Lessons from the road: You don´t know where you are from until you´ve traveled a whole lot for a long time

May 27, 2015

I was talking to a guy the other day that was from the US and he said something that struck a chord with me. He said “you know, I haven´t been traveling as long as you guys but I´ve traveled quite a bit and if it´s taught me anything, it´s that I didn´t truly know where I was from until I really got out into the world.”

There may be no truer statement about what traveling teaches you about home. You really don´t know your home country fully until you´ve seen it from afar. In my opinion, a big part of that gained perspective comes from spending time in other places very different from your home country and hearing the thoughts of others on a regular basis. Sometimes their ideas of the US are misconceptions or cliché generalizations and sometimes they are spot on. No matter the source or validity, all of these new perspectives add up in your mind and you become much more aware of your home country's characteristics, its pros and cons, the way it fits into the rest of the world and it´s values. These new views are then coupled with your own vantage point of being on the outside and you gain a whole new understanding of where you are from.

In my mind, I know what it means to be from the United States more than most of the people I know. I may not be as caught up on current affairs or as well read on the history of our nation as some but, I have seen it from many different and unique angles and it has made me more critical of the country and more proud of it at the same time. We do a lot of stupid shit and have a lot of people with crazy ideas about the world and other people but, we also do some pretty amazing things and have a lot to show for it.

Now, I´m not going to get into what I think the US does right or wrong but I will say that I do hear both sides of those arguments from a lot of people who come from all over the world. It is an enlightening experience. I find it particularly interesting when you hear a perspective from someone in Colombia for example, and you´re in Colombia. It´s really cool to get a first-hand view of their country and what shapes their perspective as you hear what they think of yours. Sometimes I like what I hear and sometimes I am disappointed.

During these discussions, I rarely defend the US or try to get into political arguments about what´s right or wrong. Instead, I try to explain why something is the way it is with as little bias as possible. I´m never out to change someone’s mind in those conversations, I'm just giving them my understanding of the topic and a little information from someone who lives there which is exactly what they are doing for me. In one of these conversations someone was asking me about guns in the US (this is a constant source of bewilderment to many people) and I did my best not to give my thoughts on the topic but instead, I try to explain something about the culture in the US, it's history and why guns and gun ownership are not as taboo as they might be in their country. No matter what they or I say on any topic, I often walk away with a little more of a global view on whatever the matter is.

Viewing anything from afar changes the way you look at it. You might say that you get to “see the forest for the trees.” Instead of being so wrapped up in the details and culture you are accustomed to, you are free to think about it differently and, over time, in new ways. A great blog post appeared on the travel website Bootsnall.com which was titled “Travel turns you into a liberal democrat” which made some interesting correlations between passport holders and their beliefs. You can argue about the correlations or why they may or may not exist but in my opinion, you can´t argue with the notion that those who travel far from home for a long period of time look at home differently. You gain a perspective you just can´t get from the armchair watching the news or from a book on the subject, you just have to be on the outside looking in.


Please add a comment

Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.