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Although greater online connectivity has the potential to break down borders, we've been seeing a surge in nationalism and the desire to firm up borders. Whether we look at Brexit or those supporting Donald Trump's proposed border wall, on average those supporting nationalist positions tend to be less educated than those who take a more open approach to borders. It's not surprising that education opens minds, but there's something else that's likely to accomplish similar effects, and that's travelling.
Seeing a world beyond our backyard.
We all learn geography in school. We understand intellectually that there are countries other than our own, and perhaps we know some of their history, but there's a detached quality to that knowledge. They are over there, we are over here, and never the twain shall meet.
We might learn a little more if we live somewhere (most likely a city) that has a large, culturally diverse immigrant population. We might often eat dishes native to another country, although we don't necessarily give much thought to where these culinary traditions actually came from.
It can be difficult to understand how small the world is without travelling. A torturous 12 hour flight can take you somewhere that seems totally different when you first step off the plane, but soon enough it feels more familiar, and you start to just get it. It's no longer some abstract concept linked to an area of the world map. The more you travel, the more human that map becomes.
Seeing individual faces instead of faceless masses.
Travelling can allow you to meet people who live very differently from the way you do, but despite that, it quickly becomes clear that they are very much the same as us. It/s easier to see that shared humanity when that juxtaposition of same and different is right in front of our faces.
Few travellers will get through their trips without accumulating stories of the kindness and generosity of strangers. Even if you're in a poor country and start to feel as though people see you as a walking ATM, people are still kind. On so many occasions when people could have easily dismissed me as some stupid white chick who only speaks English, people have taken pity on my confusion and helped me, even if the only English word they knew was hello. In many countries, people are thrilled when I play with their children. In Jordan, a lady shrouded in a niqab helped to pose her children so I could get a good photo with them. No matter what divides us, we are all the same.
Even if you go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico and never leave the sheltered confines of the resort, it will become apparent that a Mexican is not a murderer or a rapist, but rather the amazing resort staff member who remembers your name, showers you with compliments, and just generally makes you feel like a rockstar.
Seeing what hardship looks like.
You've likely heard the catchphrase "white people problems." Travelling really helps to put that in perspective. Even if you're not seeing the abject poverty of the slums of Mumbai or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, travelling outside of wealthy nations helps to put into perspective what's important and what's not. It shows that even when material things are out of reach, people everywhere are just trying to live their best life and do the most they can to find wellbeing for themselves and their loved ones. It shows that people can be happy with far, far less than what the collective we as first world nationals often think of as necessary.
It's a small world after all.
The Disney song may get annoying, but it's true; it is a much smaller world than a lot of people see. When people stay in one place and don't make contact with any other part of the world, it is easy to become close-minded and imagine a clear divide between "us" and "them." Building a border wall to keep the "other" out can seem like a good idea. Immigration can start to look threatening. I just wish that the people who want a clear separation between us and them would have the interest and the opportunity to travel internationally, because the mind-opening effects of travel can be truly priceless.