Throughout history, writers and artists have traveled the world in search of everything from inspiration to adventure to exile. But maybe there is something more to the artist’s wanderlust that is only now becoming clear. Is there a real link between traveling abroad and creativity? According to a recent article in The Atlantic, new research shows that traveling can have a strong influence on a person’s level of creativity, and it can even change the way your brain is wired !
How can that be?
We all know that traveling abroad can be an extraordinary experience, allowing us to start learning a new language, meet new people, see amazing sights, take some spectacular photos, and fill our repertoire of stories to tell for years to come. But according to research, when we experience change, such as new sounds, smells, tastes, sights and languages, it can actually spark different synapses in the brain than we normally have !
One researcher, Adam Galinsky at Columbia Business School, has done numerous studies on the link between creativity and international travel. “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” Galinsky says.
This is great news if you are someone who wants to keep their mind sharp as they get older. Just keep traveling…right? But there’s a catch!
It’s not enough just to travel abroad and be in a foreign land. You have to get out of your comfort zone by immersing yourself in the new culture, including food, language, and experiences. That means package tours and 5-star hotels with a group of friends isn’t going to cut it—you’ll have to eat, drink and maybe even work with the locals in their everyday lives in order to really get the psychological benefits of traveling abroad. When we don’t become immersed, our creativity level doesn’t change.
“So all I have to do is travel to new countries and talk to the locals and I will be more creative?” Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly.
One of the findings in the study suggests that in situations where the foreign culture was the most different for travelers, i.e. the most intimidating, their creativity boost was less than those traveling in cultures that were more familiar. Why? Because they were probably less likely to immerse themselves in that culture. The same was true with people who had lived in or traveled to dozens of different countries—globetrotting doesn’t allow someone enough time to become immersed and truly experience a foreign culture, something that can cause them to miss out on the creativity boost.
Another benefit of traveling is that interacting with people from other cultures actually increases our overall trust and faith in humanity, according to another study by Galinsky. Once we are living outside of the box, so to speak, we become more open, and some might argue, happier.
So, if you still needed more reasons to start traveling more, you’ve got several!
But what about those who can’t travel for various reasons? Not to worry, there is still hope! Simply getting outside of your own city, even for a day, can give your brain a refreshing new perspective on things. You just might be surprised at the inspiration you can get from going to a place you’ve never been, without even getting on an airplane!
Have you experienced a change in your personal philosophy or creativity after traveling or living abroad?
Do you think it is intimidating to immerse yourself in a new culture?
We love to hear your stories!