Have you ever meditated in your life? If yes, what did you feel? Calmness, a clear mind, an open heart, and the amazing feel of self-exploration.
Want to know the secret? Traveling can actually be one of the ways to meditate, if not the best one.
In this article, you will learn how traveling influences our brain most positively.
More and more scientific evidence suggests that traveling helps us stimulate the brain and even become a better person. If you ever thought that you were starting to feel better after a trip, you were right.
In many countries, a growing proportion of employees refuse to take holidays and prefer to work without stopping. In the United States, 42% of employees have not taken a day off from work (as of previous years, in 2020, they were forced to do it obviously). The reasons are clear: in an environment of growing uncertainty and competition, people are afraid that if they do not demonstrate to management their dedication and willingness to work non-stop, there will still be someone willing to do so.
Against this background, scientists have begun to investigate what happens to the body if you don’t rest. It turned out (naturally) that it won’t end well. For example, data from the famous Framingham Experiment (the world’s largest study of cardiovascular disease for 70 years) showed that women who take leave once every 6 years or less face a double risk of a heart attack or other fatal heart problems compared to those who rest twice a year. A lot of work is harmful in principle – by giving our careers 10-11 hours a day, we increase our chances of facing cardiovascular diseases, depression, and other consequences for the body.
At the same time, evidence has begun to accumulate that rest in the form of a trip somewhere has the opposite effect. This is the case when what is fun and enjoyable is also beneficial. Part of the effect of traveling can be explained by relaxation and a reduction in stress levels, but not only.
According to clinical neuropsychologist Paul Nassbaum of the University of Pittsburgh, travel has its own independent effect on the body. As a ‘regenerative’ activity for the brain, they can help delay conditions such as Alzheimer’s. “When you find yourself in a new, unusual or complex environment, your brain reacts accordingly,” he explains.
Anything can be new: language, smells, climate, length of daylight, and so on. When it gets into unusual conditions, the brain starts to grow more dendrites – neuronal sprouts that receive information from other neurons. The more branched out the dendrite tree, the more input pulses the neuron can receive, which means the more information it can process. In other words, the brain becomes more powerful. “It literally starts to look like a jungle,” says Nassbaum.
According to the researcher, other activities serve this purpose – the growth of dendrites – as well: a new hobby, sports, a trip to the Philharmonic Hall, or just a lunch in a new place. But travel is an ideal method. When we go somewhere, we “throw” the brain into a new environment, a place with different rules of behavior, atypical visual stimuli, strangers, perhaps an unknown language and culture. All of this forces the brain to process signals coming from outside actively, and this takes more effort than processing familiar information.
If creativity is important to you at work and in life in general, travel and change of scenery should become your friends. Writers and other creative people have long used this trick: traveling and moving from country to country inspired Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Nabokov, and many others.
Now the impact of travel on creativity can be considered scientifically proven. Here again, the novelty of the environment is to blame. “Experience of being in another country increases cognitive flexibility, depth of thought, the ability to put together the overall picture from details and see the connection between different categories of things,” says American social psychologist Adam Galinski, known for his research into the nature of leadership and power.
Galinski is the author of several works on the relationship between creativity in a broad sense and travel. One of them shows that memories of traveling to another country help us find several solutions to one problem and avoid focusing on one thing when we need to make a decision. Another shows how the experience of living abroad increases creativity, using the example of top managers of companies in the fashion industry: brands whose managers had such experience were able to create more interesting (according to experts) collections of clothing.
According to existing research, a small and short-term effect can be achieved, even if you don’t go anywhere at all: a group of Australian scientists discovered that just thinking about staying in nature makes the mind clearer. In an experiment with 150 students, they found that after contemplating photos of the green for 40 seconds, participants held their concentration better and made fewer mistakes when doing a boring but attentive task. This tells us how important it is to disconnect from routine activities and the city hustle for at least a short time.
Additionally, it seems that the longer a trip somewhere lasts, the greater the impact it can have. For example, an interesting publication by German psychologists Franz Neyer and Julia Zimmermann shows that living in another country can literally make us a new person. Zimmermann and Neyer watched 527 students during the academic year, some of whom went abroad to study for a semester, some for a year, and some continued their studies in their home country.
Participants were tested to determine the “big five” personality traits. This is a popular model in psychology, which assumes that a person has five relatively independent characteristics that make up their personality:
– openness to new experiences (curiosity, active imagination);
– honesty (consciousness);
– extraversion (and introversion at the other end of the scale);
– friendliness (ability to reach agreement and warmth to others);
– neuroticism (opposite pole – emotional stability).
It turned out that those who lived in another country for a long time had changes in three features of the ‘big five’: openness to experience, friendliness, and emotional stability (with a simultaneous decrease in the neurotic component). For those who did not go anywhere, these personality traits have remained the same over the year.
These findings resonate with the results obtained by Nassbaum. When a person enters an unfamiliar culture and begins to communicate with people, his or her brain tries to adapt to the changes as soon as possible. The neural connections involved in this process become stronger, and it is easier for the person to accept new experiences, find compromises, and control his or her own emotions.
Travelling brings other psychological dividends as well. Mary Helen Immordino-Young, a researcher at the Institute for Brain and Creativity at the University of Southern California (founded by renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damacio), says that cross-cultural experiences strengthen our understanding of ourselves. “So far, many publications in psychology show that communicating with people from another environment helps us do that,” she says. – Going out of our social comfort zone acts in the same way”. According to Immordino-Young, the more diverse the intercultural experiences we have, the more clearly we see our own values and beliefs.
So, as you can see, traveling can become your own way to meditate, restart your brain, and fill it with fresh ideas! And if you cannot make your mind on where to start your “meditation”, travel blogs are always there to help you choose the next direction in this wonderful journey called “life”.