Travel is fatal to prejudice: reflections

My Favorite Mark Twain Travel Quote

“ 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, The Innocents Abroad

Mark Twain’s travel quote that “travel is fatal to prejudice” has long fascinated me. While I often think about travel privilege, and what it means that international travel is easiest for the financially fortunate, I think it is hard to argue with Twain’s argument in favor of the value of travel.

I firmly believe that travel helps break down barriers, reduce prejudice, and bring the world closer together. When you travel, you quickly realize that humanity’s commonalities far outweigh the tiny differences that we too often allow to divide us.

To highlight this positive aspect of travel, I’ve asked some fellow travel bloggers to share some stories reflecting on Twain’s famous quote that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. 

I also share my own reflection at the end, and I encourage you to share your thoughts on Twain’s quote in the comments! 

Travel is Fatal to Prejudice: Fighting Ebola Alongside Sierra Leone’s Nurses

First, Emily from Two Dusty Travelers relates her story of bonding with a young Sierra Leonean nurse while fighting Ebola:
    Travel is fatal to prejudice: Stop ebola sign in Sierra Leone

While I agree with Twain that travel inspires “broad, wholesome views of men and things,” I believe he has left out something essential: Women.

As a nurse who travels to Africa often on medical missions, I am lucky to get to peek into women’s lives in parts of the world that many travelers don’t see. I am constantly blown away by the strength of women in places where we are told that they are subdued, submissive, and secondary.

Never was this more eye opening than when I volunteered to go to Sierra Leone to help fight the Ebola outbreak. At that time, the world was hearing only a single story about West Africans: impoverished, poorly educated, and desperate. We Americans would arrive to save the day.

But day one of training alongside the Sierra Leonean nurses proved that I would need them just as much as they needed me. A beautiful young nurse I’ll call Mariama quickly befriended me. She had been working in Ebola Treatment Units for six months already and had forgotten more about it than I’ll ever know.

Mariama volunteered to treat Ebola patients without asking for her family’s permission since she knew they would not approve. She told me she wanted to do her part to save her country. She had to move near the clinic where she worked and only saw her husband and child when she could get a few days off to travel home. When I asked her if she wanted more children, she said no “because it doesn’t leave time for my work, and I love my work.”

Mariama told me what to expect when I started treating Ebola patients. She taught me tricks to tie my hair back in a way that wouldn’t get in the way of my protective equipment. She gave me someone to look up to and learn from, when I had naively thought I was the one coming to save her.

Each time I volunteer in Africa, I have this experience over and over. Each time, I meet more brave, brilliant, amazing women who defy the stereotypes that have been set for them. Each time, I am reminded anew that we can stop viewing African women with pity and instead give them the respect and awe they deserve.

India: More than Just Snake Charmers and Elephants

Maria from shares her reflections on how travel has affected her and her home country, and how travel has been fatal to prejudice for her: 

Travel is fatal to prejudice: view of tea plantation

My desire to see the world got etched in my mind, ever since I started reading books from a very young age. Books have no doubt been my friends for life. Reading transported me to a completely different world. From the confines of my home, reading stroked the fumes of my imagination and let me wander to places I never would ever dream of going, until one day, I decided that I wanted to actually experience firsthand, all that I read about different parts of the world. Suddenly, I was no longer content to just be happy reading about people, places, countries, culture, food, traditions etc. I wanted to see it for myself and that’s when, after my first international travel, the travel bug bit me. The travel bug has seen stung me many times and each sting led to a different country! Travel has evolved me as a person and taught me a lot of things and one of them is, as per Mark Twain.

I completely agree with the above quote of Mark.

I am from India, which as all know is the world’s second largest populated country and we are a developing country with a huge diversity and India is endowed with almost all the important topographical features, such as high mountains, extensive plateaus, and wide plains traversed by mighty rivers. There is definitely more to India then just ‘Snake Charmers’ and ‘Elephants’. India is a traveler’s paradise; India is a treasure trove of Unity in Diversity and the Democracy that we enjoy is by far the best, no doubt about that and I am proud of my country.

There is however, a lot of scope for improvement in terms of maintaining cleanliness, hygiene, reducing noise pollution etc. It is very easy for us in our love for our country, to sometimes belittle other countries and this brings to mind a quote by Chris Bradford – “a frog in a well does not know the great sea.” It was through reading and during my travels, that I discovered that other countries are very rich in their own heritage. There is a lot we can learn from other countries with respect to not shoving and pushing in public places, not littering public places, to follow the traffic rules, to not honk unnecessarily. Most people in India have very little tolerance. We tend to look down upon “Indians” seeing their lousy manners etc., but forget that I am an Indian too.

More and more of us Indians are now traveling beyond our cultural and geographical boundaries and exploring new countries and cultures and are developing the appreciation for others’ art, culture, history, food, architecture etc. Over the years, we Indians have progressed in our way of thinking and opened ourselves up to the world. We are promoting our country as an attractive cheap tourist destination, with loads to offer. We have started imbibing the West in a number of ways. All this openness would not have been possible if we had not dared to venture out of our little corner of the earth and so truly, travel is fatal to prejudice.

Proving Twain Right and Learning to Love Different Culture’s Cuisines

Zainab from reflects on Mark Twain’s quote that travel is fatal to prejudice and shares her tale of learning to appreciate another culture’s cuisine: 

Travel is fatal to prejudice

Prejudice: Vietnamese people eat cats, dogs and insects. Ok extreme, but it’s something my mum ingrained in my head about all people from South East Asian countries. She also freaked out when I said I was going to live in Vietnam and told me I would be trafficked into an Asian prostitution ring. So, understandably I also freaked out when I landed in Hanoi and visited a supermarket when I was hungry and found nothing Western, couldn’t read the language and even saw snails in a box. Nice.

However, after living there for 7 months, I can confidently say that they have really nice food. I like pho – the national dish of noodle soup, served with meat (usually beef or chicken), broth, rice noodles and herbs. There’s also bun cha – grilled meat, noodles, herbs and dipping sauce. My Teaching Assistant once brought me a street food dish of sweet and spicy noodles with quail’s egg and I can’t remember what it’s called but it was yummy. There is also plenty of Western food, burger joints and food delivery app options for when comfort is necessary.

So in summary; traveling proved that my prejudice against Vietnamese food being ‘weird’ was unfounded. It also proved that it’s stupid to think you won’t find something you like and will therefore go hungry. Sometimes it wasn’t as spicy as I would’ve liked and maybe dog meat was used illegally on occasion. But it really wasn’t the end of the world for me.

Breaking Prejudice and Barriers Through Travel

Praveen from shares his thoughts on Twain’s quote that travel is “fatal to prejudice,” as well as how travel has changed his view of other places: 

Travel is fatal to prejudice: reflections
The idea is fascinating to write about for me, given I grew up in a small town in a remote corner of India. Prejudice, bigotry and caste-ism are strongly woven in our everyday lives. It varies from casual remarks about being extra cautious with our Muslim friends to not let the man who cuts our hair inside our home. Not intended to throw dirt on my place and my people but I believe most of the conflicts in the world are to do with our closed minds that is too stubborn or egoistic to see things from the other side or haven’t had the chance to be exposed to the other side.
Travel gave me a chance to see that the people from the rest of India need not be as bad as I grew up to believe despite our differences, that the Dutch are just wonderful people like anyone else and not to be looked down upon just because they have one of the largest brothel, that there is much more wonderful and beautiful to America than what those Hollywood movies make us believe, that not everyone has to worship cows and still the world is perfectly all right, that I do not have to be scared if I find men of African origin in the street I am walking. Travel made me a much better man than I was and hopefully will make me a lot better man than I am. To travel is to love, to travel is to believe, to travel is to mature, to travel is to open up and break barriers, to travel is to be humane.

Separating People from Their Governments

Lastly, here’s my own reflection on Twain’s quote that travel is fatal to prejudice:

Travel is fatal to prejudice: Lake Ritsa

I think Mark Twain’s quote that “travel is fatal to prejudice” encapsulates one of the best arguments in favor of traveling the world. When I travel, I try my best to be open to engaging with just about anyone. But for the longest time my progressive inclinations gave me a bit of a blind spot when it came to Russians. I’m not a huge fan of Russia’s policies in many parts of the world, or of its meddling my home country’s elections. Between this and a bad encounter with some drunk Russians early in my travels, I came to unintentionally avoid interacting with Russians for fear that they were all aggressive and unfriendly.

And then one night in Buenos Aires I was introduced to a young Russian man who, though his burly body looked every bit the part, defied all these stereotypes with his warm personality, genuine interest in my travels, and generous purchases of cerveza for my consumption. Later, in Singapore, I met another Russian who has since become a close friend. And, as I wrote in my Abkahzia travel diary, I would have been entirely alone were it not for the incredible Russian tourists who welcomed me into their family during my time in that forgotten region.

In short, I’m embarrassed to even admit in public my prior prejudices towards Russians, because they are so incredibly far off base from my actual interactions with Russians across the world. I’ll try never to make the mistake of equating a government with its people, as I certainly hope others don’t do with me.

Travel is fatal to prejudice: is it your favorite Mark Twain travel quote?

How has travel shaped your view of the world? Do you agree with Mark Twain that travel is fatal to prejudice? Is it your favorite Mark Twain travel quote too? Let us know in the comments. And, as always be sure to check us out on Facebook & Pinterest!

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness" - Mark Twain. A series of short reflections on how travel kills prejudice and bigotry.
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  1. Brilliant reflections by everyone here! Amazing to have been a part of this very thoughtful article. As well as Twain’s quote, I also agree with Maria’s quote by Chris Bradford – “a frog in a well does not know the great sea.” Lovely to read.

  2. Like many, I agree with the Mark Twain comment. When I came back from my first time being abroad, I found that I had way more patience for other people, especially foreigners, because I now know the difficulties that come with moving to another country. When I returned home, I was convinced that travel and an open mind were the keys to world peace. I was so glad to see this post and find a quote that so perfectly summed up my feelings.

    One of the things that I became keenly aware of (and was a little sad wasn’t mentioned in this post) was how much of a role the media played in the prejudices we develop. My mom watched Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode about Tokyo, which featured some of Japan’s nightclubs and other adult culture. After that, my mom became worried about my upcoming trip to Japan because that was some of the only information she had about Japan. Too often we make assumptions about an entire group of people based on some small piece of information we receive. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of it too. It’s human nature. However, I think that if people could travel more, they would realize that there is so much more to the world than what we just see on TV or read online.

    I think the biggest key to overcoming our habit of developing stereotypes is to just be aware that we do it. Be aware of the thoughts running through your head, and ask yourself what you’re founding you’re assumptions on. Will you cross the street to avoid walking past a Muslim simply because of the terrorism you hear about on TV?

    At the same time, we should also remember that we are representatives of where we come from. When in Japan (especially in the really rural areas), I had to remember that I may be the first American that these people had ever met. My actions would influence not only their opinions of me, but of all Americans. Being aware of my actions and how they might be perceived to other people could help prevent stereotypes from being developed by other people.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article!

    1. Great thoughts and totally agree. Also, you will love Japan. I actually lived there for 3 years as a child – and it’s a big part of the reason, I think, that I now love travel so much.

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