I am writing this week's column from Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea where I have been on a cruise ship lecturing to 75 listeners of my national radio show.
I have traveled outside of North America at least once a year for nearly 40 years. These travels have taken me to some 82 countries (yes, I admit to keeping count) and have taught me more about life than anything I learned up through Ivy League graduate school.
That is why I so strongly advocate that high school graduates not go straight to college, but take a year to do anything except attend school. Travel -- especially when done alone -- can confer much more wisdom than college.
This is my 12th cruise. Thanks to these trips with my listeners, I have cruised from Antarctica to the Baltic, from Indonesia to Peru. It has become by far my favorite way to travel. Having your hotel take you from city to city is almost too good to be true. Sometimes, as in the case of my visit to the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea, there is no other way to get to a place, let alone in luxury.
Why have I never met one American (outside of a handful of entertainers) working on a cruise ship? I have met young people from almost every country in the world working on cruise ships -- except Americans. Do young Americans not know about this unique way to see the world and interact with peers from around the globe? I wish I knew the answer. I would suggest to any person in his or her 20s to spend a year working on a cruise ship. It is an incomparable experience.
Whenever I go abroad I am struck at how superior the international editions of Time and Newsweek are to their American editions. This superiority provides a clear illustration of the American media's dumbing down of almost everything they touch. The American editions of Time and Newsweek are largely infotainment.
I have visited some of the world's poorest countries, written a book on happiness and lectured on happiness around the world. Once again, on this visit to a remote part of New Guinea, where I saw few homes with electricity and where people live essentially on the food they grow and sell, I am reaffirmed in my conviction that being poor is no more a guarantor of unhappiness than wealth is a guarantor of happiness.
In this extremely impoverished area of New Guinea, there was no begging whatsoever, and the people were among the friendliest and happiest I have ever encountered. What accounts for these facts? Why is one national or tribal or ethnic or religious group largely happy and another largely sullen?
My waitress in Townsville, northeast Australia, was a charming young French woman studying zoology at the local university. I asked whom she would vote for in the upcoming French elections. She responded that she knew absolutely nothing about politics and would, if she were back home, vote for the Greens. Why? "Because they are a small party and they are for the environment."
She confirmed my longstanding belief that while there are many people on the Left who know history and think about social issues, the default position for those who know little history or think little about social issues is with the Left. All you need do is care for the poor or care about the environment.
This is my 5th visit to Australia, and once again I am struck by the remarkable friendliness of Australians. It seems to hold true for the many Asian immigrants I met, as well. If so, we need to learn how Australia succeeds in passing its best values to immigrants from other cultures.
Finally, I followed no news events for 10 days. As a radio talk-show host and columnist, that is somewhat risky. But, I believe, worth it. I return with a clearer mind and a lighter heart. Vacations are not luxuries. They are necessities.