Travel is Still Fatal to Narrow-Mindedness

Get out of your travel bubble and take off toward understanding (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Get out of your travel bubble and take off toward understanding (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

You might have heard recently that we had an election in the United States.

I think most of the hyperbole about it is true – that it was one of, if not THE, most important elections of our lifetime – but in the aftermath of ongoing divisiveness and drama, I’ve felt like a lightweight as I try to return my attention to my normal travel and tourism work. Who cares about such fluff in the face of world-shaking events?

An article by Patrick Thornton in the Congressional news site Roll Call helped me see that perhaps travel can be part of the solution to our national woes. Thornton’s piece is called I’m a Coastal Elite From the [U.S.] Midwest: the Real Bubble is Rural America.

An Ohio native, he argues that while yes, many in U.S. coastal or urban areas do not visit or appreciate “Flyover Country,” a lot of people who live in those “Flyover” towns do not visit or appreciate the rest of the nation, either. They are not surrounded by diverse groups of people, so they often fear and/or dismiss them. They, too, are in a self-imposed bubble, and we shouldn’t give them a pass on it.

Thornton is not saying everyone in small town USA has to get on a plane to see New York or Los Angeles, either. All of us can benefit from going an hour or two away from the familiar. He notes,

“I have some extended family in rural New Jersey. Some of them had never been to D.C. before visiting me. They had never made the short drive to see the Constitution in person. They had not seen the Apollo moon lander, nor George Washington’s Revolutionary War uniform. And they certainly have not seen the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. They’ve never seen the extent of American greatness or its messiness…..People do not understand the depths of how little rural America travels and sees other people and cultures.”

When I thought about the many rural and small town Americans I’ve met on my travels, it occurred to me that some of the most broad-minded, intellectually curious folks are the ones who travel.

My friend and rural entrepreneurship expert Becky McCray who lives in a northwest Oklahoma town of 30 people? She’s an international speaker and goes on safari to Africa every year, usually Namibia.

The dynamic small town specialist Deb Brown who runs the Chamber of Commerce in Webster City, Iowa? She just returned from the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

My Tourism Currents business partner Leslie McLellan who lives in a small mountain town in southern California? She’s been an avid traveler for decades and vacations regularly in Mexico.

I’m happy to be a city kid, and often tell people that while farm equipment is a complete mystery to me, you can hand me a convoluted urban subway map and I’m good to go. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also love and appreciate the rural vistas and small town discoveries in the Mississippi Delta, finding an extraordinary hotel in tiny Perry, Iowa, or feel fortunate to experience incredible live jazz in Kansas City, Missouri.

Even if travel is, on the surface, not a world-shaking thing to do, it can have far-reaching results.

Thank you, Mark Twain, for this famous quote from your book Innocents Abroad that is even more on-point today:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

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