I’ve noticed that often, people try to hijack my travel experience and use it to reinforce their world view. “Oh, you must have loved Cuba–but I bet you’re so happy you live here with all this stuff and where we’re all FREE!” Or, “Oh wow, you must have loved Cuba, getting to see how awesome a country is even though it’s not capitalist and America’s trying to keep it DOWN!”
I generally don’t feel comfortable responding in the affirmative to either statement. The “you must really love our wealth/infrastructure/freedoms” people are right, I am happy to live in a country with pillowtop matresses, good water pressure and wings whenever I want them. But their statement almost always contains an inherent pejorative of wherever I’ve just been, a sense that it was a lovely/educational dalliance, but now I was back in the REAL world, the good one.
On the other hand, the business about seeing places so different from America, without our “rampant consumerism, corrupt politicians and danger around every turn” does ring true–a little bit. There really are other ways of carrying on life and a country, ones that are far less selfish and just as succesful. But these views tend to put the rose-colored glasses on for foreign countries. And let’s be honest, if I won’t wear them for my own country, I’m certainly not going to wear them for anyone else’s.
I love travel because it sorts the wheat from the schraff. I get to see other communities where people don’t have the same assumptions as we do here, and see how successful they are in carrying out their lives based on their own values and assumptions. I get to compare different ways of respecting or interpreting civil rights, and see what I like about different the approaches.
Traveling helps me better see the world for what it is. To see past the stereotypes, politicians and social constructs that have been ingrained in me (or others) for the duration of my life. To discover best practices on everything, from recycling to child-rearing to dating to cooking.
Travel doesn’t make me hate America, and it doesn’t make me overwhelmingly happy I live here. It just helps me see and understand the truth about every community I interact with, including my own. And the hope is that someday, this aggregate knowledge will help me in my dream of developing communities into places that are better at recyling or child rearing, dating or cooking, no matter where on earth I end up doing that.