Vacation or holiday just around the corner? Great! Most of us love to travel – a change of food, different people and colorful places – gives us time to savor aspects of life that we often don’t have time for.
Travel can help to broaden our minds, rejuvenate our spirits and might even help increase intercultural understanding. But did you know that scientists are beginning to look more closely at how spending time elsewhere could affect mental activities like creativity and cognitive flexibleness?
When we open ourselves to new eye-opening experiences and connect with the unfamiliar, fresh neural pathways are sparked. These pathways are influenced by environment and habit; meaning they’re also sensitive to change. New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and act as a kind of brain gym “work-out.”
This is not new. Writers and artists have long trumpeted the creative benefits of international travel. Many artists sought and seek out the inspiration of Paris and other big fashionable cities. Not only cities, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning were so inspired by the desert of Sedona, Arizona that they built a sculptural house of adobe there. Ernest Hemingway got ideas for his novels from his time spent in Spain and France. This is a short list. Anyone can be inspired by travelling and experiencing the new and unfamiliar world around them.
What are some of these benefits?
- Mental flexibility, the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas and to try to make sense of them and discover patterns.
- Perception can become sharper, you notice differences and similarities, you consider and question, and try to make sense of new things.
- Experimenting and disrupting the familiar tend to be very exciting for our brains.
- Creative problem solving is peaked as we find ourselves in situations, sometimes stressful, outside our normal routine that we have to cope with.
- Intercultural empathy is heightened.
Our mental and creative life gets a boost. But in order to truly reap the benefits of travelling, author Adam Galinsky says: “multi-cultural engagement is vital,” not only brain stimulation. “The key critical process is multicultural engagement is immersion and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages with the local environment”.
This means that while opening yourself to new experiences stimulates your brain, in order to reap long-lasting benefits, we have to do more than just go to Mallorca and sit on the beach. We need to interact with people and try to understand or live, the foreign culture we meet.
It is a matter of personal growth and tuning into our own personal landscape.