We recently received a Christmas card from a well-traveled New York City couple. The card displayed an image of the husband and wife with their two sons on safari in Botswana. Inscribed below was the provocative quotation: Not all who wander are lost.
The card reminded us of an essay we published not long ago titled “Transformative Travel.” It opens with the confession that we ourselves were born with an unexplained wanderlust. Over the years, this urge to wander evolved into what we call purposeful travel—that is, travel with the objective of absorbing and learning about cultures different than our own. Over time, we realized that people around the world are more alike than different. Our original fascination with people’s differences evolved into excitement about recognizing their similarities.
We recall, for example, a visit to Iran in 2013. American friends expressed a concern for our safety. Yet when we arrived, we found Iranians to be welcoming and their cities as safe as any we’ve visited. In Teheran, a family asked us to join their picnic in a lovely urban park. At our hotel, a couple spontaneously invited us to their wedding reception. In Isfahan, an historic university city and UNESCO World Heritage site, students invited us to join them on the grass in Imam Square where they treated us to ice cream and asked to be Facebook friends. We could have been at home talking to neighbors.
Learning about different customs and cultural traditions still fascinates us, but discovering what we have in common with foreigners excites us even more. Travel helps people set aside prejudices based on ignorance and misunderstanding. It’s not about maximizing the number of miles traveled or countries visited— it’s about taking that first step out of our provincial cocoons.
As Mark Twain reminds us, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness…charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth.”