“Why visit Turkey if I haven’t seen LA?”

Yes, someone actually asked this question, and it was my favorite moment of the day.

Non-travelers occasionally react with complete incredulity or even outright scorn at the notion that someone might spend significant amounts of time exploring the world around us, and they often ask some pretty stupid questions. But this one, and variations thereof, has got to be the stupidest travel-related question to ask oneself:

“Why visit other countries if I haven’t seen much of my own?”

It’s hard to know where to begin with this one, because there are so many good reasons to venture beyond your own borders that summing them up would be a disservice to adventurers everywhere.

Thinker Replica
“I think, therefore I am. Not very well, though.” Photo by Juanedc.

But if you’re a stupid American living in a sheltered bubble with no understanding of the outside world, you might not know any better.

In fact, you might even double down, as this person did, with something like this:

“There’s nothing I can do there that I can’t do at home.”

Except there is.

As any long-term traveler will tell you, whether it’s solo backpacking or living abroad, travel changes who you are, and only for the better. It forces you to confront your prejudices and assumptions, about society, culture, people, and yourself, answering questions you never even thought to ask.

It can’t be done at home, and it can’t be done nearby. And, like it or not, you are a lesser person for never having tried it.

And I bet you’ll see just exactly how stupid it is if we replace your country with someone else’s:

“Why would I visit the United States if I haven’t seen all of Belgium? There are all sorts of places here that I’ve never seen. Why would I bother learning about anyone else’s country while there are still more Belgian villages I can visit?”

Perhaps you’re starting to see the problem.

Travel, especially the immersive, challenging, culturally distinct experiences that can only happen far from home, actually make you a better person.

Here’s what you’re missing:

1) Travel makes you more creative

Somewhere in Bulgaria. I'm gonna say Sofia.
Literally seeing the world.

It’s hard to think outside the box when you spend your life living inside of one. Even if it’s a big box, you’re still stuck in it.

An increasingly broad range of research studies (like this one and this one) are confirming what wanderers have been saying for centuries: Traveling to other countries expands your range of experiences, challenges your assumptions, and opens the door to more creative thinking.

The more you open yourself up to new possibilities, the more you see them elsewhere, in your life, your work, and your interactions with other people. Everything from artistic creativity to problem solving stands to benefit from international experiences.

And no, it’s not just people who want to travel who are more creative; it’s the travel itself. Among three groups of students (those who studied abroad, those who planned to study abroad, and those who did not), the ones who actually traveled to another country outperformed their peers in creative problem solving. And guess what comes in handy in the job market?

2) Travel makes you less suspicious of others

Mark Twain Travel Quote
He’s really rent your argument in twain.

Another tried-and-true aphorism from the adventurous: Though cultural differences are endlessly diverse and fascinating, beneath it all, people are fundamentally the same, all over the world.

American, Australian, Korean, Egyptian, you name it…people want a future for their kids, a decent life, and some quality time to spend with their friends and family, in every nation on Earth.

You might not know this if you live in a box and listen only to warmongering politicians who keep trying to convince you how different you are from your neighbors, but if you ever get out there, you’d see just how true it is, everywhere you go.

Marjane Satrapi, author of the absolute-must-read Persepolis, puts it best:

The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other, but we talk and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you.

And our governments are very much the same.

The research is in, and it shows that meeting people from other countries only makes you more trustworthy of others…possibly because you end up seeing them for who they really are: People, just like you.

3) Travel makes you realize your politicians are lying to you

Emperor's New Clothes
Wait, I know this one! Something about an emperor, and…clothing?

This is especially true if you live in the United States, and you refuse to leave, having convinced yourself and others that you live in the greatest country in the world, and you know this, because you’ve never bothered going anywhere else.

You may think we have the greatest healthcare system in the world…but not if you go to Canada. You may think we have more freedom than any other nation…but not if you go to the Netherlands. You might think we have the world’s greatest education system…but not if you go to Finland.

In fact if you go anywhere else among the industrialized world, you’d realize just how far we’ve fallen. And if we’re ever going to claw our way out of this mess, it would be immeasurably helpful to have a population that could see right through the lies that convince hundreds of millions of Americans of their fake achievements…and, sometimes, all it takes is a study abroad semester or two.

But it’s not all bad news:

4) Travel makes you happier, in so many ways…

Sunset in Zadar, Croatia
Things like this happen.

Travel has so many psychological benefits that you’d need half a dozen pages of bullet-pointed lists to cover them all. Like this one, from the US Travel Association. If you think travel is merely a pointless diversion, I’d urge you to read the whole thing.

Highlights include the fact that travel re-energizes employees, who subsequently perform better at their jobs; that it strengthens the bonds between family and loved ones; that it makes people feel more satisfied with their lives; that it reduces stress; that it increases employee morale, reduces turnover, and boosts productivity; that an annual vacation reduces the risk of heart attack by 50%.

Fifty f*%$ing percent!!!

What kind of stupid moron denounces travel when it makes you die less often?! You, that’s who.

5) Travel is exactly what our globalized world desperately needs

World Flight Paths Map
Every line is a reason to pay attention. Source.

We live in an intimately interconnected global network of international trade, cross-cultural cooperation, mutually dependent resource extraction and manufacturing, and you want to stay an ignorant moron who knows nothing about the world around you?!

That is dumb. And it’s especially dumb when more and more countries are developing economically and sending more of their students overseas to gain exactly the kind of creative problem-solving skills that travel has to offer, and that globally competitive businesses demand.

And while ‘Murica was busy flag waving and bro-chanting its own name, the rest of the world has long since emerged from the ashes of war, poverty, dictatorship, and colonialism that marked much of the 20th century, and is rapidly catching up with…and, in some cases, has already overtaken…your beloved “greatest country in the world.”

This is a bigger problem than you might think.

How you’re contributing to the downfall of civilization

Hongxi Emperor
He only appears to emanate wisdom.

To illustrate just how big of a deal this is, I’d like to highlight the decisions of one man in particular: the Hongxi Emperor, 4th ruler of the Ming Dynasty, who presided over Imperial China through one of the most shimmeringly resplendent golden ages the Earth has ever known.

China in the 15th century was busy dancing on the laurels of having invented all sorts of contraptions thousands of years before the West, with everything from paper money, blast furnaces, compasses, movable type, multi-stage exploding rockets, and beer debuting in the Far East long before appearances elsewhere. Many Chinese dynasties pursued a policy of closing their doors to the outside world, simply because they didn’t need anything.

The Ming, however, got into the business of expansion, and, just like everything else at the time, China did it bigger and better than anyone else: They built a fleet of 300 ships, with flagships twice the length of anything Europe could manage at the time, with a crew of 1600 people, led by Admiral Zheng He. Throughout his seven voyages from 1405 to 1433, he led his crew throughout Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and Africa, dazzling everyone who set their eyes on the fleet with a stunning display of technological wizardry from what was clearly the world’s greatest imperial power.

Zheng He's Voyages
Zheng He’s voyages, covering much of the known world at the time.

During these expeditions, China came immeasurably close to discovering their only potential rivals, whose own forays into global exploration would soon bring them unimaginable wealth, power, and prestige, sparking a rarely-interrupted 500 years of global dominance that culminated in outright ownership of much of the world by a small subset of pale humans that didn’t even value bathing: The Europeans.

If only Zheng He had gone past Africa, he might have found them…and their guns. China was on the brink of a discovery more significant than any of them could have imagined.

And then one man, making one fateful decision, set in motion a series of events that would bring this invulnerable empire to its knees, dragging a nation of hundreds of millions into a stifling new dark age, and leaving them vulnerable to foreign invasion and economic exploitation for centuries, in what turned out to be one of the most short-sighted and monumentally catastrophic errors in judgement in the history of human civilization.

The Hongxi Emperor ordered the voyages to cease. The fleet was left to rot in the harbor, and was eventually burned to ashes. China’s days of sailing the high seas came to a close. By the next century, all ocean-going vessels had been destroyed.

China, the cake of kings and emperors
Forgive the racism. Or…don’t. Source.

You can probably see where this is going. By the time the Qing Dynasty ruled over China in the 19th century, European imperial ambitions and military advancements had reached an insurmountable zenith. When China attempted to resist foreign interference during the first Opium War, the British obliterated them and forced them to acquiesce to a series of demands that were literally calledunequal treaties,” leading to a period of Chinese history now known as the Century of Humiliation, during which China lost every war it fought, and the ruling Qing had to agree to trade and territorial concessions against its will.

What was arguably the world’s greatest civilization for thousands of years was trampled under the boots of European upstarts, all because they didn’t explore the damn world when they had the chance.

As for what might have happened if Zheng He had rounded the coast of Africa, we’ll never know. Maybe he’d have returned with tales of technological marvels on the other side of the world. Maybe he’d have warned his master of this potential new military threat. Maybe he’d have welcomed the Europeans as cultural equals, and spurred a new era of international exchange. Maybe he’d have found the Americas before Columbus. Some say he did.

But whatever might have happened, it’s hard to imagine global and Chinese history not looking completely different if it weren’t for the damn Hongxi Emperor essentially ordering the end of China’s understanding of the surrounding world.

Perhaps it wasn’t his fault. He just didn’t know what was out there. For all he knew, the whole rest of the world was populated with stupid barbarians. But you know what’s even stupider? Not bothering to check.

I bet it went something like this:

“Hey guys! You know what we should do? Not know what the f*#$ is going on!!!”

What a stupid thing to do.

And no, I’m not talking about the Hongxi Emperor anymore. I’m talking about you.

Whenever you close yourself off to expansive multicultural experiences, you are burning down your own metaphorical fleet of global and personal discovery. You are setting ablaze the only way to expand your mind beyond the horizons of your own meager experiences, and you are leaving you, and everyone around you, vulnerable to getting addicted to opium at the hands of the British Empire.

Opium Den
The opium den, AKA your future.

And I only mean that slightly metaphorically, because whenever you close yourself off to the world around you and spend your existence stuck in a bubble of comforting experiences, you might as well be addicted to opium and doing nothing with your life.

Your brain is rotting, you’re contributing little or nothing to those around you, and you are dragging your society gradually into a dark age in which it will become a mere shadow of its former self.

Whenever you denounce visiting other countries in favor of your own, you are the Hongxi Emperor, in all his short-sighted and poor-judgment non-glory, and you are dragging your country toward the dustbin of history, one ill-fated lazy vacation at a time.

“Hongxi,” by the way, means “vastly bright.” I’ll leave the ironic implications to you.

Don’t cancel the voyages. Don’t burn down the fleet. Don’t get addicted to opium.

Sail the Seven Seas. Round the coast of Africa. Discover Europe. See the world.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook or Twitter.

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25 Comments on ““Why visit Turkey if I haven’t seen LA?””

  1. “Why should I go to other countries when I haven’t seen all of mine yet?”

    This is a mantra in my family (especially my extended family) and does drive me nuts.

    However, I don’t encourage these people to travel because with that mindset, are they really going to be open to all the benefits travel has to offer? They are likely to just come home complaining about how “France is not like the US” and list all the horrible experiences they had being uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Better for them to stay home. I ususally just reply with something like, “Yeah, it’s probably not worth the long flight to XXXX if you aren’t interested in seeing anything there.”, and leave it at that. Leaving that bubble is not for them and I can’t force them out of it.

    1. Sadly, this is true. The people who stand to gain the most from travel are the ones who won’t bother doing it.

  2. I think that traveling to other parts of the US could be at least a start for some people who never leave their immediate vicinity. For someone from a small town in the southeast to travel to New York or LA might be just enough to get them out of their comfort zone and realize that there is lot more to the world than their own little plot of earth. Traveling abroad is obviously even more eye-opening but I think any travel, even if it is domestic, should be encouraged and might provide the impetus for reaching farther over time. I notice with my baby/toddler that each time we take a trip, whether to the Grand Canyon, or on a flight across the country, when we come back we notice that she all of a sudden makes some “milestone” advance. It seems that travel is so stimulating to the brain, it actually accelerates childhood development.

    1. I would agree that local is better than nothing. There was another study that prompted students with a creative challenge, and if you tell the students that the puzzle was designed by other studnets in another city, even if it’s in the same country, they come up with more answers. Literally just saying the words is enough to get the brain going.

  3. Agree. But on the other hand many people seem to choose to travel in such a way as to avoid being changed by the experience. They go to another country but learn nothing.

    1. I’ve been there before, and saw lots and lots of places. I’ll write about it sooner or later, but it was a while ago, and the camera was damaged so all the photos have little blue pixels randomly everywhere, so that’s going to be annoying.

        1. I probably visited a dozen cities, but not Izmir. I had a great time there, mostly visiting the ancient ruins and monuments, and cities along the southern and western coasts, and of course Istanbul. Great food, nice people, thousands of years of history. I’m also reading a book by Orhan Pamuk right now, called My Name is Red. I’m just a few pages in, but the writing is great.

          1. İzmir is close to Greece, and it has holiday towns like Çeşme, Foça and Urla. A lot of tourist visit them in summer. It also has an ancient city, called “Ephesus” (Efes in Turkish).

            Anyway, next time you should see it:)
            (And Orhan Pamuk is a great novelist, you will love him)

  4. I had this exact question asked to me by a guy my company was subcontracting to just before I left for Japan in 2010. I was caught off guard by his question because I thought it was just obvious why anyone would want to travel outside the country. So I explained a bit about how I liked the food and a few other cool things about Japan. His response was that I should just go to Vegas because everything is available there and you don’t even have to leave the country.

    1. I’m pretty sure that anyone who says just go to Vegas instead of Japan is probably exploring the alcohol on offer rather than any of the cultural activities to be found there.

    Attributed to the orthodox imam, Al-Shafi’i, 767 to 821 AD

    Travel! Set out and head for pastures new –
    Life tastes the richer when you’ve road- warm feet.
    No water that stagnates is fit to drink,
    For only that which flows is truly sweet.
    No lion that spurned the hunt could catch its prey,
    No arrow unreleased could earn a score.
    A sun that hung immobile in the sky
    Would soon become a universal bore.
    Sandal’s mere firewood in its native grove,
    Gold is but dust, unmined within the lode.
    Things that are stationary have a little worth:
    They only gain their value on the road.

  6. As someone who is indirectly benefitting from Zheng He’s voyage to Southeast Asia today, we were taught that Zheng He’s voyages were too expensive and the Ming were too busy fighting the Manchus to finance him. It’s an apt lesson for travel: travel is great, but there will always be other priorities and distractions – so choose wisely.

    Your blog was helpful on what to wear & what attitude to have when I travelled to Turkiye last year. I would encourage you to skip Izmir for the time being and head down to Sanliurfa and Mardin to see the sights & sounds interact with both locals & refugees. Would make a great travel story.

    Selamat Jalan and happy travels.

    1. Yeah, there were plenty of good financial reasons to get rid of the ships, but on the other hand…maybe they could have just sent out…two or three of them? Instead of a whole fleet? Oh well though. Lesson learned! Hopefully!

  7. “If only Zheng He had gone past Africa, he might have found them…and their guns. China was on the brink of a discovery more significant than any of them could have imagined.”

    And now we have something called “INTERNET”. Where information flows faster and wider and more enviromentally cleaner than international travelling…

  8. I have left my country half a year ago (with a traveling motives), and i am forced to stay in us for a much longer period (due to other reasons i don’t like). As for a not-even-20 year old bum, that’s kind kind of hard (times sad, times scary, even though most of the time it’s exciting). Can’t say, how many times i have thought the same about sailing from the country i was born in, but after all, I always come to the same zen : it will be then a double pleasure to walk the hills i have grew up between (and never seen what’s behind them), after seeing worlds beauty (just because the active experience gives the deeper understanding of relativity of everything – ain’t that what the question was about ?)

    1. If what you mean is that you’ll see your own country differently after visiting the rest of the world, I agree. That’s part of the reason people should travel. Even if you love your country, you’ll understand it even better if you visit somewhere else, and realize what’s special about it.

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