Henry Rollins on how travel changes the way you see the world

“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown. Eat interesting food. Dig some interesting people. Have an adventure. Be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about; I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people—Americans and Europeans—come back and go, Ohhhhh. And the light bulb goes on.”
–Henry Rollins, “Punk Rock World Traveler,” World Hum, November 2, 2011

Posted by | Comments (14)  | January 16, 2012
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

14 Responses to “Henry Rollins on how travel changes the way you see the world”

  1. Bret @ Green Global Travel Says:

    We did an interview with Rollins on our site last year that was really quite revelatory, particularly for me, as someone who’s known/worked with Henry over the course of his career. They’re definitely been a major shift in attitude and ego over the past decade as he’s been traveling more, and a sense of being humbled by what he’s seen and experienced. His work with Nat Geo has been interesting, as was his recent book, so it’ll be intriguing to see where he takes it from here.

  2. Kris Says:

    I love that. It reminds me of something Oscar Wilde said: Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

  3. Carlos Says:

    Its nice Rollins lists only the places where people have to walk 12 miles for water, and leave out the places where people may have more than you.

  4. Davis Says:

    It is difficult to learn anything about a place when you are passing through, even as close to the ground as a backpacker. You will have no idea what caused the things you see or what they mean to the people there. You will be insulated by your language and culture and comparative wealth and the natural limitations of your observations. You will privilege the few conversations you have with locals and have no good way to judge whether what they tell you is accurate. You will, for these reasons, tend to see what you expect to see or what you are told you are seeing. You may see a poor person, but can you really see the cause of his poverty? You will return home convinced that you have seen much more than you really have seen, and convinced that you have seen the proof of things that may not be so. So many of the important thing that shape our life are invisible to the eye.

    Let me propose an experiment that cancels out the gross problems of language, culture and wealth: Imagine someone from New York City spending three months on the ground, not in India, but in Indiana. Would he, after three months, understand the Indianans, their values and view on life and the forces that shaped their existence to the same extent he might imagine he did of the Indians he passed on the streets of Delhi?

    Travel can be great spectacle, delivering the wonders advertised on the travel posters, but the actual truth about others — and about ourselves — it does not give up as easily as we may imagine.

  5. Roger Says:

    Davis, I like your analogy about the New Yorker moving to Indiana. That’s a good one. However, I think the young person, backpacker who goes to India will be compelled to learn, and adjust, not remain in a state of insulation. Rollins is saying that travel will change you like you’ve never been changed before. You will not be the same person you were.

  6. Jason Says:

    I worked with one of the largest hotel resort companies in the world. I heard there was a study done on vacations, Traveling helps reduce overall stress, it brings family and friends closer together and it helps you see your every day life in a whole new perspective. Traveling is definitely healthy.Even if it is a minnie getaway on a budget.

  7. Rank Smell Says:

    Dear Henry, Nice note. Please send $5000 for plane tickets and expense money. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Europe, much less Saigon or Bangkok. I’ve never been in a band that was successful enough to tour internationally. nor was I born with a silver spoon in my mouth or a trust fund in my back pocket (still with me Henry? how ’bout you, Thurston?). I’ve never had to walk 4 miles for water, but some of what I’ve had to do to keep water and electricity (not to mention food) flowing to my family could definitely be considered overwhelming and definitely humiliating. Unfortunately, also, partly due to the economy and partly due to PARENTING responsibilities (of which you have none, talk about something that will change your world view) I won’t be taking any big trips anywhere soon. So basically, I’m saying that instead of running around the world to try to appreciate what your “neighbors” are going through, I’d suggest you take your narrow whiteboy head out of the sand and pitch in to the solution for the things that effect us here (ya know that Lion’s share of the taxes we pay go to supporting the USA’s foreign interests). And instead if writing a note and taking a picture of it for Facebook (nice touch, artsy project man), maybe you should use your “celebrity” positively by writing REAL letters to REAL lawmakers to become an Agent of Change in the country whose constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression fostered your left of center “career” instead of being am Agent of Dissatisfaction, spreading discontent among your fellow countrymen. How bout writing a note that applauds Americans for staying course and working hard during such challenging and emotional economic times. Or one inspiring hope to those who have lost their homes or lost sons, daughters, friends, spouses and parents in any one of the myriad Death Scrimmages to which the bulk of our tax dollars currently flow. Basically, 1992 called and wants its message back (regardless of the fact that posting it makes you feel as relevant as you thought you ever were back then), you weenie…

  8. It’s a Big World: Go See It « Falling Into Wonderland Says:

    […] saw this open letter (all italicized portions of this post) from Henry Rollins on Facebook the other […]

  9. Todd Says:

    @Carlos, you don’t have to walk for water in Delhi, Bangkok, or Saigon.

  10. Todd Says:

    @Rank Smell: You chose your responsibilities, you chose to have kids.

    Some of us chose travel, and personally, it opened me up to the fact that I don’t care what happens to the states. That’s why traveler’s eyes are open. Now I’m gladly fixed and married to a fellow traveler. I’m just going to keep going. It doesn’t take money up front so much as skills in basic English. Once I moved to Asia it became incredibly inexpensive to hop about it.

  11. Emmy Says:

    Quoth Davis: “Travel can be great spectacle, delivering the wonders advertised on the travel posters, but the actual truth about others — and about ourselves — it does not give up as easily as we may imagine.”

    As someone who went from the wilds of Utah to 8 months in India, 4 of which were spent in one village living and working with a local family – just connecting with people, not part of Peace Corps or anything – I can attest that the difficulty in learning the actual truth about others is that it is dependent upon us learning the actual truth about ourselves, things we may not want to even acknowledge or admit. I learned quite a bit about India and people in India on that trip… but I learned more about the US and about myself, and nothing was the same when I returned, and it’s never been the same since.

    There’s a line in the movie ‘Source Code’ where the guy says something about how we have the opportunity to rebuild from the rubble, but first there has to be rubble. Living somewhere new, opening your life and heart to other people (regardless of whether they are Indians or Indianans) can be the hidden stone that breaks all hearts… and that is what it comes down to, the only way to build that sort of knowledge inside is to let the world break your heart, and then work very hard to build it up again – but this time with more of the world on the inside.

    This is not an easy process, but it is definitely worth it. People for whom ‘traveling’ means seeing the inside of various air-conditioned buses as they are driven from one ‘attraction’ to another – as though the world was just Disneyland, writ large – are denying themselves one of the best chances they will ever have to cultivate knowledge, wisdom, and humility.

  12. Adriano Says:

    Opinions (traded as truth) like the ones expressed by Rant Smell are quite widespread.
    Just read what Nomadic Matt wrote a few days ago…


  13. Paul Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Rollins’ sentiment, but his statement that the reality of global climate change is something that can be apparent to a casual traveler is utterly wrongheaded and trivializes the work of climate scientists. The evidence for global climate change is not in someone’s personal experience that Thailand is much hotter than Ohio, it is in huge quantities of carefully recorded data and studies that can reveal, for example, fractional-degree rises in average temperature over many years and wide areas. To take the former as proof of global climate change is no better than the deniers who take a day of unseasonably cold weather as evidence against it.

  14. Get Lost | Drive All Night Says:

    […] is going to return from their travels, survey their familiar digs, and go, “Wait a minute…” Henry Rollins calls this the moment when “the light bulb goes on.” And right now, all of us could really use some […]