Numerous studies have demonstrated that the marketplace of things is slowly being replaced by the marketplace of experiences. Research by the Berlin Youth Hall in 2018, for example, revealed that more and more young people (those between 18-35) are privileging experiential tourism over material purchases.
In short, millennials don’t want fancy sports cars and designer suits, they want to immerse themselves in new cultures.
This emerging trend plays directly into the perceived wisdom that ‘travel broadens the mind’.
Like all perceived wisdom, though, this cliché deserves to be challenged.
Rather than operating on the assumption that with new soil comes new knowledge, we should be questioning if personal development really hinges on how many destinations have been ticked off our bucket lists.
Another reason we should be confronting this oft repeated cliché is that it’s belittling to those who are unable to travel as well as those who simply don’t want to. Indeed, by suggesting that travel is fundamental to improving our understanding of the world, we subsequently suggest that anyone who remains in one place is doomed to live with an impoverished headspace.
Besides being a tad insulting, it’s also short-sighted to assume that travel is necessary to improving our knowledge of a country or opening our minds.
To make this point a little clearer, let’s imagine that one person goes travelling to Asia and another person stays at home in Britain to read up about the continent.
The traveller arrives in Beijing and heads straight to an English-speaking hotel. Slightly peckish, he heads out for a quick bite to eat at the nearby McDonalds before retiring to bed. Unable to sleep, he settles in with the latest American Netflix drama to tire himself out.
During the week he spends in the capital, the traveller avoids trying new food, shops in the same shops he could back in London and fails to learn even the most basic Chinese greetings.
The homebody, on the other hand, spends his week off reading up on ancient Chinese history. He watches its great works of cinema and devotes an entire afternoon to learning about their cultural customs.
Whilst this is a wildly exaggerated illustration, it hopefully demonstrates that it’s possible to learn about countries and cultures without having to be immersed in them.
Obviously, it would be of enormous benefit for the homebody to visit China and apply his knowledge, but the point is that it isn’t strictly necessary. By simply reading and studying up about China, he would be able to expand his mental horizons.
It’s also worth pointing out that the greatest share of visitor activity amongst young travellers has nothing to do with cultural immersion.
Indeed, the WYSE Travel Confederation reported back in 2017 that the most popular visitor activity amongst youth visitors was ‘sitting in cafes’. Whilst there’s every chance that young travellers might have found themselves sitting next to a Jean Paul Sartre type in a café, expanding their minds through intense philosophical discourse, it’s fair to assume they probably just sat talking amongst themselves.
Yes, there’s a fair argument to be made about interacting with locals whose life experiences are drastically different to our own. It’s not a fair argument to presume these people will be found sitting alone in a trendy café just waiting for a conversation with a tourist.
It’s just as likely that a more traditional holiday could lead to a greater understanding of the world. It’s not impossible, for example, that you could meet someone during a coach holiday or cruise that lends you some valuable insight that changes your outlook on life.
With all of this in mind, it seems slightly more accurate to suggest that travel helps to broaden the mind. Whilst this may seem like a pedantic amendment, it does a far better job of explaining how travel can broaden our understanding of the world.