People say that travel broadens the mind. For me, this is not just an expanding of horizons, of distances and numbers previously beyond awareness or comprehension; not merely of connection with ‘other’ social and cultural systems that bring about an awareness of other ways of thinking and ways of operating in the world; but of the possibility of immersion in those systems. Only immersion can beget understanding. By living the way an other lives for a time, to be challenged and fascinated by different boundaries and norms, forces you to confront your own operating assumptions, your wants and needs, relative fortunes, and supposed strangenesses. Therein lies the possibility of compassion. This is one of the romantic ideals of anthropology—to immerse and perhaps understand—and the inherent challenge of reflecting that back through familiar ways of understanding and viewing the world.
For me, the broadening occurs through the valuing of time. Time to think and reflect. And that immersion and reflection gives space, broadens the breathing space in the mind, to consider ideas and make connections.
Last time I travelled I had an idea, and over the course of a week or two, with space to reflect, that idea grew, and the story has now come to fruition. The time, freedom, and the state of mind allowed that idea to burgeon and find new connections, in ways that life at home doesn’t often allow.
Travel doesn’t broaden the mind—society and culture restrict the mind, and we should take whatever chance we get to loosen those restrictions, and to let thought branch and wander wherever it will.