We live in a space where one thinks they are well-travelled by how many miles they’ve eaten, and how many borders they’ve escaped; the saying stipulates that travel broadens the mind.
Does it in fact broaden, or merely bloat?
It’s an interesting verb, travel. Its etymology brings us to a word from the 12th & 13th centuries, that is, to travail, which means to toil, to labour. Originally, it meant to trouble, torture, or torment, derived by the Latin term, tripaliare.
Why did I bring up the etymology of this word? Tracing a word’s roots (in our case, travel), gives us a better understanding of what it means to use that word. Travel in the middle-ages was an arduous endeavour, so much so, that its feeling was akin to torture. And so to travel was not what we see it as it is today, where cargos of humans were jettisoned onto foreign lands for a sense of escape & adventure, but something that required great will and motivation.
Coming back to the question, why is it said that travel broadens the mind? If we invoke the original definition of travel, one would perhaps say it is because the labour, the hard-work that goes into travelling, that helps broaden one’s mind. The stress and strains of camping, hunting, survival, and traversing differentiating landscapes & climates, is where minds become broad, and not just merely bloated with data and memoirs.
The modern day pseudo-traveller, in my personal reasoning, wouldn’t meet this definition, hence I think they are often charlatans of true travel. They seem aimless, bloating their memories with places, whilst remaining starved of any mental processing that might expand, or tint, their cognitive horizons.
I’d like to escape to another point. Does a traveller necessarily have to physically transport their body in order to be ascribed that noun, with both early and modern definitions considered? I, for example, honestly believe that a mind, both broadened and bloated, is a medium of travel. One can labour (and torture) ones mind with ease, anyone reading this can empirically attest to that; such tests have great potential in broadening said minds.
But (contemporary) travel in one’s mind is just as broadening (and verified) as its old definition. What do I mean by mental travelling?
Minds operate as a tool for travel, which we would label as imagination and creativity; and the worlds artistic ventures and all the experiences that stimulate memories into life, are the fuel for this imagination. People often ask me how I can spend so long in one place, in one room, all alone in my own company; I correct them by informing them that it is not loneliness, but solitude; the distinction is defined by whether one is able to travel whilst remaining stationary in one location.
I’ve always had this one belief. Have you ever read a novel, finished it, and years later treat its memory as something you had embodied? I’m sure most people reading this have read a book called ‘The Kite Runner’, so allow me to inquire, does a tiny part of your life not feel as if it once travelled to the country of Afghanistan?
For those of you who don’t, you’re probably scoffing at my question, it sounds ridiculous. How can one compare a physical journey to Asia with an imagining inspired by words alone? But I can’t deny the emotions I feel, and much like the feeling I have when physically amongst alien waters, I mirror those perceptions and thoughts when I travel through imagination.
My passports may tell you I’ve only travelled to a handful of places, but the divine stenographers recording my journey know all too well that I’ve travelled millions of miles across the universe; I could tell you how I once found myself amongst the spectra of Milky Way nebulae whilst my body was camped next to a loch in Galloway National Forest Park, for example.
Coming full circle to my original inquiry once more, travel is certainly not as black and white as you may have originally perceived, and do not let the miles of your footprints deceive you into labelling yourself a traveller; justify the title by encapsulating what all the definitions imply, because although we are all naturally defined as travellers by virtue of time, the labour, twinned with mental journeys, is how one realises the predicate in the age-old saying of ‘travel broadens the mind’.
By Hashmat Ali