Itchy Feet, Itchy Mind: What Happens to Your Brain When You Travel

traveler in the middle of a busy street

There’s no doubt that traveling is a good, meaningful experience. It’s the best stress reliever for all the drama of life. It’s the perfect occasion to reconnect and have fun with loved ones. It’s the very thing people seek when going through something tough, a break-up, a death of a loved one, or a career change. But as it turns out, travel doesn’t just uplift moods or help reorient your emotional compass, but it can actually make you smarter. Not in the sense that you learn new languages or get familiar with another culture. You can be smarter in a neuroscience sense.

A Trip to the Gray Matter

Scientists believe that traveling triggers further development of the brain. To better understand this, let’s have a quick recap of your science lesson on the gray matter. Remember dendrites? These are the short-branched extensions growing from the neurons. What makes them so important is that they’re the ones responsible for facilitating the transmission of information among various sections of the brain. The more well-functioning dendrites there are, the more efficient the brain carries out tasks. As a result, you become sharper in terms of memory and concentration.

Now, what do these nerve cell extensions have to do with traveling? Experts believe that when you go somewhere unfamiliar, the brain makes new dendrites to figure out the new stimuli in front of you. When you do this habitually, exposing yourself to different things every now and then, you’ll be able to harness better cognitive skills. This probably explains why you tend to pick up ideas more quickly after a vacation. It’s not just the rest and recreation you have experienced. It could also be the literal brain growth.

Advice on Becoming a Better Traveler

young man standing on a mountain with his arms raisedResearch says that you don’t need a smooth-sailing trip, a flight on time, or an itinerary set in stone just to experience the brain benefits of traveling. In fact, a little bit of inconvenience is good as it forces your brain to come up with ways to deal with the problem. This further contributes to the production of new dendrites.

When you travel, seek out experiences that will push you out of your comfort zone. For instance, if you’ve been traveling with friends and loved ones ever since, why don’t you try doing it alone? From exploring the city, talking to the locals, down to the smallest details such as booking a hotel and flight and picking walking tours in Switzerland or Spain, do things on your own. Your brain will be challenged to cope with language barriers, cultural differences, and small slip-ups here and there, which will boost your cognitive strength.

Another way you can step out of your comfort zone when traveling is having a free day or two, wherein you wouldn’t follow a schedule or an itinerary. Instead, you just wander. When you don’t know where your feet will take you or what you’ll be doing in the next hour or so, it leaves you open to new opportunities and adventures. Anything becomes possible. The thrill peaks. You’re going far, far from your comfort zone.

Who would know that travel isn’t just therapeutic but brain-power-boosting as well? If you need more reasons to take a vacation now, add this smart benefit to your list. Take a pause from work or home duties and tick off a destination from your bucket list.