Traveling Does Not Make You a Better Person

We have been fooled. Traveling is supposed to make us wiser and more tolerant. We are told it is the best antidote against prejudices. None of this is true. There is no inherent quality in traveling that makes us kind, world loving creatures. Take my word for it: traveling does not make you a better person. Not if your mind is made up and your heart is closed.

A while ago I was visiting the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia with my parents. We stayed in a lodge in the mountains – it is one of Africa’s highest (not in the Amsterdam way) hotels, located in an elevation of roughly 3,2 kilometres. A gorgeous place but also insanely expensive. At night you can hear the screaming gelada monkeys (not baboons, as was a few years back proved by DNA tests), in the morning you wake up to one of the world’s most beautiful sceneries, a never-ending stretch of mountains.

It was late (mountain late. It means 8 pm. After hiking in the mountains one is exhausted already at sundown) and we were nearly falling asleep when our neighbours in the next room started a loud banter. There was no sound isolation and thus we could hear everything they said. So there we were in a gorgeous, relaxing place, in the birthplace of humans, beautiful, beautiful Ethiopia, listening to this group of tolerant travelers going:

These bloody Liberians and bloody Polacks and all others come to our country and they take our benefits! They take our work and they come and enjoy our bloody benefits!
These bloody politicians these days…they used to be farmers, you know! BUT! These days they are bloody political scientists and what not. You can’t trust these bloody politicians. Nobody is telling the truth.
Why should we become a muslim country?!

The alpha male in the room did most of the talking, he finished all his sentences with a compelling ‘BUT’ and the BUT! was followed with an illogical explanation to most things in the world, the conclusion being that immigrants and muslims are the prevailing pests in our otherwise uninfested serene societies.

Now what did I think of such a conversation?
I was curious to know where these opinions rose from. Were these people really being robbed of their benefits? And if so, how could they afford traveling to one of the most expensive lodges in Ethiopia?
Were they blind to their own richness in those isolated mountain surroundings?
What did they mean by their country being forced to become a muslim country? Where were the facts?
What has happened in their country that makes them so suspicious of all other nationalities? Who is really to blame?
How is public discussion in their country tackling immigration issues?
How is media tackling immigration issues?
How would their children react to their parents’ comments?
I think the only opinion we shared was that politicians can’t always be trusted. But! That night I also hoped a gelada monkey would open their lodge room door and bite them in their buttocks. I’m kidding! I’m not.

Travelling at its best will put your mind into a constant state of flux. Your thoughts can and will change. For our neighbours at the lodge (and similar alpha males in Finland too), I would like to post-join the discussion by bringing up some surprising facts, not meant to belittle the value of opinions, but to closely scrutinize these opinions, which these days, despite of us having access to more information we could ever dream of, spread as quickly as a forest fire:


Would someone care to do a similar infographic for my country Finland and the upcoming elections there?

I tell you people. The mere act of traveling does not change anything in you.
Think of traveling as the ingredients for a delicious meal. You have to do the cooking yourself.


9 thoughts on “Traveling Does Not Make You a Better Person

  1. Hear hear!! I´m really looking forward to see the infographic from Finland, too!
    Sadly I have come to the conclusion, that you really can´t make people to change their opinions – it´s not about facts, it´s all about feelings and emotions. Some of us are open minded, some are not 😦

    1. Yeah, such an infographic should be a must for the upcoming elections in Finland!
      You are right. Some people are stubborn and stick to their opinions for a lifetime. But I try to remain optimistic and think that change is always possible!

  2. A while ago I was thinking something similar; coming across people who traveled around quite enough and met all different kinds/nationalities/cultures of people, yet to me seemed to have persisted on staying close-minded. But is that (I mean seeing an episode from the lives of people whose perception of the things is seemingly not positively influenced by travelling) enough to conclude that travelling does not make one a better person? Not sure about that (And I really mean I am not sure about it, not a polite way of saying I disagree 🙂 Certainly the effect appears in different forms and speeds; but I still would like to think that even the coldest-hearted, least flexible-in-opinions person will get something out of travelling to become a “better” person (whatever that means to her/him). I think the same goes for reading, or education in general. Certain people make it very difficult to believe that education brings out the better of us 😛

    Anyways, thanks for the series of thought-provoking articles Laurini. My warmest regards to Mama and Papa Kihlstrom 🙂

    1. Dearest Tagi, thank you for your observations. I will pass your greetings to my parents! They are now back in Finland.
      I agree with your points. To be honest, the title of my blog post is intentionally a bit provocative. My core opinion of this matter comes in this sentence: ” traveling does not make you a better person. Not if your mind is made up and your heart is closed.”
      Then of course there are different types of traveling. You can go to a holiday resort in Thailand every year and not learn anything about the world. Or maybe the information sinks in slowly, as you say.
      Personally, I have become the person I am because of all the traveling – meeting different people from different countries has shaped my worldview in every way.
      That is why I was so shocked by this group at the Simien Mountains…and was inspired to write this thought provoking post 🙂
      Have a great week.

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