Why do we travel? Just a hunch here: because it's fun. Plus we have to occasionally pay a visit to Uncle Greg in Minneapolis or attend that conference on soybean research your boss makes you go to every year. But, at the same time, travel can pay off in many ways, and science backs it up.
Here are the four main ways that travel can improve your life:
1. Travel makes you younger
David Eagleman, recently profiled as 'The Possibilian' in the New Yorker, studies time perception at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and has made many experiments regarding how life-threatening moments feel slowed down.
Travel to new places has always felt like stretched time to me too; a week in Guatemala seems to last as long as three weeks in the Outer Banks – in a good way. So I asked him whether science can back up my gut reaction.
Eagleman told me adults' sense of time is more 'compressed' than children's, but that travel to new or 'novel' places – the more exotic, the better – is an equalizer of sorts. 'It essentially puts you, neurally, in the same position as when you were a child.'
Travel: the fountain of youth! And, with its perceived time-stretching possibilities, a life-saver even if you only take a week or two for vacation this summer.
2. Travel makes you smarter
It's an old cliché that travel broadens your mind. I'd scoff if it weren't true. A recent psychological study at Indiana University found students had broader answers when they thought the study was imported from Greece, rather than homegrown. What the researchers call 'psychological distance' – what we might call 'armchair travel' – increases your creativity. A recent review of the psychological distance concept, suggests that travel, or even planning travel and imagining yourself in an unfamiliar and distant location, might not just improve creativity but self-awareness as well.
William Maddux, an American social psychologist, studies how those who live abroad come home more creative too. He told me by phone that 'immersion' in a place is key – one of the reasons, he says, he's working in France.
'It all depends on someone's mindset when traveling', he said. 'Are they really open to it? If not, and all they do is sit and watch TV, it probably won't make them more creative... And you don't necessarily have to cross a border either. What's more similar New York and Toronto, or New York and Savannah?'
Also from Lonely Planet:
3. Travel makes you more productive
Americans' relative lack of holiday time is sometimes defended as a strong 'work ethic', and a reason the country is so productive. But is it?
This fun Businessweek slideshow shows how many countries' economic output rivals the US, with far less work time. France, for example, takes off 60% more days off (40 compared to the USA's 25), and records 98% GDP per hour worked. While the USA remains the world's top 'competitive' country, runner-up, Switzerland, nearly matches the US mark with a week more vacation time.
Some argue taking extended time is even better. In a TED Video on taking sabbaticals, graphic-designer Stefan Sagmeister illustrates how he plans a one-year break from work to 'experiment' every seven years simply to generate new ideas.
4. Travel makes you sexier
It's not just a tan you return with, but stories. According to one recent ItsJustLunch.com survey, the best first-date conversation topic was hobbies, with travel following second. Somehow manage to combine the two, and brace yourself Romeo. Just be sure to have exchanged your Paraguayan guaraní into dollars before the bill arrives.
And if travel has already done its job by making you more creative, youthful, self-aware and productive, you're bound to be looking pretty good out there.
Originally published as “How travel makes you smarter, sexier and more productive” © 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved.