After taking a long trip, you can come back a different person. There’s something about the experience that changes you. But what exactly is it? I’ve long claimed that travel is good for the soul. (It’s a good fallback when people ask you why you’re spending your savings on trips overseas instead of investing in property.) But researching it more has shown me some solid evidence on how travel can actually feed the best parts of ourselves, make us better people, and strengthen those aspects of our lives that give us lasting happiness.
New Settings Force Us to Think Differently
A study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal posited that professionals who lived and worked abroad were more creative than their counterpoints at home. Why? Adapting to another culture than our own forces us to develop cognitive creativity. And that creativity carries over into parts of our life. We’re able to creatively problem-solve, as in the case of one study that found that students living abroad were 20% more likely to be able to solve a particular computer problem.
Think about how many ramifications that could have in our daily life. Not only does it make us better at work. It also makes us better in our relationships, because we’re able to understand multiple points of view. We’re able to express ourselves better creatively, a practice that literally helps you physically and mentally heal.
Most of all, it gives us a welcome new perspective on our own lives, which is the foundation of most experiential rehab programs. New environments, new experiences, and new perspectives can all help us problem-solve trials and challenges in our day-to-day lives. We learn and practice new skills that greatly serve us in our future.
Travelers Are More Trusting
The world can be a scary place, right? Sometimes, the more we listen to sensational headlines, the more it seems like just about everyone is out to get us. However, when you actually take a step outside of your comfort zone, instead of reading about it in the newspaper, you’ll usually find two amazing truths:
- Most people are good
- You can handle this
Traveling automatically puts you in a vulnerable situation. Clueless about your environment, about the shortcuts and social cues that locals take for granted, about the resources, cultural norms, and environmental dangers, it’s easy to fall prey to scams, over-inflated prices, and petty theft. And if you like movies like “Hostel” or “Taken” you might start believing that a ticket to Europe is equivalent to a casting call for a horror movie.
But once you stay in a couple hostels, you realize this: the people who will actually steal your stuff are the exception, not the rule. And once you’ve been helped by a few friendly locals, you realize that most people will not hesitate to go out of their way to help someone in need. In fact, a couple weeks abroad will probably make you feel ashamed about how you treat foreigners in your own hometown. This doesn’t mean that you stop taking smart precautions, like keeping your phone secure, or keeping your hotel’s phone number handy. However, it means that you trust those precautions, as well as the people around you.
And then there’s that second truth: You can handle this. It’s all about making a practice of overcoming fears. Traveling encourages you to step out of your comfort zone over and over again. When you do so, you usually find that you can handle those things that come your way. I’m not about to promise you that you won’t run into any challenges as you travel. However, once you get lost a couple times and then manage to get yourself out of a jam or two, you’ll start to gain confidence in yourself. And as you do, you become free from fear.
You Learn to Love the Small Things
Something that never ceases to amaze me about travel is how it helps us to appreciate even the most commonplace things. With a traveler’s eyes, I’m transfixed by everyday things, fiercely snapping photos of the town square locals walk past every day, awed by churches that they attend each week, stunned by a meal that is just a regular dinner to anyone else.
Because of this, it makes me start to think about those things that are unique to the place that I call home. I love watching how enchanted travelers are by the fat squirrels in London’s Hyde Park, creatures that to me are little more than a nuisance. I love talking to people about where I’m from as I travel, because it often sends them into a flurry of excitement, talking about their trip to one of the West’s National Parks. And when I come home, my time away has just made everything familiar that much more special. Travel makes me grateful for those things that I’m otherwise inclined to take for granted. And as you know, gratitude is one of the most direct routes to happiness and fulfillment.