Posts tagged travel
Posts tagged travel
Journeys are scientifically proven to alter perception, personality and may even rewire your brain. All you have to do is take the trip.Journeys are scientifically proven to alter perception, personality and may even rewire your brain. All you have to do is take the trip.
ILLUSTRATION BY PATRICK MORGAN
THE URGE TO LEAVE HOME AND TRAVEL IS ancient, enduring and incessant. But why wander? Because, as Anthony Bourdain wrote in his memoir The Nasty Bits, “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks are beautiful.” Sure, you may come home with a tan and a few trinkets, but the journey is always more than just tchotchkes and endless horizons. Travel changes us. The jolt of new surroundings snaps us out of narrow perspectives. The challenges of navigating unfamiliar territory triggers a surge of pride — See? I figured out Mexico City’s bus routes all on my own and with only my eighth-grade broken Spanglish phrases. To help tune you into travel’s transformative powers, we asked five intellectual heavyweights from a range of backgrounds — anthropology, behavioral economics, technology — to ponder all the ways our trips may linger, long after they’re over. Whether you want to break a bad habit or see life relative to archaic and misshapen rock formations, here’s how a trip can shift perspective, and quite possibly, change the way you see the world entirely.
“TRAVEL TRIGGERS A CONCEPT CALLED psychological distance: Something about the experience of leaving your place jars things loose, shocks you into a new perspective that floods the brain with ideas. In one study in Indiana, a scientist asked a group of volunteers to solve puzzles that he claimed were generated within the state. He told the other group that the puzzles were generated in California. The California group solved more puzzles. That kind of captures it for me: Even just hearing about another place creates a mental distance that’s very powerful.
For me, this shift in perspective starts as soon as I’m on a plane. The other day I was flying to Los Angeles and was working on a story I’d been stuck on for days. The minute I was on the plane, it became immediately clear to me. Planes are weirdly the most lucid part of my life. I will also start to ask myself ‘who am I?’ type of questions. I have this journal and have always wanted to be the kind of person who writes in a journal, but never have the patience to do it. But on a plane, I’ll just open my journal and start writing 15 pages of random thoughts and to-do lists.
One of my most life-changing vacations was a road trip I took in 2003 through the Southwest near the Grand Canyon into the weirdest landscape I’ve ever seen. The rock formations defy description. I was with a friend who was having a tough situation with his girlfriend, and I was going through an uncertain point with my job — the kind of angst that makes you look inward and makes the world smaller. So, to arrive in this spectacular place pulled us into an instant state of awe. The juxtaposition of the giant rock formation and things we were thinking about snapped us into a new relationship with our problems. Look at these rocks, they’re so huge! Our problems seemed small by comparison.”
“EVERY TRIP I TAKE CHANGES ME IN SOME WAY. IT DOESN’T matter if I travel to the Caribbean or the other side of town. Even if I’m just sitting on a beach, the culture is different, the straw in my drink is different, and that perks up my brain because it’s trained to focus on anything that’s novel. Novelty drives up levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that gives you optimism, energy, curiosity and creativity. And dopamine triggers the production of testosterone. So you’ll feel sexier. Your partner might not look so great at the breakfast table for the tenth year in a row, but if you see her on a street in Mexico City, she’ll look amazing!
And there are other changes that take place too. At home, I also get into a daily pattern of not talking to old friends, since I’m so busy living my life. But when I’m away, I often wonder, ‘Why didn’t I ever call her back?’ and end up writing long emails to them. Another benefit to travel is that once you return home, you may find that your familiar surroundings seem unfamiliar.
Things bounce out at you, like the colors in your carpet. The burger you eat at the restaurant down the block will taste amazing. So when you travel, you not only get the novelty while you’re away, but you get a bonus of reviving your own personal world when you get back.
A couple things I try to do wherever I travel: Smile; learn a few basic words in the other culture; eat their food. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You don’t have to stay in the best hotels. In fact, I never stay in the best hotels. Go to local bars and restaurants. One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Mexico at a food stand on the street. Realize that time is different in different places. During one trip with my boyfriend, he got so anxious for his lunch, he went into the kitchen and made them do it faster. Don’t go into another culture trying to change the culture; change yourself.
Travel makes me feel less like an American and more like a world citizen, like a part of an ancient flow of human nature. I had a guide in Mexico who was showing me around some ruins. After getting to know him, I learned that what was foremost on his mind was meeting a girl and getting married. While talking about love with him, he beamed. I was struck by what we all share, this profound similarity and continuity. I was part of a whole river of human pathos. It was as if we’d been standing there talking about love for the past four million years.”
“VACATIONS ARE A GREAT TIME TO BREAK BAD habits, like smoking. Why? Because every habit has three components from a neurological standpoint: There’s a cue, the behavior itself and finally the reward. This is how our brains encode habits. We think of smoking as being very physically addictive, but once you’ve given it up for 100 hours, you’re no longer physically addicted. So when people get the urge to smoke two weeks or two months after they’ve quit, it’s out of habit.
Habits — which are automatic reactions that feel subconscious — happen in the basal ganglia, the primitive center of our brain. To break habits, the goal is to take things from the basal ganglia and drag them into the prefrontal cortex, the most neurologically recent part of our brains right behind our foreheads that we use to ‘think.’ When you’re on vacation, you’re more in the prefrontal cortex. That’s because many of the cues around you have changed. This results in more neurological plasticity, more opportunities for learning and thinking differently. This makes it much easier to break bad habits and why studies show there’s a correlation between quitting on vacation and long-term success.
Once you return home, there’s an element of relapse, since those same triggers emerge again. You can’t remove the cues; the key is to find a new behavior that is triggered by the old cue and delivers the old reward. For instance, if you once smoked every morning at breakfast, your cue is to sit down with a newspaper, and the reward was the burst of energy from nicotine. So when on vacation, if you’re trying to change that habit, try drinking a double espresso with your paper to replace the old reward with a new one. Then take those lessons home with you.”
“THE WAY I GENERATED MY INTELLECTUAL life was not through school, or books, or work, or parents. It was through travel. And while I’ve been to 45 countries, I firmly believe that you don’t need a passport to become cosmopolitan. America isn’t just one place, but many. When people say, ‘Oh you haven’t been skiing in Switzerland?’ I say ‘have you ever hiked the Rockies? It’s spectacular!’
What’s the most exotic place in the US? That’s easy: LA. I’ve been to all regions of the country, but LA is the one place that’s a world unto itself and constantly surprises me. Every neighborhood has its own identity. Take Malibu. It’s like Australia, the outer edge of civilization, and yet very close to LA. Another place I love is New York. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders at Battery Park for the bicentennial of the Statue of Liberty, and the first time I spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, watching the ball drop. You just can’t have a transactional relationship with New York. A lot of people may come and go, where they say ‘I did a year in DC,’ or ‘I worked for a startup in San Francisco,’ but you don’t come and go from New York. It absorbs you. It becomes more powerful.
My recommendation for life-changing travel is to spend some time traveling alone. I think that’s really important, since it guarantees you will meet people you would not meet otherwise.
Every meal you are eating with your frat brothers or sorority sisters is a meal when you could have met someone else — someone who wants to share stories. It’s a real pity to travel with people you already know. Anyone can sit back and say ‘Oh, America’s going to the dogs,’ but you never get that feeling when you travel around it. I feel this incredible optimism and energy. And I still feel like there’s so much of the country I haven’t seen.”
“I TRAVEL AN AWFUL LOT THESE DAYS, AND TO KEEP THINGS interesting I try to meet people anywhere I go. I sometimes send a tweet, or write in my blog that I’m in a particular place. And very often I get invitations to go out to coffee or something even more esoteric. And that has made travel very different for me, the fact that I can meet people in all kinds of places and learn something from them while traveling.
Travel changes us. Why? From a social science perspective, I think about travel as having three components. The first is where we’re anticipating an upcoming trip. We get a lot of pleasure from anticipation — think about what you would rather do: have a kiss from a movie star in a minute from now or a week? A kiss is just a kiss, but thinking about it is going to get you quite excited with anticipation. So if you do it a minute from now it’s not going to be as enjoyable as doing it a month from now, since you’ll be giving up the time looking forward to it. So this is the first component to travel: anticipation. You don’t just want to travel, you want to think about it, contemplate where you should go.
Then there’s the obvious part: the vacation itself.
But then there’s the third component, after the fact, when we come back from the vacation. And here’s the thing: Not everything that makes you happy at the moment makes you happy in retrospect. For example, let’s say you have a vacation where you’re sitting on the beach, drinking mojitos, and every moment is perfectly pleasurable. At the moment you’re probably very happy. But when you get back, what kind of stories do you have to tell? On the other hand, imagine a vacation that wasn’t exciting at the moment: You went hiking on a tall and diﬃ cult mountain, it was raining and cold, maybe you scratched yourself and had to walk back with a limp. When you talk about the joy of the moment, this would probably not be as good a vacation. But if you thought about the repertoire that makes up our lives, the stories you would tell yourself, what you have learned, it would be a very good vacation, because difficult experiences make us grow to a higher degree.
So, what’s interesting is that the actual vacation is not the main part of it. The actual vacation might be four days or a week, the anticipation could be months and the memory could last for years or forever. So, while we focus on the joy of the vacation, you might want to focus on joy or anticipation and the joy of memory.”
Charles Bridge in Prague
this is the christmas market in trier (treves). it’s the oldest city in germany, founded before 16 bc. i’m currently living & studying there and let me tell you this: it’s magical around christmas time.
Annecy, France (by yvon Merlier )
Romania is not only about the rich cheese and not-so-rich countryside. It is also about many spectacular castles.
are you serious?! yes please!!!
After seeing this photo, I’ve gone ahead and added the town of Modica on Sicily to my (oh-so-lengthy) list of future travel destinations.
Photo via The Travel Files