London - Mark Twain wrote: “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.”
Perhaps, with the summer holidays upon us, and Brexit-based discussions about tolerance, immigration and our relationship with foreigners ringing in our ears, it's worth examining Twain's quote. Does travel really broaden the mind, or does it tend to reinforce existing prejudices?
Parts of the travel industry have long been accused of creating a “home away from home”, with English bars and familiar pizza restaurants to reassure Brits that their holiday experience will be different, but not that different. It's perfectly possible to remain within the resort and have limited contact with “the locals”.
At the other end of the spectrum, parts of the industry offering more “immersive” experiences in far-flung places are fond of marketing slogans such as “come back different” or “life-changing travel” - an indication that they see their holidays as transformative, which is not always true.
For some people, meeting strangers with different languages and ways of life is very exciting, and the essence of travel. For others it's, quite naturally, a little scary. How the tourist chooses to manage this - whether you are an experienced traveller, like me, heading to Kenya to be hosted by the Maasai on safari, or a young family on your way to Spain for the first time - is more important than how much cash they have or what they book.
Regardless of the type of holiday we choose or can afford, as Westerners we often have the habit of thinking we know best, that our ways of doing things and our focus on being on time are universal. We learn little travelling this way.
Travellers who instead develop the habit of asking questions, being open minded, curious and respectful find it's reciprocated and their holiday is enriched.
Many tourism businesses, such as Responsible Travel, have wised up to this and help facilitate mutually beneficial encounters with local people, by designing trips “responsibly” with good local benefits, a warm welcome and an open door to learn about and experience different ways of life. Perhaps it's time to reappraise our approach to strangers at home and on holiday.
* Justin Francis is CEO of Responsible Travel