Everyone is wrong about other countries.
[I]f you’d asked me two years ago whether the wider world scared me, I’d have answered with a resolute ‘no’. For if there’s one thing I’ve learned over a decade of regular travel it’s how misguided that accompanying fear is, how essentially pleasant the world is, how genial most of the people who inhabit it are. The more you travel to dodgy, offbeat and neglected destinations, the more you realise that, as Aldous Huxley once said, ‘Everyone is wrong about other countries’, and prevailing notions are debunked at every turn. Iran, that frothing enemy of western decadence, is the friendliest country I’ve ever visited. Ethiopia, forever synonymous with famine, boasts some of the finest cuisine in the world. The cities of eastern Europe, once hidden behind the iron curtain, are as civilised as Vienna or Rome. Again and again, inveterate travellers are presented with the same epiphany: the rumours were wrong.
Sure, I’ve met with the odd misfortune. I’ve had my hotel room ransacked and been mugged at knife-point. I’ve been scammed, robbed and pickpocketed. I’ve contracted dengue fever, typhoid, bilharzia, and more bouts of food poisoning than I care to remember. It’s just that those things haven’t always happened where they were supposed to – in the retrograde states and the pariah regions, the places where my government travel advice warned me not to go . . .
Excerpted from Aeon.