Travel, The Enemy Of Bigotry

“It’s hard to hate someone you’ve met. Travel is the enemy of bigotry.”

I heard the above quote a couple of years ago when watching a documentary about two Americans–Denis Belliveau (a wedding photographer) and Francis O’Donnell (a former marine)–who set out on an adventure.

These “ordinary” men decided to “retrace Marco Polo’s entire 25,000-mile, land-and-sea route from Venice to China and back–and spent two incredible years of their lives making their dream a reality.”

At the conclusion of this documentary, In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, O’Donnell said the quote at the top of this post.

He, himself, borrowed it from Mark Twain, who in his own style said, “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.”

While O’Donnell refers to the incompatibility of harboring dislike of “others” after having the chance to get to know them, I like to advocate that travel also reduces the walls between humanity because it has us transcend the ideas about the world and our lives that separate us from others. It’s difficult to adhere to a theology that speaks ill of outsiders after you’ve left your country. It’s also difficult to take so seriously our job or our favorite sports team or our political candidate or all the little things we get hung up on. A broader perspective encompasses a wider range than these localized concerns.

(For this reason, I see BIG things in store for humanity as space travel normalizes. Suborbital travel will reveal the oneness of our species and reduce the man-made divisions that are so easy to get lost within and support when on the ground.)

But while Mr. Twain is clear in his advocacy to travel, I’ll suggest on the ground in 2016 that, yes, one should travel, but if one cannot, then in these times, one doesn’t have to even leave one’s region or state (or city!) to have an intercultural experience. And in fact, I believe that if we had more experiences out of our respective corners of society, then we’d have fewer problems in our respective societies.

Last week that I spoke for a panel at the University of Minnesota’s Global China Connections Conference. I was there to speak about American culture, yet it was a couple of my fellow panelists–one from China, another from Germany–who spoke of how America is a melting pot.

This aspect of the US allows for easy access to intercultural experiences. And not only do I think it’s important to do so for oneself. I think it’s important to do so to help reduce intercultural conflict. I’m struck by the idea that the unpleasant intersections of different cultures within the same country (in America, at least) are indicators of the lack of (and need for) productive interactions.

So for all the reasons above, get out there!


This article was adapted from my weekly email to family, friends, and readers. If you’d like to be included on this list, shoot me an email at And while you’re at it, tell me a little about yourself:)

What say you?