What’s better than a diet, self-help book, or school? Travel

Woman computer scientist reading in the pool.

Woman computer scientist reading in the pool. Photo: aeter / Flickr

In the United States, the self-help business is a multi-billion-dollar industry.  People throw down lots of cash to lose weight, gain confidence, and find happiness. But whenever I see that stuff, this thought springs to mind: “Travel solves all of those problems, and a whole lot more.”

Lonely Planet author Robert Reid laid out the case for travel being the best self-help program: How travel makes you smarter, sexier and more productive.  Moreover, he backs up his points by citing experts and research studies.

Let’s look at each point, one by one.

Travel makes you smarter

Immersion is the best education. You can’t travel without learning tons about geography, history, culture, economics, art, architecture, the list goes on forever.  You’re not just reading about it in a book, you’re going to see a place and interact with people. Take economics for example, currency exchange takes a whole different meaning when your buying power boosts or drops depending on which country you’re in.  No amount of lectures on purchasing power parity can teach you to appreciate that.

Not to say that reading is bad.  You couldn’t pay me to slog through academic textbooks on these subjects.  But if I know I’m going to that destination, I’ll happily read shelves of books about any place.  During my time living in China, I must have devoured a dozen books on the history and business culture of that country.

Most important, travel conditions you to be resourceful and think on your feet.  You have to adapt to survive, or you won’t make it.  You’ll pick up bits of the language, learn how to spot scams, and improve your bargaining skills tenfold.

Travel makes you sexier

Reid says in his blog post, “According to one recent ItsJustLunch.com survey, the best first-date conversation topic was hobbies, with travel following second.”  From my point of view, a traveler is attractive.  It show they’re open-minded, adventurous, and more likely to be well-read.  Almost every traveler I know is also an avid reader.  Smart is sexy, right?

Perception of people is different too.  When you’re in another country, the locals can seem more attractive than the folks back home.  Conversely, the locals may find you more attractive.  Who hasn’t been seduced by a sexy accent?

On a purely superficial level, being on the road makes you look better.  All that walking, climbing, and running to catch trains will make you healthier.  You’ll also get more sleep, since you don’t have a morning commute to worry about.  Many countries also use fewer chemicals and preservatives in food, which makes it better for you.  I can’t tell you how many times I was amazed at the quality of things like bread, cheese, rice, and beer in other countries.  I’ve actually returned to countries multiple times, just for the food.

Travel makes you more productive

This may seem contradictory at first.  How does going on vacation make you more productive?  Reid links to a slideshow from Businessweek magazine titled Vacations Worldwide vs. Economic Success.  Many countries match or even beat America’s economic competitiveness, despite working shorter hours and taking longer vacations.

I’ve posted it before, but this TED talk by Stefan Sagmeister is worth watching.  It’s called “The Power of Time Off.”

Sagmeister is a designer who talks about how his time off and travels have sparked his creative juices.  The fastest way to get new ideas is to get out of your comfort zone and experience new places.

These are only a few of the many benefits of seeing the world.  How has travel helped you in your life?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (6)  | July 1, 2011
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

6 Responses to “What’s better than a diet, self-help book, or school? Travel”

  1. Mat Says:

    I love this post, especially since I agree with everything in it. When I graduated last spring I took a solo backpacking trip for 3 weeks and it really opened my eyes to so many things. Since then I can’t stop thinking about going abroad and leaving the 9-5 slave wage job that I have. It is a real shame that people don’t venture out of their comfort zone more often.

  2. John Says:

    It’s scary how little some people who don’t travel have no idea what’s really going on. I frequently get asked, “How can you travel to Thailand, when you don’t speak Taiwanese?”
    Arrggg…. Yes, traveling help you get smart, get fit (I lose on average 4 lbs on a 2 week jaunt), and get crackin! Thanks John R.

  3. Rod Says:

    Wonderful post – thank you. My son just turned 15 and I’ve shipped him off to backpack for three weeks in Costa Rica with a couple of older kids… I want him to catch the travel bug early.

  4. Shalabh Says:

    Cannot agree more. I feel much smarter after travelling for 2 years. 🙂

    I think travelling also ends up helping you with a 9-5 job. You learn to manage situations better, handle work relationships and situations better, get a perspective on how fickle life can be and therefore stop bothering about small things in office, learn to handle stress better. The list goes on.

  5. Adriano Says:

    Travelling simply saved me from the tedious life in a little village. I now travel as a job and this is just great.
    I have to contradict the “travel makes you sexier” point. When I travel I get fatter – how can’t you eat pork knuckle in Bavaria or drink beer in Belgium?

    This, the fact that I am abroad to work and that I travel mainly in winter time (hence more time indoor) actually makes me fatter when on a journey…

    I do agree though on the other points: travel makes you smarter and more productive. Many ideas come when seeing other lifestyles. And I also got the sentence “How can you travel to Belgium when you don’t speak Belgian?”

  6. Josh Says:

    This is a great post. I have the travel bug and can’t stop thinking about an extended trip. I left my 9-5 job of 15 years and went back to school. Think I might take a semister off and see what kind of education I can get out of a backpack.