The makings of a good traveller

It’s a standard line that a good traveller arrives with a mind and body open to new experiences, realising that much can be learned from the place visited. By contrast, a bad traveller arrives with preconceptions and proceeds, not surprisingly, to find that everything is dreadful. That is, one appreciates, the other condemns. One is open, the other is close-minded. One is humble, the other is arrogant. One keeps her or his mouth shut, the other is always mouthing off. Obviously, these are ideal types and most of us fall somewhere in between.

If, for the sake of argument, we accept the distinction, then what contributes to either feature? Leaving aside that strange and vague thing called nationalism, I wonder whether imperial experience makes a difference. Or rather, if you come from a place that was once an empire, does it breed a certain arrogance, a longing for lost glory, an effort to assert through sheer will power the empire that has long gone? The roll call of faded empires is long indeed: the Netherlands, Germany, France, UK, Denmark, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria … Does this experience make you a bad traveller, arrogantly assuming that your own place is still the centre of the world and that every other place doesn’t measure up? If that is one factor, then does the experience of having been part of an empire make you more open, giving you a somewhat better imperial shit compass?


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