I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard the cheesy, cliche benefits of travel. You know, like how it helps you define your goals in life, or helps you “discover who you are”. While the above situations MIGHT be true for some people, it’s often not the case for most of us.
You could spend 100 days meditating in Tibet and still not have a single clue about what you want to do in life. And that’s fine. Really, it is. Not everyone travels with a purpose, and not everyone travelling finds a purpose either, but that doesn’t make travelling any less fun or meaningful.
In fact, there are quite a few scientific studies that show how travelling frequently helps us become better people. And no one disputes scientific findings, am I right? So, without further ado, here are 7 ways travelling makes you a better person.
1. Dealing with setbacks while travelling teaches patience and kindness
One thing that you’ll notice as you travel the world is this: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.Through my travels, I’ve learned to accept that there are many things in this world that are beyond my control. Flight delays, last-minute cancellations, unpredictable weather, I’ve experienced them all. But in some circumstances, what more can you do but wait for the storms to pass?
And when you come to terms with that, you gradually become a more patient person. You also realise that other people are dealing with their own issues that they cannot control either. So rather than blame them and continuing the cycle of negativity, you learn to treat them with just a little bit more kindness and make allowances for their shortcomings.
And just like that, you already help make the world a better place, be it in the office, at work, or anywhere else.
2. Life on the road rewards us with different perspectives
It’s difficult to really take a good look at your life when all you’re doing is repeating the same routine everyday. How do you expect to obtain a fresh perspective when you have to face the same problem from the same angle everyday?
When you travel, you’re not shelving your problems, you’re simply leaving the position that you’ve been viewing the problem from. And when you do that, you become more open-minded and more receptive towards different ideas and perspectives.
Coming into contact with different cultures on your travels, you begin to understand that there are many different methods to accomplish the same things, most of which you’re probably unfamiliar with. But rather than judge these new-found methods, we begin to admire their ingenuity and that sometimes leads us to our own epiphanies.
Essentially, when you take a break from your everyday life, you allow yourself the opportunity to view it from a wider, fresher perspective. Which leads us to the next point.
3. Travelling boosts creativity
As cliche as it sounds, life on the road has been found to boost an individual’s creativity. A 2009 study showed a significant link between living abroad and creativity. In the study, they found that people who lived, travelled, or worked abroad for an extended period of time tend to be more creative and inspired. This was in comparison to people who never travelled at all.
This is because when someone lives in a foreign place for a long time, they begin to integrate elements of the culture into their own identities. In short, they do as the locals do. And when you do that, it further enriches your mind and helps you to think in ways you normally wouldn’t.
It opens you up to new ideas and habits which you blend into existing ideas and habits that you already have. This is called Cognitive Flexibility. Needless to say, the more flexible you are in your thinking, the more creative you are as well.
When I travelled Spain for 2 weeks in the middle of a student exchange programme, I fell in love with the food. Rather than going to expensive restaurants, I stuck to food markets and local breakfast bars. I became so inspired by the simple flavours of the food the locals ate that I tried recreating the dishes using Malaysian ingredients.
Thanks to that phase of creative culinary experimentation, today, I consider myself one of the best amateur chefs among my circle of friends! *pats self on back
4. Travelling restores our faith in humanity
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science found that those who travelled frequently to foreign countries had an increased sense of generalised trust. The more someone travelled, the more that person learns to trust others.
As you travel around the world, you will begin to see goodness in others as you come across different situations every day. And as these situations take hold, you begin to understand that most people in this world have good intentions. Including your nosey colleague who gossips about you in the office pantry!
I don’t know when it happened or why, but at some point in my life, the world became a mean and scary place. Maybe it was the negative press in the media, or maybe it was something else, but growing up in Malaysia, I was taught to always be suspicious of strangers.
That all changed in 2014 when I met a homeless man in London. I’ll save you the details but long story short, I ignored his greetings because I was “suspicious” of his motives, only to later find out that he simply wanted to talk to someone.
On my way back, I saw that another man, well-dressed in neat office wear, had bought the homeless man a sandwich and had sat down to eat with him. Seeing the two of them enjoying a meal together on the floor filled me with shame for how I acted and helped me slowly realise, “maybe this world isn’t as bad as I was made to think it was”.
5. Being a frequent traveller makes us better learners
The same scientific study showed a correlation between studying abroad and being humble. When one is exposed to the numerous wonderful cultures of the world, you become humbled by it and you realise that there’s so much more to discover in the world. That’s why you will hardly ever find a frequent traveller (not tourist!) who makes narrow-minded remarks about a particular culture or way of life.
And when you realise that the world is not just confined to your own understanding of it, naturally, you become a better learner. Travelling sparks your curiosity. It’s as simple as that. Some people call it wanderlust but the point is, travelling opens your heart and mind to new experiences and keeps you coming back for more.
By expanding the horizons of your understanding of the world, travel wires your brain to be more inquisitive and to be more receptive of new information and knowledge. And that, if you ask me, is a great quality to have, as a student, as a worker, and as a human being.
6. Travelling helps us to stay focused
How, you ask? Well, it’s pretty elementary to be honest. The answer lies in the air. Being in the outdoors and enjoying nature’s embrace helps refresh our brains in a way that no office in the world could.
When I was studying in Hong Kong (I did my MA there), I would frequently leave my room and head to the park nearby whenever I felt jaded from my assignments. To be fair, it’s not easy trying to complete a 10,000 word essay in a miserable 10’ x 10’ enclosed space. If you’ve been to Hong Kong, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Heading to the park made me feel better and helped me keep at the task and it’s no wonder.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people who simply looked at a photo of nature for 40 seconds reported increased levels of sharpness and focus on their next task! So, if you find yourself losing focus at work, maybe it’s time to take a break and go camping or hiking.
7. It makes us truly happy
A study in the Journal of Psychological Science concluded that experience-centric purchases led to longer-lasting feelings of joy compared to material purchases. Essentially, what it means is that you’ll likely feel happier for longer when you go on a trip or to a concert than when you buy the latest smartphone. The main reason for this, according to the study, is because of the anticipation leading up to the experience. Think about it.
When you buy a smartphone, you buy it and it’s done. But when you’re planning a trip? The excitement builds way before it even happens. From sorting out your transport and accommodation to planning out your itinerary, it’s a positive feeling that continues to grow as the trip approaches.
That’s why we feel more disappointed when a trip/concert gets cancelled (I’m still not over the Twiceland cancellation) than when a smartphone we want is out of stock. So, do yourself a favour, make that dream holiday happen, and come back a happier person.
Make travel happen
So, after all that’s said and done, the only question to ask now is: where to next?