Donald Trump and Why Traveling is the Best Investment You Can Make in Yourself

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” — Gustave Flaubert

We Have a Donald Trump Problem

But you already knew that. I’m not here to talk politics, but the Trump problem became more clear to me while on a recent trip to Barcelona and Amsterdam. I had the chance to meet locals in each of these amazing cities, and there was a common topic of conversation: how the hell did we let Donald Trump get here?

Most of these Europeans were slightly nervous about what might happen if Trump wins. More of them, though, were just confused as to how this guy is a legitimate contender to run the free world. As the week progressed, the response to the question evolved and ultimately was distilled down to this: a lot of Americans just don’t know what they don’t know.

That sounds pretentious, so let me explain. Let’s start with a statistic: as of a few years ago, at least 64% of Americans didn’t have a passport. This means at least two thirds of US citizens have never left US soil and don’t have plans to.

It’s worth clarifying that I’d be a total hypocrite if I acted like I’m a world traveler. Until last year when I turned 25, I’d only ever ventured as far as Mexico. Then I caught the bug, and in the last 6 months I’ve visited Argentina, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Spain, and the Netherlands. All of them relatively short visits, but helped to crystalize why travel is so important.

Amsterdam on a beautiful 75 degree day. Shot from my iPhone in June 2016.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I grew up in Overland Park which is on the Kansas side of Kansas City (yes, there is a Kansas side and a Missouri side of Kansas City). In Overland Park, my life existed inside of a 40 block by 10 block rectangle where I did K-12, where all of my friends lived, and where I turned 18 years old believing I understood everything there was to understand.

That quickly changed when I migrated west for college in Arizona. Most of the people I met there were either from California or Arizona. I quickly learned that my 40 block by 10 block rectangle actually wasn’t the entire world. I also learned that people who have spent most of their life in Los Angeles tend to have a fundamentally different view of the world then people who have spent most of their life in Kansas.

Back In Overland Park, I thought I knew it all. When I got out west, I realized I didn’t know a thing. This was hands down the most important lesson I learned in those 4 years. You really don’t know what you don’t know. And the only chance you’ll ever have of “knowing” is by consciously and regularly differentiating your experiences.

Trying new things, meeting new people, and understanding different points of views is how you begin to know. This may sound weird, but a pivotal moment in my life was going to Electronic Daisy Carnival at the LA Coliseum in 2010 (not going to sugar coat it, it was a rave back before EDM became mainstream). Fresh out of Kansas, I had no idea what I was doing or what the thing was, and all of the sudden I was like “Wow, this side of life exists.” I never knew.

How Trump is Capitalizing

So, this brings me back to Trump and the problem that exists. There is a very high percentage of Americans who have never left the United States. One of the biggest reasons for this is obviously due to cost (this had always been the case for me). There’s also a large subset of those people who have the resources, but just flat out don’t want to.

Either way, it highlights one of the things I’ve learned about how a lot of people who aren’t American view Americans. As a people, we tend to shy away from new experiences and opt for the comfortable and the known. There’s a tendency to view the world as only the world we know, and anything outside that world is either wrong or doesn’t matter.

Trump is aggressively capitalizing on this.

Trump has done a fantastic job of appealing to the keep-things-the-way-they-were train of thought with his Make America Great Again platform. We know this world, and in the past it’s proven to be comfortable, so let’s just stick with it.

My hypothesis is that a material chunk of the people who are buying into Trump’s platform are people who just don’t know. They don’t know that Trump might be a monumental disaster because their view on the world is limited. They don’t know what they don’t know. This is obviously a massive oversimplification (and there is a very large chunk of people voting for Trump for more concrete reasons), but the underlying issue is real.

Travel is the Quickest Way to Know

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, wrote a great post on how traveling extends life and equates it to time traveling. I’d build on that by saying that travel is also the life-blood to knowing.

After college, I spent time in Los Angeles and now live in San Francisco. Both are pretty diverse in terms of overall culture. However, even in diverse cities it’s easy to settle into your own circles. In those circles, there is often a lack of diversity in terms of thoughts, and soon you start to learn less and less.

This is why I believe travel is the most important investment you can make in yourself, especially in your 20s. Traveling is the easiest and quickest way to expose yourself to the things you don’t know. Each trip you go on, you get a completely different perspective on everything. You become self aware of the things that differentiate you as a person who lives in San Francisco from a person who lives wherever the hell you end up.

An example of this comes from Amsterdam. I found myself wandering around the outskirts of the city on a Saturday where it was mostly locals. I had no agenda, nowhere to be. However, at a certain point I came to and I realized that I was walking twice as fast as anyone else around me. I had one of those “holy shit, I look like a total tourist” moments, and I think people around me realized it when I slowed down.

I sat down at a coffee shop and thought about that scene a bit more. I came to the conclusion that I, and a lot of people I know, tend to speed through life. It’s an artifact of living the fast-paced, Silicon Valley lifestyle. It was a pretty tough revelation and an impactful one for me. I went out to a bar that night and through observation and conversation, realized that most people in Amsterdam aren’t speeding to get anywhere. I also found that most people I talked to were just generally really happy. Maybe it’s time to re-prioritize some things to slow down life a bit?

At the end of the day, you don’t know what you don’t know. The only way to learn the things you don’t know is by trying new things and meeting new people. The quickest and easiest way to do that is to travel. Go somewhere you know nothing about. Go somewhere that makes you feel a little bit nervous or uncomfortable. It’s there that you will learn the most about what you don’t know.