The Travel Cure

Nariz del Diablo Train in Sibambe, Ecuador

I have a simple plan to cure the ignorance of most Americans who think themselves to be proud because they have lived in the same shithole all their lives. The idea came to me from reading Mark Twain, who wrote in The Innocents Abroad (1868):

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on those 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.

Lest we all become too place-proud, we need to send our people to travel in the so-called Third World. And I don’t mean First Class seating on jet aircraft and staying at luxury hotels and ordering room service. I mean forcing them to take buses and trains, struggle with the language, and eat what the ordinary people eat. In every way, such an experience will open their eyes and, when they return to East Jesus, Arkansas, they will be better people for it.

And no, it isn’t an ordeal—not by a long shot! When I first started to travel, I had experience of only four places: Cleveland, Ohio (most of my life to that point); Hanover, New Hampshire (my 4 years at Dartmouth); Los Angeles (eight years at UCLA and after); and Lake Worth Florida (just a few weeks, not counting my infancy). Growing up in the Midwest, we never went anywhere for any length of time. My first whiff of Yucatán not only opened my eyes, my nasal passages, and my taste buds, but I felt I was at the beginning of a more wondrous existence.

Work kept me from traveling as much as I wanted to, but I traveled enough to have many happy memories.