I know a lot of people who travel frequently, whether for work or school. Some of these people rarely take the time to explore the locations their life takes them. A long distance flight combined with an early morning appointment barely provides the time to wash off the stuffy cabin smell and fight off jet lag before looking for some caffeine.
The world seems to be shrinking, thanks to modern travel and tech at our fingertips. I also think the world is stretching us apart, growing to the point that it can be challenging to feel connected. Slowing down can help ground us and open a moment to slow down and reconnect with our wanderlust.
Travel, in and of itself, will not give magical insight into the diversity of the world. There is no way that a couple days spent exploring a city will make you part of it, but if you approach travel with an air of adventurism you can understand the world in a new way.
Some countries run on a relaxed sense of time and places high value on friendship and trust, and rushing to talk shop could be offensive. Other places run by the clock, and trying to be too friendly or casual can come off as fake and suspicious. I had a friend in grad school who was from Germany, and he was really confused by how people greet each other in English. The first few times someone walked by and dropped a "hey, what's up" or "how's it going" he would stop and respond to the question seriously. He didn't get why we would be asking him how he's doing if we didn't really want to talk about it.
Traveling to a famous location and seeing an iconic landmark in real life is incredible. But tourist traps are a dime a dozen and my now socially anxious self can be easily driven from the masses of tourists hassling for the same photo op in front of places like the Statue of Liberty.
Instead, dedicate some time, even if you only have a few hours to spare, to taking in a traditional meal or picking some other authentic experience to have. Maybe choose only one place to see, perhaps a local museum or historic ruins. I suggest that before you go, do a little homework so that you know at least the basic necessities of the local customs.
And you'll need to use that knowledge to chat to the locals and get their recommendations for good eats. There is no substitute for the way new foods and new sights can open your heart. When you go abroad, you are not at home and that is the beauty of it.
Learning about a place’s culture can make a person more empathetic of other people and different ways of living. It can have a humbling effect as your horizons expand.
I would be remiss to not acknowledge that travel is a privilege. There are countless intersections of identity and experience that affect whether someone is able to follow their wanderlust or not. If you are unable to travel, there are many ways to expand your horizons. Read stories from people who are from the places you want to know about. Watch documentaries created by folks who are native to the country or region you're interested in.
If you find yourself in a foreign land, take this advice to heart. Learn to appreciate the sweet taste of dulce de leche in Argentina,the roadside chai tea in India, or the scary sounding but delicious tasting haggis in Scotland. Visit places that emulate the pain or joy of a place like the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin or a farmer’s market in West Virginia. You’ll be a richer person who owns stock in the delights of the world. Your capacity for empathy will increase as you begin to understand the unique ways cultures differ. This world could use a little more love right now.
Discover a new piece of yourself wherever you go and you’ll want to keep learning about the world. Energize yourself with cultural differences, they are what make the world beautiful.