People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.
– Dagobert D. Runes
Why is it that so many people reserve their curiosity for new and enlightening experiences on the road while they take for granted similar opportunities just because they happen at home?
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve met Bhutanese, Vietnamese and Russian Estonian families. We talked to people from Thailand and El Salvador. We got the lowdown on Iranian politics from a Iranian woman who recently left her home country.
None of these encounters happened on our round-the-world journey per se, but rather during visits to suburban Virginia and Scranton, Pennsylvania. We met these people in cafes, ethnic food stores, my father’s community garden, and in their homes.
So many people dream of travels, plan them to the max, immerse themselves in them, and ex post facto romanticize the life out of them. Then they return home and somehow their habits conspire to shut off their curious instincts just because the vacation is over.
This is the curiosity disconnect.
Curiosity – The What and The Why
For the first time in my life, I looked up the definition of the word “curiosity”: the desire to learn or know about anything. I understood this. I liked this; it struck me as open and wholesome, unassailably good.
Good – why? Curiosity is important for the practical. Pursuing our curiosity aids our understanding of how things work, it helps us solve problems, it fires new inventions.
In the context of travel, however, curiosity plays a slightly different role. Travel better tunes us into our environment and puts things into perspective. But it does something more: it helps us develop respect for people and places that are different from us.
Why is this important? The idealist in me says this: the more curious we are, the more we will seek to understand, and the more we understand, perhaps the less we’ll fear. And the less we fear, pre-judge, judge and misjudge, the better positioned we will be to resolve our conflicts – in ourselves, in our local communities, and ultimately around the world.
Curiosity Abroad vs. Curiosity at Home
The beauty of the faraway place is that it often forces us out of a familiar context, making it easier for us to exercise our senses and stretch our minds. Meeting new people, seeing new places, undertaking new activities, learning new things – all of this seems more or less at our disposal on the road. The context drives our expectation of an unfolding and we remain open to it.
For these reasons, so many people like the person they become when they travel.
But what about when they return home? How can they maintain the same spirit of travel curiosity? More importantly, how can they teach their kids?
We don’t have the answer. Our approach is personal and difficult to distill and translate into some sort of recipe, but we can share a handful of thoughts to get the conversation started:
- Talk to people. Ask questions. Listen. Many of us embrace engagement with and learning from locals while we travel. Why not take the same approach at home? Now, we’re not advocating that you bury people in a monologue. Ask open questions and have an exchange.
- Eat on the street, go local, go authentic – go different. Engage the guy running the food truck, drop into the darkly-lit ethnic restaurant – even if only to read the menu. The greasy spoon that you’ve never visited may offer something, too.
- Shop at foreign food stores. When traveling, it’s fun and exotic to check out fresh markets and learn about local foods. At home, go to those small ethnic grocery stores with foreign scripts scrawled in the front window. Ask questions on how to use ingredients and spices that are foreign to you.
- Pursue your travel interests at home. Whatever interests you while traveling – fresh markets, museums, historical sights, art, wine, etc. – seek it out at home. Visit places connected — even tangentially — to these themes.
- Go somewhere local that’s new. Find someplace 15-20 minutes away that you’ve never been. Walk there. And if you must drive there, that’s fine, too. Don’t discount places just because they are nearby.
- Put on your travel face. Yep, you guessed it: smile. You’ll be astounded by how many conversations open up when you do.
Why put away your travel glasses – your observation skills, your inner adventurer – until the next trip? If you are lamenting that your vacation is over, unpack your curiosity, but be sure not to put it away.
What do you think about stoking the fire of curiosity at home? How do you do it? What tips do you have for others?