Thomas Jefferson on Travel

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From a letter to Peter Carr, his nephew, 1787:

Travel: This makes men wiser, but less happy.

When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge, which they may apply usefully for their country; but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret; their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects; and they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home.

Young men, who travel, are exposed to all these inconveniences in a higher degree, to others still more serious, and do not acquire that wisdom for which a previous foundation is requisite, by repeated and just observations at home.

The glare of pomp and pleasure is analogous to the motion of the blood; it absorbs all their affection and attention, they are torn from it as from the only good in this world, and return to their home as to a place of exile and condemnation. Their eyes are forever turned back to the object they have lost, and its recollection poisons the residue of their lives.

Their first and most delicate passions are hackneyed on unworthy objects here, and they carry home the dregs, insufficient to make themselves or anybody else happy. Add to this, that a habit of idleness, an inability to apply themselves to business is acquired, and renders them useless to themselves and their country.

These observations are founded in experience.

As an expat, I reflect on this often as it holds a lot of truth. Living abroad comes with many benefits, but a sense of contentment and belonging is not one of them.

This cannot be remedied by “returning home” as that has become an imaginary place where all your friends, family and favourite customs reside in one place.

It doesn’t exist.