My fear is that more and more people will look only at those menus. That “tasting” cultures become more fashionable than truly entering them, and that it will be just the surfaces of other places we collect, not their essence. Indeed, that collecting places becomes more a goal than plunging into them and being transformed by them.
I worry, in short, that travel is becoming more a form of consumerism, whether you live in Santa Monica or Shanghai, than a real exercise in curiosity, and that as the world grows more open and available, going to another country will seem more like going to a cool ethnic supermarket or trendy restaurant than a true journey into shock or difference. I worry, in other words, that the tasting menu will replace the true unsettledness of being lost on the streets of Kolkata or spooked by a witch doctor in Haiti; that people will seek to become plusher versions of themselves when they travel rather than different versions. That comfort will seem a more essential part of the travel experience than challenge, not so different from shopping online, and that the selfie will become a more central part of our experience than the detailed portrait.
People, rightly and wonderfully, grow ever more concerned about the wilderness around us, and what we’re doing to our rivers and trees; I worry about the wild places in the imagination and the rainforests of our being. That travel has grown so commonplace is a blessing for us all, and has the potential to make us all more cosmopolitan, broad-minded and alive. But if we don’t travel to Ethiopia or Japan for something deeper than the ramen joints and the clothes shops there, we’ll remain no less provincial than before.