EVERY YEAR members of Congress are ridiculed for taking wasteful "junkets" to exotic places, from the Riviera to the Khyber Pass. Yet there is also an opposite problem: Far too few members of Congress make trips to the places that matter, the countries that count on the issues on which they must vote.

The Soviet Union, for instance.

Next year, a second SALT treaty will be the subject of heated debate. One senator after another will rise to argue why the Soviet Union can - or cannot - be trusted to comply with the treaty. But a majority of the senators will have had as much direct experience with the Soviet Union as they have had with the mythical Atlantis. According to their staffs, 60 of the 100 senators have never been to the Soviet Union, either in or out of office.

The situation on the Soviet side is analogous. Fewer than half of the highest political officials have had any contact with American as it is. Of the 14 voting members of the Politburo, for example, only six have been here. What the other 60 per cent of the Politburo know of our way of life must be a potpourri of Marx's assessment of 19th Century capitalism, Stalin-era propaganda, slanted briefings by timid subordinates and who knows what else. They certainly have no visual impression of how U.S. democracy works, how crowded with cars our roads are, or how well off are the exploited workers so often referred to in their propaganda.

Under such circumstances, any list of common-sense remedies for the U.S.-Soviet arms race would have to give high priority to exchange visits by political leaders and legislators. In fact, this common-sense judgment can be further supported by a few statistics on Senate voting patterns and by 150 years of experience of Western travelers to Russia.

First, the statistics. Consider the problem faced by President Carter next year with the SALT treaty. It requires 67 votes for ratification. How many senators are predisposed to vote for such measures and how many against? When one considers five arms-related issues, one discovers that the Senate can be broken down into three categories:(TABLE) Consistent Doves(COLUMN)Intermediates(COLUMN)Consistent Hawks Voted Dove 100%(COLUMN)Voted Dove 20-80%(COLUMN)Voted Dove 0% 33 Senators(COLUMN)44 Senators(COLUMN)23 Senators(END TABLE)

Evidently, almost one-fourth of the current Senate is predisposed on such issues to vote "no." For this reason, U.S.-Soviet treaties are always in potential trouble.

Does this voting pattern reflect the senators' contact or lack of contact with the Soviet Union? In part, perhaps it does. One way of putting the results is this: About 55 per cent of the consistent doves have been there (18 of 33). But only 40 per cent of the intermediate senators (17 of 44), and only about 22 per cent of the hawks (5 of 23), have had direct contact. This would seem to support the notion that excessive anxiety about the adversary is best maintained - if not enhanced - by an absence of direct contact. Travel Tranquilizes

LONGSTANDING and consistent experience of Western travelers to Russia lends further support to the view that travel tranquilizes those most fearful. Russia leaves the doves disillusioned at the degree of intellectual repression, bureaucratic rigidity and official deviousness.

The hawks are relieved to discover traumatic fear of war, weakness due to inefficiency, poverty much greater than expected, and divisive internal probelms certain to be a source of Russian preoccupation.

None of this is new or novel. Outsized Russian armies have been alarming Europeans for centuries. But those who visited Tsarist Russia saw the defensive motivation for their maintenance and the inefficiency and insecurity of the society that controlled them. In a sense, Russia itself has always been a Potemkin village. It is almost impossible for a Western traveler not to see more than the Russians would like him to see.

Among the doves who have come back disillusioned, the most famous were the Marquis de Custine in 1839 (who said he went to Russia "in search of arguments against representative government" but returned a "partisan of constitutions") and Andre Gide, who shocked the then devoted French left by returning in 1936 with a report that: Good and bad alike are to be found there."

The net effect of Western exposure to the Russians is, it would seem, that Westerners thereafter trust the Russians less but also fear the Russians less. We trust them less because exposure to their ways drives home the fact that their society is fundamentally different from ours. But we fear them less because we see that they are unprepared to undertake serious risks to implement the outdated Marxist slogans of world revolution. Russian defensiveness, and the inferiority complex of the ruling Russian nationality group, are apparent to most travelers. Above all, and most relevant, it is hard for Western visitors to continue to maintain the anxious illusion that the Politburo is waiting for some kind of light to turn green to launch a war of conquest. A Modest Investments

THAT DOVES should become more vigilant while hawks are relieved of an excess of anxiety is an outcome devoutly to be wished from the point of view of a well-proportioned national security policy. It was this insight that led Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) to propose, in 1969, that the government pay the relevant travel expenses of legislators who had not yet been to the Soviet Union, and that it encourage Soviet reciprocation.

Arguing that "saints and devils thrive on distance," Gravel Persuaded the Senate to approve a suitable exchange bill for government officials on each side. Even Izvestia supported his initiative. But the Nixon administration undercut the effort in the House and it died. Perhaps Nixon wanted to get to Moscow before the legislators did.

The impending SALT debate gives the Carter administration an incentive to review this question of encouraging legislative travel to the U.S.S.R. This is especially true of the 23 senators who vote hawkishly every chance they get and only five of whom have visited the Soviet Union. This is the hard-core opposition to arms control and to detente. It represents 70 per cent of the votes necessary to kill any related treaty. Nothing would be more useful for the President than to take the edge off their exaggerated fears.

No doubt the votes of these senators are determined not only by their personal perception but by hawkish citizen attitudes in their states, attitudes that helped put them into the Senate. But senators have ways to perserve their freedom of action on any specific vote. For example, the SALT II treaty will certainly be preceded by a hawkish resolution instructing the negotiators on what they must do in the SALT III negotiations. Senators will thus have an opportunity to spilt their votes in such a way as to confound potential criticism from their hawkish supporters. (For example, the SALT I treaty passed, 88 to 2 - but only after a resolution sponsored by Sen. Henry M. Jackson, instructing negotiators to fix up alleged deficiencies in the treaty, passed, 56 to 35.)

No doubt also, any proposal to send these 60 senators to the Soviet Union will be attacked as a waste of taxpayers' money. But what a tiny sum is involved!

It would cost about $120,000 - a levy of 1/20th of a cent per citizen. For a sum that would not purchase one-fifth of a single modern tank, more than half of the Senate could be exposed to a subject that, in theory at least, is their main concern. After all, no other nation in this world has thousands of missiles aimed at us; none other can destroy us utterly in a day. We ought not confuse travel to Moscow with junketing to Katmandu.

Psychology instructs us that an anxiety for security cannot be satisfied by intellectual discussion alone. Fears require more than words. If this is true of humanity in general, how much more true must it be for politicians, who are, after all, at their shrewdest in dealing with what they can see and size up. Put another way, if a visit to the adversary will not take the edge off the intensity of a senator's opposition to detente, what would? How long can we advise the Arab and Israeli leaders to visit one another while failing to exploit the benefits of heightened exchanges of our own?

(Interestingly, we are exploiting these possibilities much more rapidly in the case of China, where such travel has only been possible since 1972. Twenty-four members of the current Senate already have visited the Poeple's Republic and, at present rates of travel, it seems likely that within a very few years more senators will have been to Peking than Moscow.)

There is, of course, no panacea for the arms race. But there is probably no cheaper, simpler and more obvious way to begin to resolve it than to insist that the highest political leaders of each superpower expose themselves to the realities of the other.