There’s no question adventure travel broadens horizons and leads to a deeper understanding of the world and the people; it’s good for the soul, but according to science, it’s also good for the brain. Travel can make you more creative, able to solve problems faster, and boost happiness levels; but more interestingly, travel, and especially adventure travel, can help stave off cognitive decline.
This, according to neuroscientist Micheal Merzenich, is because of our brain’s neuroplasticity – in other words, the ability to rewire itself. The more certain areas of the brain are used, the better we become at certain things; the less we use them, the more they diminish. Here is how adventure travel can change our brain:
Spatial awareness and the ability to orientate and navigate are skills we’re quickly losing, constantly glued to blue lines on Google Maps and turn-by-turn GPS navigation. However, adventure travel, especially in the more remote parts of the world, can often force you to navigate using the environment, road signs, or even compass direction; or at the very least, you may be forced to re-route and find a detour around a section of a road washed out by a landslide. Creating routes on maps, then memorizing them, following road signs and directions rather than a GPS, or creating your own roadbooks can all help your brain stay alert and active – or even rewire it to learn and retain those new (or forgotten) navigation skills.
By nature, adventure travel is often about facing adversity, be it harsh weather conditions, culture shocks, roadside breakdowns, or any unexpected issues on the road that are bound to happen – but impossible to foresee. Exposed to new and complex environments, the brain is forced into learning mode; according to Paul Nussbaum, a neuropsychologist, “Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites.” That’s why adventure travel trumps luxury vacations: it’s about stepping way out of your comfort zone and into a world that feels different and strange, at least at first, recognizing that there are more ways of life than one, and learning to navigate new countries and cultures on the go.
Nothing forces you into solution-finding mode faster and with moe focus than a flat tire on some remote dirt trail with an hour of daylight left; there’s no procrastination, no one coming to help you, and no “meh, I’ll do it tomorrow/delegate it to someone else/pay someone to do it”. Either you fix the problem, or you sleep on the side of the road – and try to fix it the next day. It’s amazing just how much we’re capable of when cornered, and it’s incredible how solving problems on the road later becomes a useful skill in daily life. Hey, if you can find a way to patch a tube with an old T-shirt and a piece of wire, you can fix anything at work or in personal situations.
Even f you don’t plan to move and live abroad, an understanding of what makes people in different countries tick can be a huge advantage – and not just because it opens up new perspectives, but because there’s a lot to learn from other humans, whether they’re the indigenous Kichwa of the Andes, Swiss financiers, or Mongolian nomads.
Whether you remain on the road indefinitely or come back home after a RTW, a three-month journey to Ushuaia, or even just a week away exploring new trails, your brain is going to thank you with renewed creativity levels. Getting out of your familiar cultural bubble and experiencing different societies, cultures, and ways of life makes your brain make connections between different ideas faster, and those connections may take new and unexpected forms making you more creative and inspired. Even exploring a new town and immersing yourself in a different way of being for a couple of days can have a positive boost – which is probably the reason most travelers come back home with renewed energy and new ideas.
The best part is, it doesn’t have to be a life – changing, round-the-world adventure travel expedition to rewire your brain and reboot the way you think, work, and interact with others. New routes, new trails, new environments, even if they’re just a couple of hundred miles away, can all produce similar effects – as long as you’re open to adventure and discovery as opposed to following the same Google directions, commuting along the same routes, and stopping at the same cafes for lunch.
Has adventure travel changed the way you think, work, or perhaps even live? Share in the comments below.
Images: Adobe Stock