I remember speaking to an acquaintance of mine, back in the states, and suggesting grabbing some Japanese food for dinner. The first response was "Eww I don't like fish." Ironically of course, I had beef bowls in mind, which is about as far from fish as you can get.
It made me think. While Sushi is perhaps one of the more famous aspects of Japanese cuisine, anybody that has spent much time with me, or in Japan, knows that there is much more to your standard Japanese restaurant than just seafood. In fact, Japanese cuisine offers all sorts of barbecued and even fried hunks of land critter to devour. However, my acquaintance simply rejected an entire nation's cuisine based on an incorrect preconceived notion. As a travel AND food junkie, I was pretty shocked by that response.
It made me think a bit about how travel really does affect your life and your world view. People always talk about how travel opens your mind, but I think it is more than just nice museums and interesting monuments. The reality of travel is much more interesting, and germane to the way we live our lives.
I myself am far from the pickiest eater I know, and could indeed be considered an adventurous eater by many. However, within my family I am probably the most inhibited of the bunch. To this day I disdain common place items like mushrooms and olives, shrimp and mussels and more. In the past I was even more of a snob, turning up my nose at any number of dishes.
While part of growing up is growing out of being picky, my multitude of experiences living in Japan have certainly accelerated the process. I have had no choice but to break loose and see just what strange things I could actually stomach. The results have sometimes been surprising. I imagine that very few people in America have eaten basashi, or to put it more simply horse sashimi, but I have. And to be honest, it was amazingly delcious. In fact, after I tried it the first time in Nagasaki, I often order it when I see it on the menu. I do this both to shock and amaze my dining partners and because I genuinely enjoy the dish. I didn't have to try basashi while I was in Kyushu, I could have got by on teriyaki or even McDonalds. But I didn't, I had traveled enough, experienced enough, and was brave enough (the beer helped) to go where few of my country men ever will.
Does this make me a better person? Of course not, and some horse lovers might think take my taste for horse flesh as a detriment. But I feel that it does make my life and experiences a bit richer and more enjoyable. In the same conversation, I had mentioned possibly traveling to Mexico for a nice relaxing beach vacation, and to that my companion said, "I won't travel anywhere that I can't drink the water." This could be called a sensible approach to life, but one of my favorite trips ever was to Thailand and Vietnam, and you most certainly can NOT drink the water in South East Asia. Luckily, bottled water is readily available as is beer, fruit juice, soda and more. Even such a sensible approach to life as limiting yourself to places with potable water will inevitably limit your experiences.
So whats the point? Simply this. Every experience we have, no matter the location, adds another layer of complexity to our psyche and our soul. However, travel aids this, because it forces you out of your comfort zone. Living within the same city your entire life doesn't prohibit either personal growth or the accumulation of new experiences, but it does enable those that are so inclined to wall themselves away into a daily routine that never challenges them. Travel is not a prerequisite to being a better person, or to living a fulfilling and enriched life. However, it IS a bit of a shortcut, because it makes it that much harder to coast by on what feels comfortable. That is the key, because every time we try something that might be strange or different, we have the chance to discover something that is in fact even better than what we had in our life before then.