Do we really learn anything when we travel? That question kept surfacing as I started writing blog posts about travel and learning. I think there are a lot of feasible answers, but one in particular surfaced. If we travel with intention, travel changes our perspective.
Though I fiddled with several of the category titles for this blog, books and travel were always 100% clear to me as independent categories for this kind of online space.
The Travel and Learning Rabbit Trail
It turns out that books and travel are a good combination in a lot of ways. As the original question, “how exactly does travel impact learning,” simmered in my brain, I shifted gears to look at quotes about travel. Odds were good someone else had already put these ideas into words.
Sure enough! It was not a surprise that many of those who were able to make the connection between travel and learning (and then record it) were writers! So my brain meandered down another rabbit trail: quotes about travel from authors.
Books and travel together again for the win! It’s meant to be!
What Does Travel Teach Us?
Without too much effort, a theme emerged from several of the quotes: perspective.
Travel trains all our senses onto perspective.
Travel throws us in an unfamiliar place – whether a new park down the street or a new country across the world – and what we smell, what we see, what we hear, what we feel, and what we taste lights up our brain as it begins to search for patterns that are familiar while at the same time emphasizing what is unfamiliar.
When you thrust your internal landscape into a new sensory environment, learning happens at a tangible level.
Travel and Perspective: Personal Examples
The best example from my own life merges two separate incidents.
In late high school I was shopping at a mall in a very diverse U.S. city. Two women were in front of me in line and speaking another language. I vividly recall thinking, “They should be speaking English, this is the United States.” (Not something I’m proud of to say the least.)
Fast-forward a few years later and I’m traveling to Paris to study, in French, for a semester. I remember sitting on a bench with a friend of mine recapping what we had done that day – in English. A French student biked by and stopped to chat, but we both indicated we were not interested in expanding our conversation.
I know, again, not a stellar move for learning a language. It did, however, throw into sharp focus the experience and perspective of those two women in the mall. I just desperately wanted to communicate with someone else in a language we could both navigate with complexity.
I would never have understood that in a meaningful way if I had not traveled outside of my English-speaking comfort zone.
I could’ve learned the language in school, verb tense by verb tense, and never have developed the insight and grace that I gained in living that experience. Travel throws all that book-learning into the proverbial fire to see where it lands.
Not to Be Too Serious…
Okay, okay, I’m not trying to be heavy-handed about travel. It doesn’t have to be a light-saber to your soul about cultural insensitivity like my example.
Travel inspires learning in many, many ways.
It enhances what we know about ourselves, it expands how we understand the complexity of humanity, it inspires creativity, and it provides some good ol’ mental stimulation. It’s good.
All that to say: traveling, done well, enlarges our perspective.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out these nine perspective-shifting quotes about travel from a range of beloved authors.
Quotes about Travel and Perspective
“If travel is broadening, it should broaden more than just our knowledge of how a Gothic cathedral looks or how the French make wine. It should generate a whole constellation of ideas about how men and women work and play, raise their children, worship their gods, live and die.” – William Zinsser in On Writing Well
“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” – St. Augustine
“On the tourist path, I saw the world through my eyes; but in the eyes of the legless beggar, I saw myself through the eyes of the world, and it made me uncomfortable.”
-Kelsey Timmerman in Where Am I Giving?
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” -Mark Twain
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
“Two woods diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou
“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton
The Original Question
So what is the connection between travel and learning?
Travel naturally refocuses our senses so that whatever we’ve brought with us from past reading or study or experience is mixed with a new set of situations. It’s the mixing bowl of learning.
Sometimes we learn a bit more history. Sometimes we learn a new way to do something. Other times we read different authors or stories. Sometimes we taste something for the first time. Sometimes we stumble in a new language. Or we nail it. Sometimes we make friends.
I won’t ever be able to say: “If you go here, you’ll learn this and this and this,” with 100% accuracy. We may take away something similar or we may not.
I can suggest places and attractions and questions and ideas to blend into your travel itineraries – and mostly that’s what I try to do. The learning part happens on your end. Blogs like Living the Learning Life, podcasts, and YouTube channels supply the ingredients.
Quantifying the value of travel as a learning tool is not about setting up a set of parameters and objectives to measure what we’ve learned. The value of travel is in its ability to expand and enlarge our perspective.
What are other quotes you’ve found from books or authors about traveling? Do you agree with all of these? Disagree? How has your perspective been shaped by travel?