FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: Does travel really narrow the mind?

By John McDonald

When you awoke this morning you probably didn’t think you would be reading a quote from noted English essayist Gilbert K. Chesterton before your day ended, but what can I say? My thoughts of Chesterton came about one recent morning after I checked the kitchen thermometer. I can’t remember what the thermometer said, but it wasn’t nice. It made me want to take a trip to a place where thermometers know how to behave. At about this time, I remembered a quote I once read on the subject of travel.

I’m almost certain it was Chesterton who once wrote something like this: “I’m now more certain than ever that travel narrows the mind.”
It was one of those ironic statements English essayists like Chesterton are always making. You see, we’ve been told travel “broadens” the mind and makes us more tolerant and accepting of other cultures, languages and customs. Travel is not supposed to make us more narrow in our thoughts and beliefs. After reading Chesterton’s opening comment, I had to read more.
Chesterton says when he is in his study reading books about the exotic places of the world, he loves learning about the hearty miners or farmers or tradesmen of Asia or Africa or South America and his mind is broadened by this knowledge. He reads and celebrates the family of man, the human race to which we all belong and he enjoys a feeling of kinship with his brothers and sisters in far off places, who are going about their daily tasks and providing for their families — all that good stuff.
Chesterton then cautions that after reading such books and having such universal thoughts, we should think long and hard before we decide to pack up and actually go and visit these noble human beings in those far off and exotic places, because once we go there (wherever it is) and meet these people and engage them in conversation and commerce, they cease to be “universal” and “noble” images in our minds. More than likely, they become obnoxious individuals — often in our face. Anyway, that’s what Chesterton thought.
Like I said before, it’s winter, a time when I start collecting and reading tour books and travel brochures about far-off places where the skies are always blue and sunny, the temperatures never dip below 70, and all the people in the travel pictures are either at the beach or the theater or some fancy restaurant. They’re all smiles like they don’t have a care in the world and their credit card bill will never arrive.
I’ve been thinking a lot about tour books lately, and it’s not just because it’s so cold and the oil man comes by the house so often these days the neighbors now think he lives here.
No, I’m thinking about tour books a lot lately because I’m supposed to be updating my book “Down the Road a-Piece – A Storytellers Guide to Maine,” — a travel book for the people here in Maine and our summer visitors.
The way I see it now, my travel book will be the kind I’ve always wanted to have handy as I wandered around an unfamiliar place. I’ve already decided my revised tour book will have all kinds of detailed maps.
Why? You ask. I’m not sure exactly why. I still have to decide what they’ll be maps of and what colors I’ll use for my color-coding; the book will have maps showing roads that actually exist (of course), but it will also have maps showing roads I wish existed. This tour book will show all the scenic routes throughout Mane, which you’d expect, but it will also show less scenic routes and some routes in our state that are just plain ugly.
My tour book will also have graphs and charts showing how one thing or another has increased or decreased over the years here in Maine. At this point, I haven’t quite decided what those things should be. Any ideas?
In fact, I want to hear from you about any other things you’d like to see in a Maine travel book, because I want this book to be as useful to you as I hope it will be to me. I’ve just begun my editing so all of this might change. I look forward to hearing what you think.

Storyteller and best selling author John McDonald travels throughout New England with his humorous Maine stories, entertaining at banquets, conferences, conventions and other speial events. Contact him at 207-240-8324 or Maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com.