FITNESS AND WELLNESS
Let’s Talk About Travel
Let’s talk about travel.
In particular, let’s talk about why travel is so good for us.
The answer to this has a lot to do with our brains. Bear with me for a moment.
Our brains function in a remarkable way. Through a process called neuroplasticity, our brains adapt and change as we experience life, in an attempt to make more automatic those things that we do a lot. This makes common tasks more efficient, and also creates space to be more open to other, new things. Think of a child learning how to read. Letter recognition becomes automatic, which makes word recognition automatic, which enables us eventually to read books. Without this automatic recognition, the task of reading would be impossible. Just imagine trying to do this one letter at a time: “I.t. w.a.s. t.h.e. b.e.s.t. o.f. t.i.m.e.s…” You get the idea.
So, when we do something habitually, our neural pathways deepen and become more entrenched, like grooves in a record. This is great in certain circumstances, such as the reading example above, but not so great in others. It is the mechanism that creates both good habits and bad.
Also, and importantly, we can create new neural pathways. When we do something out of the routine, we become smarter and our minds become more agile.
So, back to travel.
I remember moving to western North Carolina for the first time, in 1996. I bought a map of county roads and spent my weekends driving and exploring. I would fill up on gas and just wander. I saw interesting places, met a few characters, and made new grooves in my brain. I was in a new place, learning new things, and I immersed myself in it. It was a fantastic experience spread out over about two years. Did I go to Japan for a six-month sabbatical? No. Did I still expand myself? Absolutely.
The driving experience reminds me a bit of one of my favorite things to do, which is to get lost with my dog. We go out in the woods, take off her leash (shhhh, don’t tell…), and I follow wherever she goes. It’s a ton of fun. It’s relaxing. And it gives the same old record grooves a rest, while creating new ones. I would recommend getting lost with a dog to anyone.
You see the point. When you give yourself a break from the routine, even in an uncomplicated way, you grow. Your mind becomes more agile. You don’t even have to try particularly hard. The neurons take care of themselves.
So, the homework is this. Experience something fresh and new. Make an effort to fully explore a place; it could be near or far, that part is up to you. Allow yourself to get lost. Don’t obsess over taking pictures or tagging your location. Just go. Your brain will thank you, and you will be better for it.
Thanks for reading, and let me know about your adventures!
(Also, by the way, I and a couple of other creative professionals are beginning a series of trips in November, built around the idea of fully experiencing a place. If you are interested in joining us, please reach out. One of our planned activities is to get lost and see what we discover.)