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“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.” – Mark Twain in the Innocents Abroad
I got home at 2:30 am yesterday from the Frequent Traveler University in New Jersey (more on that later) and had to wake up 3 hours later for work, so apologies for slacking off with the blog. I’ll get to your comments and emails soon!
But I wanted to share one of the main delights of traveling – the ability to actually go to different places and see how people who you thought were different from you, are really quite similar to you. Or to see how people who are stereotyped as behaving a certain way (for example, that the French or New Yorkers are rude) act in a completely different way than what is expected.
As humans, we’re programmed to classify people and groups of people into “In” and “Out” groups. We like the “In” groups who share the same interests as us or who look like us at the expense of the “Out” groups whom we dislike.
It’s very easy for us to think in terms of “us” versus “them.”
For example, fans of rival sports teams and colleges demonstrate this usually benign behavior. We look at folks in the “Homeland” as good and look at folks foreign to us as bad. And we can be manipulated fairly easily into ghastly behavior by playing to this sense of “In” groups (noble and strong) and “Out” groups (the enemy who is different from us).
But as humans we almost always have the same human nature, and once you scratch the surface, we act the same way and are usually motivated by the same end goals regardless of where we are.
In a previous post, wise Million Mile Secrets readers shared what they love most about traveling. JFA wrote “I love traveling as it reinforces the fact all of us are much more alike more than not.”
And Sara A wrote “I love traveling because it makes me a more open minded accepting person… to see different people in different places living different lives that ultimately aren’t so different at all. What a fun adventure!”
“The armpit of America” my boss said as I told him I was leaving for New Jersey. The popular media would have you believe that New Jersey is filled with foul mouthed, short tempered, drama queens.
My experience was completely different. Sure, the traffic was heavy, but the people were great!
At Newark airport, I had a checked bag, a back-pack, a carry-on stroller bag, and a long cardboard box with the Million Mile Secrets posters and stands. Of course, I couldn’t carry them all, and was stumbling along the way to the rental car counter. “Let me get that” said one gentleman, as he helped carry the unwieldy cardboard box. This was a completely unexpected, but very welcome gesture.
It took me 1 hour 30 minutes to make the 15 minute ride from the Newark airport to my hotel because I missed the exits a few times (three to be exact, if you must know). This was WITH a GPS unit.
The second time I missed my exit, I went through the same toll lane which I had used before. The lady at the booth recognized me and asked me where I was going. She then told me how to get to the hotel. But I must have looked confused, because she then wrote down directions to the hotel and gave them to me.
On Sunday, after dinner with the witty Rapid Travel Chai (more on that later too!), I was backing the rental car out of the parking spot, when the car to the right reversed down the street to let me out. “Oh, he must be after the parking slot,” I thought. But no, it was a genuine act of kindness, because the car followed me down the street and across the intersection and made no attempt to claim my parking slot.
Bottom Line: Miles and points can do more than just get you to places. They help you realize that human nature hasn’t really changed over the years, and that we’re way more similar than dissimilar. They help you dispel myths about other people and cultures and realize that we’re all in this together.
We have nothing to lose when we travel, but our prejudice.