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This is Your Brain on Travel *Guest Post*

This is Your Brain on Travel
By Christine H.

Why travel? One of the oddest things to me (as someone who loves to travel) is trying to understand those who don’t like traveling. Is it just because they’ve never tried it? Usually, they just don’t see any benefits to it, the way that I do. In fact, when I went ahead and burned up all my savings on a trip around Spain and the UK, I had to defend my choices quite a bit to the folks back home.

Luckily, there’s a ton of science to back up the idea that travel is a worthwhile investment. Here are some of the most interesting things that I found regarding what travel does for your brain:

It makes you more creative

One study conducted by a professor at Columbia University found that fashion designers who had lived in more than one country actually had much higher rates of innovation in their field than those who had never lived in or traveled to a foreign country. It’s easy to guess why this is. Exposure to new experiences gives you a much wider pool of inspiration from which to pull.

For example, it wasn’t until I tried to learn the koto (a Japanese floor harp) that I realized that the entire Western world of music, which I had been learning on the piano since age 6, was built around just one system of scales and notes. Japanese and Chinese traditional music can feel jarring at first to westerners because it’s built on a completely different scale system.

Now, I’m not a creative music-composer, by any means. However, this is just one example of how learning from other cultures can make you see how very limited your own experience is! There are a million different ways to do things, including a musical scale.

 

It makes you a better problem solver

Now, if you think this benefit in creativity is something that only matters to those in traditionally “creative” jobs, like fashion design or music composition, think again. Another study found that individuals who had studied abroad were much faster at solving computer problems and logic puzzles than those who hadn’t. Travel can help you be more adaptable and flexible, which can lead to creative problem-solving, a professional trait that’s desireable in just about every field!

It makes you more trusting

Studies have also found that travel increases a general sense of trust in people. At first, this may seem surprising to people. After all, isn’t the reason that people become paranoid of foreigners because they’ve had bad experiences abroad? Well, no. The truth is that the vast majority of people who travel abroad find that people are about the same everywhere, and that people will treat you with as much courtesy in another country as they do in your own (usually, more courtesy).

It’s actually a lot easier to be scared of something before we’ve experienced it. That’s exactly why staying in a hostel in a foreign country may sound crazy to someone who’s never done it. “What? You sleep in the same room with strangers? What if someone attacks you? What if someone takes all your stuff?” Sure, there’s an exception for every rule, but I’ve stayed in hostels around the world, and I’m always delighted to find that most people you meet live by the golden rule: don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you.

It creates vivid new memories

When your brain experiences completely new sights, smells, and sounds, it goes into overdrive. That’s why travel can often be exhausting: instead of letting all the regular routine things fade into the background so that your brain can just focus on new, applicable stimuli, it’s working to process a million new things. People talking in new languages, gesturing in different ways, different kinds of road signs, different backdrops to every view… it’s a lot to take in!

Because of this, memories of travel are more vivid than memories of day-to-day life. Each day can feel packed, even when you don’t have a full itinerary. Okay, but what’s the point of these vivid new memories?

Well, they’re a wonderful therapy technique when you’re going through certain things in your life. For example, you might be grieving the loss of a loved one. You might be going through a breakup, tired of the way that everything you see and hear reminds you of your ex. You might even be trying to make major life changes and adjust your routine. As this article statesthis article states, travel can be just what you need to change up your routine and give you a new perspective. These vivid new memories take up fresh new brainspace and push your habits, grief, and old patterns to the background.

It keeps your brain young

For the same reason that travel can help you recover from grief or a breakup, travel also keeps your brain young. New experiences, meeting new people, and adjusting to a new way of living increases neuroplasticity in the brain, or the ability to make new connections. This new sensory experience exercises your brain in ways that nothing else can, which can increase your resistance to age-related brain conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Sure, travel can also be stressful. It can be expensive, and sometimes scary. But I believe that in the end, it’s infinitely worthwhile.

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