and I needed to see a harsher side of the world. Budapest and Bucharest are essentially first-world cities, but the rural areas where we worked, mainly populated by Roma, were derelict and, at least from the perspective of a middle-class American, dangerous.

Later, my brother and I were taken to Athens at a time that coincided with the riots of the extremist Golden Dawn party, where we witnessed a great deal of violence. And, for every spring vacation in high school, we were taken to politically tumultuous areas of the world, like Tijuana, Mexico, where the drug cartel still maintains a strong presence, and to Skid Row in Los Angeles, a struggling downtown area infamous for its drug addicts and prostitutes.

While their friends back home applauded my parents for showing my brother and I the harsher sides of the world early on, there are serious questions about travel at stake: How much innocence should be preserved in children? How does white privilege and “poverty tourism” factor into the decision to travel? Should we take traveling so lightly? How much power does travel really have?

There is not an easy way to answer this but it is necessary to understand that there are two ways to travel: for pleasure or for understanding. Sauntering down, say, the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, stopping to shop at a boutique, and sunbathing on a particularly sun-filled patch of beach is a “pleasurable” way of travel. Travel for “understanding,” however, would be to perhaps explore Africa’s longest coastline in Somalia, to climb Mount Everest, or to visit politically turbulent cities. Traveling for “understanding” entails neither easy nor safe pursuits, but one would presume they have the greater potential for enlightenment.

Yet the idea that exposure to danger allows for a more complex understanding of the world is a bit of a fallacy. The world in which we live has danger at every turn, even in seemingly safe places: Myanmar, whose tourism office seems to have unlimited funds (there seems to be an advert in every magazine), is a country that’s still a thinly veiled dictatorship; the picturesque, seemingly perfectly stable Christchurch, New Zealand, was flattened by an unexpected earthquake not so long ago; even tried-and-true locales like the beaches of Waikiki or the museums of Paris are still subject to pickpockets and thieves. To leave home is to subject yourself to the unknown no matter where you go.

More importantly, every time we travel, we are transformed, so it matters not so much where we go — if it is somewhere as dangerous as Afghanistan or as safe as the Amalfi Coast — it simply matters that we go at all.

A loss of innocence is usually depicted in popular culture as occurring after a tragedy, perhaps a first sexual encounter, or any time that someone must undertake responsibilities disproportionate to one’s age and experience. Although the etymology is sometimes challenged, many believe that the word “innocent” comes from the Latin “noscere” meaning “to know” or “to learn” (the prefix “in” meaning “not”). “Innocence” is to “not know” or “not learn.” When one travels, especially to places like riotous Greece, inner city Los Angeles, or off-limits Moldova, one learns and thus one loses innocence.

Of course there is nothing inherently immoral or wrong about traveling. In fact, a recent multi-million dollar research campaign called The Travel Effect found a litany of reasons why traveling is a healthy activity. Among other benefits, it reported that students who study abroad tend to have higher life-long incomes, that one-third of leisure travelers have more sex while traveling, and that workers report slightly higher productivity and morale when given time to travel.

These are all respectable reasons to travel, but often we look only at these good sides of travel. We enjoy fetishizing travel as the romantic pastime of the freethinker and wandering soul, but it is also an incredibly formative, powerful, and far more jarring pursuit than it is often given credit for.

Globetrotting guru Anthony Bourdain admitted that his passion for travel led to falling out of love with and eventually divorcing his first wife, Nancy Putkoski. He explained it by saying, “I knew that [travel] had changed me, altered the way I would look at things. And the first time I went back to America, I found I was right. Everything was flat. Everything.”

The perspective-altering effects of travel are common — in fact, they are what many people like most about leaving home. But these effects can also lead to relationship failures, disappointment with careers, a change or loss of ideology, and an irreversible loss of innocence. Indeed, travel sleeps close to corruption.

I do believe that my brother and I are better off having traveled to developing nations and political unstable areas even at a young age. But often, even when one travels to more typical destinations with the idea of “gaining new perspectives,” it can inadvertently lead to one becoming scared of the world. One can clam up and fall out of love with both one’s home — for it is now dull and tamed — and with one’s world — it is too different and unpredictable. Travel is still a worthwhile experience, of course, but loss of innocence and disenchantment with the world are high potential costs to pay.

Near the end of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden Caulfield tells his little sister, Phoebe, that when he grows up he wants to be a “catcher in the rye.” Taking a cue from Robert Burns’ poetry, Holden says, “I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day.” Saving people from maturation, from a loss of innocence is an honorable quest, and there is much to be said for sheltering young people from the transformations that result from travel.

And yet, in the words of Holden describing his sister riding a carousel, “The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off.” As much as the God of Genesis wanted to be a catcher in the rye for Adam and Eve, they still decided to evade him and plunge over the cliff into a world of knowledge and adulthood. To go to Gypsy camps, to experience extremist politics in Greece, to be thrown into the middle of a drug cartel’s stronghold, indeed to leave home and travel at all — these pursuits only help one grow up faster. The decision to travel is simply to choose to grow up quickly. And just like one cannot return an apple to its tree, once one begins to explore the world, there is no going back.

172 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Moral Cost of Travel | My BlogThe Philosopher's blog.

  2. Hey there! I’ve been following your site for some time now and finally got the
    bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx!

    Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic work!

  3. Travelling leads to experiences all-together, good or bad, I still want to devour them for the healthy and critical mind. Unavoidable disappointment or disenchantment of the world and all its dark turns and cliffs is a mere feeling to me, which I can overcome, but would still kept close as a reminder of how big the light’s worth is.

    Thank you for the essay, anyhow.

  4. There are so many positive benefits to travelling that I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Do you ever notice that once you get back home you never remember any of the bad bits only the good?Travel gives me hope. Thanks for sharing this which has caused me to stop and think why I do it.

    • Cody says

      agreed. even amidst some potentially negative consequences, traveling certainly affords life-changing experiences and perspectives.

  5. There are so many positive benefits to travelling that I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Do you ever notice that once you get back home you never remember any of the bad bits only the good?Travel gives me hope. Thanks for sharing this which has caused me to stop and think why I do it.

  6. gomez541 says

    Beautiful writing! I agree, traveling has changed me as a person. I have always been open minded and curious about other cultures but after I moved to Mexico I realized there is so much more to learn. The world goes beyond the united states and there are many ways of viewing one topic. I was a social justice activist in Oregon but in México i saw that the problems people have to deal with are heavier and more complicated. Traveling helps you realize how countries are interelated and how our daily actions affect others, especially when you go to developing countries. I invite you to follow my blog where i documentos some of the things ive experienced living in southeast México.

    • Cody says

      Exactly. Often if I am in one place for too long, I begin to believe that that place is the center of the world — this especially happens with New York City. You’re very much right that a change of scene can be quite beneficial.

  7. Pingback: Does Travel Have a Moral Cost? | Monkey Toe Travel Journal

  8. Depending on how you travel, it can open up happen-chance meetings with like-minds, expose us to things we might not be comfortable with, but somehow are better knowing about. I’ve traveled to a few countries, and I’ve always done so with open eyes and few expectations, letting the local environment teach me what it will. I’m lucky to live in New Zealand, which I appreciate even more because I’ve seen how people in other countries live. I’ve been bitten by the travel but and I’m glad.

    • Cody says

      That’s quite lucky you live in New Zealand! My brother is actually going to live there for the next half a year. I’m sure he’ll have an amazing time.

      • I wish him the best and hope that he’s warmly welcomed. As such a seasoned person of the world, anyone who meets him will be lucky to know him.

  9. Pingback: Travelling the “right way”… | The Cheshire Cat's Quill

  10. navasolanature says

    Interesting views on travelling and I like your links with “Catcher in the rye’ and loss of innocence. I have gained immensely from my travels and my holidays but prefer to live in another culture for a while…. Aren’t we all travelling through life and sometimes the person who doesn’t go far can still see deeper into the intricate nature of life. Some of us though have to rough it further afield!

  11. I am a great believer in this quote by Mark Twain; “Travel is fatal to bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”

    However, enlightenment doesn’t just come automatically from stepping into a new country. You need to talk to it’s people, see their way of life, learn about it’s culture, and only then will you learn to evaluate your views and see that there is a plurality of perspectives to be held on many things.

  12. The world is constantly traveling by every possible means. Quite recently we have learnt the cost in the huge pollution but still we travel even more and faster. There is a moral cost and we are paying it.

  13. Had a conversation with my friend on travelling yesterday and I think you’ve buttressed more on what we shared together. Great piece!

  14. I don’t agree with your division into “pleasurable” and “understanding”. And there is no “mixed” possibility. For me “understanding” travel is an attitude, it’s focusing on learning about something. It doesn’t have to be dangerous, and it can be quite pleasurable.

    I disagree with your parents’ attitude. Luckily nothing happened, but for me taking children in dangerous places is like playing with fire. A really big one. Why, if your parents wanted their children to learn about “the bad side of life”, didn’t the family join any volunteer group in your neighbourhood? This would at least make a difference, it’d be useful.

    Actually this kind of attitude makes me feel like it was some kind of “visit in a circus”. Look, some people have it worse than you, be grateful for what you have!

  15. Lovely thought provoking post……there is no going back for me. And am I glad Adam and Eve took the plunge!! :-)

  16. A nice blog, but I simply ask this: why’s it necessary to justify a decision to travel (or to justify the countries we visit)? People in third world countries don’t justify the way they live or their cultural practices to anyone else -why should those in first world countries who have disposable income and choose to travel, have to provide a ‘valid reason’ for doing so?

    • You’ve got a point there but the way we see it is that with power (money) comes responsibility. Traveling can be the greatest thing and everyone with a chance should go out there and visit places. However, it can also go wrong and do harm to local communities. For an example, check this documentary about the people of Barcelona, and how they struggle with the city’s (unwanted?) success as a tourist destination:

      http://greencitytrips.com/2014/05/08/tourism-impact-barcelona/

      How would you react to such a situation in your own city?

  17. Reblogged this on terraferus and commented:
    “…and just like one cannot return an apple to its tree, once one begins to explore the world, there is no going back.”

  18. From Germany to Alaska, and 20+ other places lived in 25 years. Having lived through two deaths in the family, and an only child paralyzed at three years old (with no recourse!), AND a spouse losing the sense of smell (and taste) (with no recourse), AND growing up dirt poor, I like to think I have a little “perspective” on travel. While I respect your point of view (I, myself, was of that opinion for decades)….imagine….if all the world would just QUIT travelling, for travellings’ sake, and only, once again, BEGIN travelling once the entire world was fed….and housed…and educated….and employed! It CAN be done. from the desk of a “near” death survivor……..

  19. You bring up a lot of interesting points. I want to take my kids around the world before they leave the nest, but perhaps it won’t have the impact I am manifesting! As with all things, my sense of control is myth. Love the introduction too; be well!

  20. Well, to me (etymology aside), to know is not to lose one’s innocence, but to understand the meaning of innocence.

  21. Great read. I live to travel, though motherhood has taken over my life for now. I am just now debating taking my child into a harsher place to show her how lucky she really is. I love teaching my children though experience, which is why we are homeschooling.

  22. i agree that there’s no turning back after we travel. our point of view, knowledge and horizon about live has changed forever ever since, either we go to dangerous or very safe places in the world. we become more open-minded and more knowledgable thanks to travelling. of course there’s a risk of having disagreement on certain things with our pals, family or even a spouse because the way we see things has changed when we return to our homeland. but yeah, it’s still worthwhile to travel as a permanent activity in our life.

  23. Reblogged this on katebroadfield and commented:
    I am grateful for the day I decided to visit London, on my own, for a few days of exitement. My call to action became a seed for today. thanks to the Buddhists and martial artists who value action over wish and hope. This line caught my eye: “every time we travel, we are transformed, so it matters not so much where we go — if it is somewhere as dangerous as Afghanistan or as safe as the Amalfi Coast — it simply matters that we go at all.”

  24. Great post. I think travel for knowledge and experience is important. However, too many ‘seekers’ try to find enlightenment / desire to change who they are through travel. They’re essentially running from the one thing that they can’t, that is, the self. Explore internally, it’s more painful but infinitely more rewarding. I’ll be following you !

    Sincerely,
    Whitemowgli

  25. I enjoyed your post, and agree with you in that traveling is indeed a hard but ultimately fruitful endeavor. Yet, at the same time, it does make one wonder if it is time to release one’s grip on the remaining strands of innocence, or whether one can hold onto them for just a bit longer.

  26. A very well written and thought provoking article. Loved it and even reblogged it.It will give me a great pleasure if you visit my blog and comment on it.

  27. I absolutely loved your post and agree with the dichotomy it presents about whether taking a bite of the apple is worth being cast out of innocent paradise.

  28. What a wonderful post! I’m a High School student who has been luck enough to have the opportunity to travel almost continuously for the past 2 years with only fleeting visits to my home country in between terms. Travelling for so long at such a young age I often question the purpose of travelling. Why do we do it? Is it purely a selfish pursuit? How do I ensure my travels and lessons affect more than just me? I often fear that all my travels have de-valued the magic of travelling; however, whenever I feel disillusioned I am reminded that why I travel is to understand the world to a greater extent. Not only that but to be able to make connections between cultures as we are in the end human. To truly understand that we are all not so different is at least the reason that I travel.
    Thank you for a wonderful post, it has truly provoked me to think more on why I travel.

  29. This is one of the best blogs I have read in days! thank you thank you and thank you. I agree with you. I am from South africa, so if you ever venture here, come visit. email:midlandshouseofhealing@gmail.com
    I am going to share your blog on twitter and facebook ! it is very good!

  30. it also depends on how you travel. Ive traveled only in the US but traveling in my car or by plane, staying in hotels or at friends’ houses was very different than when i was homeless and hitchhiking staying in riverbeds and under bridges. Never the less change is inevitable and knowlege is too on some levels. This was a wonderful piece thank you.

  31. Reblogged this on aishakhan0208 and commented:
    Giving a new perspective to travelling. Very well written. Re blogging it.Do visit my blog at aishakhan0208Wordpress.My part of the world should be exotic enough for you. I am from Karachi, Pakistan.

  32. This is very true, especially what you said about travel and relationships. I could not date in college because my dream was the live overseas and help the poor. I couldn’t date guys who wanted a “normal” life. So I moved to Thailand and married a man from here. But in the same way, my husband didn’t really “get it” until I brought him to the US. He says it opened his mind to why “white people” are the way they are and it helps him understand me a lot more.

  33. “Two ways to travel: for pleasure or for understanding. Sauntering down, say, the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, stopping to shop at a boutique, and sunbathing on a particularly sun-filled patch of beach is a “pleasurable” way of travel. Travel for “understanding,” however, would be to perhaps explore Africa’s longest coastline in Somalia, to climb Mount Everest, or to visit politically turbulent cities. Traveling for “understanding” entails neither easy nor safe pursuits, but one would presume they have the greater potential for enlightenment.”

    This is my favorite part. The post is worth the read. I love your piece!

  34. I love that you are inviting your readers to think why they travel without judging their choices. I wish I had the courage to go to hot spots but as a child my family was caught in a country in the verge of a civil war and that really scarred me and I wouldn’t want to put my children in that situation. However, I do applaud anyone who takes the time out of their travels to provide some service.

  35. The best way of responsible travelling? Move abroad. There is no better way of understanding than immersing oneself. I moved to the UK from Germany and learn more about the English culture and myself every day.

  36. I loved this post ….can’t imagine my life without travel, I get quite bored being in one place for a lengthy period. Glad that my dad was often in far-flung lands attending conferences and all that, his stories made me desire to travel. This year went to three countries in Asia: it’s amazing how leadership can do so much or so little for a country..read Singapore’s success and Lee Kuan Yew as compared to Cambodia and Pol Pot..: africanahgirl.com

  37. It is an interesting perspective and you write beautifully. Perhaps it is different for me, I am a European so foreign lands and travel have been more accessible and more integral to most of my peer group but I wouldn’t be so quick it see travel as progressive. I think that travels helps you develop your identity and differentiate yourself in much the same way as possessions and education do. It is a privilege not a fast track.

  38. “…it matters not so much where we go — if it is somewhere as dangerous as Afghanistan or as safe as the Amalfi Coast — it simply matters that we go at all.” Yes! a perfect summary of why I do what I do. Thank you!

  39. steve says

    Great to read, since my travels I have never been the same, life is flat at home and always looking to explore further, yes I lost my innocence. Great article! 10 10 10

  40. Some excellent points. The other side of travel of course is seeing the beauty in the world. Perhaps learning how other places in the world can live lives of little crime, strong healthy vibrant communities, accessible health care and education for everyone, perhaps learning our way of life despite what we may told is not the best way. Knowledge is only a loss of innocence if we do not use it. We are no longer innocent if we know what is right and continue to choose to do that which is not. Great Blog!!

  41. Your journey was fascinating I mean most people wouldn’t even bother with the slums of each country yet you guys never gave it a second thought. I commend you for looking passed the potential dangers in order to see that through. I mean it’s very inspiring stuff

  42. NancyJ says

    Alain de Botton commented on this to some degree in the classic “The Art of Travel.” He expanded my own thoughts on travel, pro’s/con’s, etc. The other topic being discussed as it should be is the ecological cost of travel, especially air travel. Finally, during the years when our own travel was limited, choosing to approach my own city as a traveler forced me to connect more deeply with the people, community and vibe here. The idea of exploring so often is attached only to leaving one’s community… which I find oddly fascinating. Thanks Cody for your thoughts!

  43. Interesting observations.
    We lived in the Middle East for a few years and traveled to India, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and several other places in that part of the world. We always came home from those adventures exhausted – our heads bursting with new ideas and lessons, our feet tired from walking!

  44. I think we all have a responsibility when we travel to appreciate our situation and respect others and do what we can to learn from every opportunity and experience we encounter. Great post to read!

  45. Having recently returned home after eight years of travelling and teaching abroad, I’ve never been more appreciative of my home country. Maybe my priorities have changed, but I’ve realised the world will always be waiting …

  46. Travelling may take away your innocence but delivers you an much better eye on life. If I could choose I would rather be in the know, to understand than to play innocence and keep my head in the sand. Great blog, well balanced!

  47. i think i have learnt more over the last 10 years travelling than 12 years in school + 9 in university….it may have made me poor in money terms but so much richer in self…

  48. The first time I happened to go overseas was when I also went to Romania and Hungary. I was in Romania when Russia invaded Moldova – made me nervous…I was just 90 miles away from the action.

    However, as I read this piece a thought kept creeping into my mind: how does one’s worldview affect the premise of this post?

    I thought this post was thought-provoking, not to mention full of stuff to make the rest of us who rarely get a chance to travel jealous. However, I have to say I have problems with the Eden argument. The rest, though, was pretty interesting.

  49. Great thoughts! I think a person can travel for pleasure and understanding. South Africa was the one that really got me.

  50. Nice, Thank you for the new perspective on travel. I have always perceived travel as partially enjoyable and the other part a challenge that I have to overcome. Leaving home brings up so many fears of the unknown. Not only do I learn about other places and people, I learn a lot about myself-things that don’t show up when I’m on my own, in my everyday existence.

  51. Great post, very thought provoking. I’ve not travelled as much as I would have liked, but still managed to grab a bite of that apple.

  52. Incredibly well written perspective piece…gave me something to think about. And I agree with Anthony Bourdain…everything can go flat.

  53. Excellent points made. I sometimes feel transformed by as little as visiting the trees in my back yard.

  54. I think you really hit the nail on the head, especially about traveling for pleasure or understanding. If possible, I think both can be done at the same time. I always knew that I wanted to travel for immersion, to interact with people from different countries and cultures but I could never articulate the need I had. Thanks to you, I now have the words. Thank you.

  55. I enjoy traveling and you don’t have to go far to see the rugged underbelly of society. I don’t go for the sake of sensationalism. Rather, I go with the intention of serving those less fortunate in my travels.

  56. makeascene21 says

    Beautiful piece, I’ve always said that travelling is not this romanticised simple thing people believe it is. It’s so much more. Your piece of writing totally captured that! We were definitely put on this world to strive for the adventures we find in travel.

  57. A very well written article. The fear of the unknown reminds me of a quote by author hp lovecraft that “the greatest fear is that of the unknown. Keep up the great work!

  58. Very thought provoking post. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about your words for days, and even weeks. When each of us take that first step and embark on a journey and we remove a small piece of innocence, what moves in to take its place? Compassion for those less fortunate? Maturity? Cynicism? And how are the replacements determined? If I know that exposing my own children to harsh realities across the world will remove their innocence, how can I ensure what will move in to replace it?

  59. As an American who has not traveled the problems of the world dwarf my ability to fathom the simple question of Why? We have our problems but in other countries there seems no solutions, and sometimes little hope.

  60. The first Christians were hardcore travelers. They traveled with a purpose. Show forth God’s love and share the Gospel of Christ, our salvation from death. Travel is magical when you’re going toward Heaven.

  61. Reblogged this on anonymouslybewitching and commented:
    This blog rekindled my yearning for travel. It has always been a dream– to travel, to experience, to learn. And one day, when Im ready, Im gonna tread these deep forlorn waters. One day, im gonna go beyond the horizon.

  62. Meaningful post. I agree with you that going out of one’s home means growing up early. Thus we have to be independent, responsible for our selves and our safety. We have to equip ourselves with the skills and knowledge needed for us to survive out there. That is why I challenge myself to later on come out of my comfort zone, live in a foreign land and see if I can thrive. Its the only way I can prove to myself what Im capable of, what I am really made of. I can say that you are indeed very lucky to have traveled at an early age. With understanding comes wisdom and no one or nothing can take that away from you. With wisdom comes the greater power to change the world in your own way. Never mind losing innocence, we are meant to lose it from the very minute we were born. Thanks for the inspiration. :-)

  63. Romania is a beautiful country. I just finished a 30day challenge of writing on Romania. That is really well written. Take care!

  64. Great piece-love the last line! Once you start there truly is no turning back! Travel did change me and trying to fit back into societal roles is often difficult once you’ve seen so many other ways to live and embrace life. Thanks for sharing.

  65. This was a beautiful write up. I’m traveling to Europe in August for the first time. Am I nervous? Absolutely. There’s no real plan to it. I have a good savings, a one way ticket, and the rest is up to me. Thanks for the read!

  66. jo5ephga1nes says

    Really interesting. I haven’t traveled a lot, but I understand what you mean.

  67. I love travel…..just wrote a piece about it this afternoon. You give great reasons to expand our experiences. Can’t remember where I read this, but it’s a good quote….’As the island of knowledge increases, so does the shore of ignorance’ travel enlarges our experience and know ledge, but also makes us really aware of how much more there is to learn.

  68. Very interesting and interconnecting argument. Having recently returned from living abroad, interaction with other cultures is a subject I find very compelling.
    One thought I would add is to amplify your treatment of the opening illustration of “the tree of knowledge.” while I don’t take issue with what you said, as a seminary trained Christian I fell confident in asserting that there is more to the story. Moreover, this deeper understanding could actually strengthen and develop your argument. The pursuit of knowledge was the fundamental sin in the myth of the Garden of Eden because it was a rebellion that sought independence. Once gained, however, (as the broader biblical witness makes plain), there are now two choices for what to do with knowledge. If we pursue knowledge as a continued means to independence, we perpetuate the alienation that was “original sin.” If, however, we use knowledge as a way to gain access to our awareness of dependence and inter-dependence (on God and with others respectively), it is a good that should be encouraged (I.e. Wisdom). In the context of your argument about the moral consequences of travel, I think this grounding in the impact of knowledge on relationships is highly relevant. Knowledge for knowledge’s own sake is neutral – it is the way it impacts our treatment of others that gives it moral weight, for good or ill.

  69. Fabulous piece. Yes, anything that challenges you and opens your eyes is “dangerous,” because it challenges the status quo, and it opens you up to great gifts but also great frustrations. It’s hard to be complacent when you’ve seen other possibilities beyond your own backyard–but that’s growth, isn’t it? And I think your Garden of Eden/apple reference is great–don’t listen to the naysayers. If you read Harold Kushner, a rabbi and biblical scholar, he offers some similar ideas.

  70. I don’t know why I grabbed onto the whole apple thing and ran with it in my head, but for some reason I did. So I am just thinking, this whole idea of an apple for the teacher and an apple a day keeps the doctor away… either we are trying to make our teachers smarter and avoiding the doctor or we are all a dirty dirty bunch of sinners :)

  71. Reblogged this on Rdarmab and commented:
    A very intereating post on the morality and consequences of travel. It will open your eyes and make you think for a while.

  72. Reblogged this on Rdarmab and commented:
    A very intereating post on the morality and consequences of travel. It will open your eyes and make you think for a while.

  73. My son was asked, during his Oxford interview, whether he thought his GapYear was morally acceptable…. it’s better to travel a thousand miles than read etc etc…

  74. Godfrey Babdhai says

    Well thought out post. Puts the idea of travelling up for scrutiny in a good way

  75. Hello. Interesting read. The moral cost of traveling is one thing. The monetary cost of traveling is for anyone who can afford to travel. Traveling cost money. I wish I could afford another cruise to the Caribbean again. Plane tickets, boat and hotel fees are expensive. But at least I went somewhere in my life. :)

  76. Great post. I’ve been pretty privileged to travel abroad for various reasons and I appreciate all of them. Thanks for the great insight!

  77. Love this piece – I think your parents certainly had the right idea, and I wish that more families had the money and opportunities to expose their children to the “real” world earlier on. Travel shapes who we are, how wonderful that you got to start so early!

  78. jmchri13 says

    In my opinion, no part of the world is “flat.” I learned this the summer after a month-long stay in China as part of an exchange program. That summer, I started going on long walks and bike rides around my hometown in Connecticut, and pretty much cut television out of my lifestyle. By the end of the summer, I felt content-I felt there was no need to travel thousands of miles around the globe to gain “knowledge.” I found that there was a wealth of experiences and knowledge to be had in my own surroundings, I just had to look hard. Each portion of the globe is its own asymptote of wonders. I continue to maintain this attitude. If I could choose between touring Italy or hiking the hills of New England, I’d go for the latter.

  79. At a young age, my parents started taking my brother and I to an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico annually until we went to college. My parents would take my brother and I out of school for a week to do manual labor projects to help improve the orphanage. To this day, I still keep in contact with the kids I made friends with and grew up with. I’m so thankful that my parents decided to take us on this trip because it lead my brother and I to travel after high school. I know my passion for social injustices grew during my travels in South Africa and Egypt. You don’t even have to go overseas to expand your horizons, going south is a different experience and you are still in the U.S. I’m glad there are other people out there who’s parents decided to raise them with a little bit of culture.

  80. I don’t believe that the “pleasurable” and “understanding” aspects of traveling are mutually exclusive. While I have never been to Cannes, I imagine there would be experiences there that would expand your conscience, as it’s a different part of the world. Likewise, being in Tijuana can be pleasurable as well. (It’s not all drug violence…there are even beaches, believe it or not.) Developing nations need not be solely a sobering experience. Every place, rich or poor, is usually much more than its projected image.
    I wish this piece had expanded more on the “poverty tourism” aspect.

  81. Interesting article only the reference to Adam and Eve being knowledge seekers shows an abysmal lack of understanding of the circumstances as described in the book of Genesis. Please do not undergird what would have been an excellent article with a lack of understanding.
    It would have been a nice bucket of water…. but…. there’s a hole in the bucket…..

  82. Good writing, giving me a lot to think about. I think it’s a balance. We didn’t travel as kids growing up in Chicago because we didn’t have the money, but I never felt sheltered because there are pockets of poverty, violent neighborhoods, drug abuse, etc., etc. all around. Lots of sadness. I felt like I grew up quickly without leaving.
    When I started to travel, it magnified how uncertain and cruel the world could be. And beautiful! And amazing! And caring! It taught me people are more alike than different. And now that travel cracked me open, I care a lot more.
    I am uncomfortable with “poverty tourism” because it’s not an amusement park; it’s people. And poor as they may be, they still have a sense of pride. And when an outsider comes in to show their kids how horrible the conditions are, I’m sure it hurts.
    You’ve given me a lot to think about. Love the last line.

  83. Florian says

    Interesting post, which made me thinking. Isn’t it that what your or anyone’s kids see on TV or online these days is so much worse than what you are likely to encounter on your “real life” travels? Then there are some very good aspects of travelling, as your tourist money makes an important contribution to the pockets of the countries and communities visited. The challenge is to get the right balance by travelling responsibly and in a way that supports sustainable tourism. A good start, perhaps is to stay at hotels or hostels that take their environmental and social responsibilities serious – such as the ones we feature on the Green City Trips blog.

    What do you think?

  84. birminghamismo says

    It’s nice that a fairly provocative piece got chosen for “Freshly Pressed”. Well done.

    I still think that bourgeois people call it “travelling” whilst the working class say “holidays”. They’re the same thing: we still go home to our warm beds at the end of it and wouldn’t give that up for the world – your introspection could simply be seen as your own struggles with guilt at being middle class and wanting the comforts yet having a social conscience (I’m sure millions of people have the same struggle – it’s not a criticism). Compare middle class travel since 1965ish (as baby-boomers came of age) with George Orwell and his generation in the Spanish Civil War, for instance.

    • I guess I just disagree with you. I don’t think “traveling” and “holidays” or “vacationing” are the same thing at all. Holidays are relaxing, refreshing, and rejuvenating. They involve the things like sunbathing and shopping that were mentioned in this post. Traveling is exhausting. It’s an in-depth exploration of a culture where you do things that might be construed as dangerous by certain people. Traveling involves be up at dawn and out long into the night, seeing all aspects of a place from poverty to the richest of the rich and how they live and think. I believe traveling is a cultural experience, whereas vacationing is a break from thought and stress. And often times cultural experiences do mean giving up warm bed, which I have done and will continue to do quite willingly.

  85. Very interesting perspective your parents had on raising kids…I think that God cast Adam and Eve out because of disobedience, pride, and rebellion, not for seeking knowledge. He also said fill the earth and subdue it.

  86. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Saturday links | A Bit More Detail

  87. Nara Castro says

    It was worth waiting a little longer for a new post. Thoughts about what’s behind traveling are dear to my heart, so I loved reading what you think and adding some more thoughts to my mind.

  88. Great piece! I have been thinking recently about why I choose to travel, so this has given me some more to think about

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