There's a crucial difference between understanding something intellectually and experiencing it viscerally. You can argue against socialism, the rise of India or wax lyrical about Roman art. But being mobbed by hungry children or staring at the ceiling of St. Peters are unforgettable experiences.

What's the worst that can happen? I've been banned from re-entry to Poland, negotiated tearfully with French police, lost in Lithuania and sick on Amsterdam substances. Those hairy moments are part of the fun.

Listening and speaking to other people abroad makes you a more tolerant, considered person. You'll see the shortcomings of your own country and realize there is no "better" place or culture. Everything is relative. America is not the center of the universe.

Yes, there are economic benefits for the U.S. if more of you took time off. About $73 billion annually, according to a study by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association.

But forget economic arguments. The value of travel and a broader perspective can't be measured in monetary terms. Do it to have a richer life, to be a person of depth.

Perhaps you still don't care, you're not curious. So buy your fancy cars and homes and squander your vacation time. Do it proudly and burn the midnight oil at work. Know the rest of the world is cringing at your lack of worldliness, pitying your narrow existence.

-- By Jane Searle in New York

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