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The Vanishing American Adult (Part IX) – Chapter Seven: Travel to See

Senator Sasse believes that, like hard work, travel can challenge and transform us. It can create empathy. It can create challenges for young people to overcome. Sasse quotes Edward Gibbon’s description of a good traveler. “He should be endowed with an active, indefatigable vigor of mind and body, which can seize every mode of conveyance, and support with a careless smile every hardship of the road, the weather, or the inn. It should stimulate him with a restless curiosity, covetous of time and fearless of danger, which drives him forth at any hour of the day or night, to brave the flood, to climb the mountain, or to fathom the mine, on the most doubtful promise of entertainment or instruction.”

In our increasingly connected and democratic world it is possible for people to travel to more places more economically than ever before. Yet Sasse recommends that we reject consumer tourism. In his words, “nobody’s life is ever greatly changed by spending a week on the beach in Cancun.” He advises us to be active, not passive travelers. An active traveler searches for people, adventure, and experience. Indeed, the old English word “travel” has the same root as the word travail, which means trouble, work, or torment. The goal of travel should be to do something laborious, troublesome, something meaningful. On the other hand the passive tourist expects interesting things to happen to him.

Travel done right takes one out of one’s comfort zone and offers one the chance to see the world with new eyes. One begins to think, “do I really need so much stuff when I seem to be freer when I’m away from it?”

Traveling with kids can help them to grow and mature by forcing them to make decisions, to reflect and summarize on things they discover, and by requiring them to help plan the trip.

What is more, people that are well-traveled tend to be more mentally flexible, not tied to one approach or solution. They tend to be calmer under pressure and thus able problem-solvers. Traveling can help us to conquer the fear of the unknown, to see beyond instinctive prejudice, and to look at things more deeply. It can help us learn to be less upset about minor inconveniences and see beyond social convention.

Finally, the more time you spend in other cultures the clearer it becomes that most things and phases you thought important aren’t terribly important after all. Indeed, many people reorder their lives after experiencing extreme poverty. Travel has also helped many to overcome prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Done rightly, travel should awaken a desire to read history and geography and economics.

Ben Sasse recommends living somewhere for two months, if you can. He says we should consider having our children take a semester off of high school to live with a relative and work a job, preferably doing something with their hands. While a lot of these suggestions may not be possible to embrace, Sasse says that even visiting a new part of the city or a new town with an “active traveler mindset” can help us and our children to grow.