A little article I wrote for the CheapAir.com blog about one of the many rewards of traveling incorporating my favorite topic, psychology!
I am a brainy chick. No, I’m not trying to flatter myself – I just happen to be a nerd when it comes to all things brain and behavior. It turns out that traveling is not only fun, but it is a natural and vigorous brain exercise.
First, let’s start with something that makes us who we are: our memories. Do you remember what you did last two Thursdays ago? Do you remember what you even ate for dinner last night? Yes, well…erm… no, not really. I’ll bet you a beer that you’ll remember breathing the crisp Norwegian air, the flavors of spicy authentic food in Korea, and the pleasant route from the hostel to the nearest local bar. You might remember speaking in broken English to the friendly bus driver in Chile or haggling with the Thai market vendors for a pair of flip flops. I can vividly remember the events and even the meals of every day on my excursions months ago, yet I cannot remember my entire 8-hour day at work two days ago. Doing the same routine day after day can get mundane – we all know that – and our brain does, too. It decides, “meh, this isn’t that important. Let’s not keep this memory” and out it goes! Now when you’re traveling, you attend to those new sensations. Everything is new to your senses and your mind creates cognitive files for those foreign experiences and you’ll hold them forever dear to your heart.
80% of communication is nonverbal, so they say, but yet it is still difficult to communicate in a foreign place. The human mouth can produce 300 something sounds, but only a fraction of that is used in the English language. When I was in Korea, I was introduced to an entirely new spectrum of sounds and my brain picked up on the tones. I learned how to read and write Hanguel (Korean writing system) rather quickly and was able to read the signs around the cities. Communicating with the locals was almost impossible and I was forced to learn even more Korean. Learning a new language is good for your soul and your brain. Not to mention, being multilingual is a valuable skill that you can develop during travel!
Sometimes, it seems like I got from my apartment to my office desk via teleporting. The unfortunate reality is that I did not pay attention to the commute because the route is deeply engrained in my brain. I am like a robot! During travel, however, people are constantly in new surroundings and must adapt to these new layouts of land. One should always keep a map handy and be able to use their visuospatial skills to navigate their way to the museum or the festival. Research has shown that taxi drivers, who use their extensive mental maps to plan routes, have more development in spatial regions of their brains than bus drivers, who repeat the same route with no leeway for creativity. Keep boosting that brain by getting lost on purpose and finding your way out!
There are countless ways that travel can boost brain power: more exercise, human interaction, and stress reduction, just to name a few. Escaping from the hustle bustle and strict schedules of daily life is good for you. In my humble opinion, doctors should recommend stressed individuals to go off on a personal adventure abroad. If everyone did deep traveling and exploration every so often, the world would be a better, healthier, and brainer place.