"Travelling narrows the mind" What does this mean?

I heard the quote, “Travelling narrows the mind”, I believe from the letters of Lord Chesterfield.

Can someone explain this? Does this mean that travel only reinforces your own biases of your native land?

G.K. Chesterton was a very funny man, and would often say things with a dry, British sense of humour.

You can read the phrase in context here:

If I were to interpret it, I would say that he is saying that travel dispells illusions and fantasies, and makes you focus on the truth.

I don’t think I ever heard/read that quotation, nor even a paraphrase, except for the antithetical version of ‘Travel broadens the mind." But I will side with DrFidelius by interpreting its wit to mean that whatever you may have read or been told about peoples and places different from your own, that if you see things as they really are elsewhere, that your focus on the humanity component of others will help dissuade you of prejudices and biases based on ignorance caused by listening to others’ versions of what the other people and places are like.

The foundation of prejudice is ignorance which is one way to think of “narrow mindedness.” But the “narrowing of the mind” to the reality of a situation can be taken to mean you’re tossing out the irrelevant and thus “narrowing your focus.”

From personal experience I have found that what I may have thought of some place and the people who live there, based on movies, TV, books, stand-up comics and dull-witted talking heads on talk shows, is rarely the real truth if you just see and listen for yourself to how things really are.

I live in an area of the country that suffers from that sort of “bad press” so I may be a bit more sensitive to it as a result.

He’s saying the exact opposite. He’s saying it’s very easy to say, “All people are brothers” and “We share a common humanity” when sitting at home, but then when you travel, you see how strange foreigners are, and how odd foreign customs are, and you become a bigot.

Van Nuys?

Quite right. It only takes two sentences for him to make that plain.

Not even close. But I don’t get why you ask.

No one likes Van Nuys.


I am still weirded out by the OP, in which G. K. Chesterton is confused with Lord Chesterfield.

Having just gotten back from several weeks in Malaysia, I completely understand what Chesterton was getting at… you find yourself spending a lot of time comparing the differences between the two countries and missing “The Bigger Picture”.

For example, since I’ve gotten back I’ve been mildly irritated that everything closes so early here (shops in Kuala Lumpur & Singapore are open until 10pm most nights) and I’m shocked at comparatively how expensive everything in Australia is, but it wasn’t until I sat down with a nice cup of coffee and put my feet up that I’ve been able to get a better understanding on why those things are.

And Malaysia is a great place and absolutely worth visiting, if anyone was wondering. :wink:

Here is an excerpt from the essay “WHAT IS AMERICA? by G.K. Chesterton From: What I Saw in America (1922)” that I feel covers the topic I was trying to describe earlier. I found the entire essay to be mostly about apologizing (as a Britisher) for a visit to America in the 1920’s and to have much more to say than to resolve the full meaning the title of this thread. Be that as it may, I’m taking this portion of what he did say to be support for my basic theme in my earlier post.


Travel ought to combine amusement with instruction; but most
travelers are so much amused that they refuse to be instructed.
I do not blame them for being amused; it is perfectly natural to be amused
at a Dutchman for being Dutch or a Chinaman for being Chinese. Where they
are wrong is that they take their own amusement seriously.
They base on it their serious ideas of international instruction.
It was said that the Englishman takes his pleasures sadly;
and the pleasure of despising foreigners is one which he takes
most sadly of all. He comes to scoff and does not remain to pray,
but rather to excommunicate. Hence in international relations
there is far too little laughing, and far too much sneering.
But I believe that there is a better way which largely consists
of laughter; a form of friendship between nations which is actually
founded on differences.


If it matters, I didn’t read the essay until after I had given my thoughts on what the OP appeared to be asking. To whatever degree what I said differs from Chesterton, I can accept it as a difference of opinion and not as a refutation of what I believe to be the nature of traveling as it affects one’s prejudices and bigotry.

Zeldar, did you notice that in post #2 the entire essay is linked to?

Yes, that’s where I got the excerpt. I didn’t read the linked article until after I had made my initial comments in Post #3.

Is this the basis of your question about if I had read the article in Post #2’s link?

Does anybody have citations for whatever “letters of Lord Chesterfield” have to say on the thread’s title?

No, I think he was asking because he didn’t know why you quoted part of the essay when it was available at the link.

I’ll just let Post #11 speak for me. I’m getting the distinct impression that what I had to say – in an effort to answer the OP’s concern over “Can someone explain this? Does this mean that travel only reinforces your own biases of your native land?” – has gotten to be an issue here and it was just an off-the-cuff response. I was not challenging something I hadn’t even read, and I made my remarks early in the thread.

What’s the big deal anyway? Can’t I have an opinion on this issue without it having to jibe with somebody else’s?

Well, sure, you can. But the question in the OP was what Chesterton (or, I guess, Lord Chesterfield) meant by the quote.

That’s not how I read this sentence: “Does this mean that travel only reinforces your own biases of your native land?”

It also suggests to me, after “Can someone explain this?” that other opinions and interpretations are possible.

Finally, I ask how

“I heard the quote, “Travelling narrows the mind”, I believe from the letters of Lord Chesterfield.”

must be taken to mean that the OP is only interested in whatever Chesterfield or Chesterton must have meant to say – but didn’t – since the quote isn’t even fully qualified as coming from Lord Chesterfield or any other specific person.

Until the OP, ** sassyfras**, has clarified what the real issue in the OP is, I have nothing further to say on the issue.

I can’t find any online claim that Lord Chesterfield said “Travel narrows the mind.” I do find a few online claims that Oscar Wilde said it. Most of the online references to the saying claim that G. K. Chesterton said it. I think sassyfras is simply misremembering when he claims that the sentence comes from Chesterfield. I suspect that Wilde didn’t say it either, although I’m not so sure about that. It’s clear that Chesterton did say it.

No, you had (have?) it backwards.

I never heard the quote either, but after reading the essay it seems clear as day that what he’s saying is: “Travel narrows the mind, and here’s why I implore you to not let it.”

As in, basic human nature during travel is to point and laugh at the backward yokels. But doing so is wrong. He says this explicitly:

He drives the point home a couple paragraphs later:

The point being, don’t laugh at the backward yokels. Laugh at the culture clash and then apply thoughtful introspection to understand how or why that culture is so different from yours. The first step – laughing at the absurdity – is natural. If you stop there, travel will narrow your mind. Most people stop there. Therefore, travel narrows the mind.

In other words, it means the exact opposite of: