Travelling is as important to our intellectual growth as it ever has been. The best way to become “smarter” is not to memorize facts or do repetitive processes like our school systems teach. Machines will replace us in repetitive processes eventually anyway… The best way to grow wiser is to broaden our knowledge in settings that challenge preconceived notions and encourage us to think and act. Few things provide that type of setting better than traveling.
In our society, the internet and social media offer an extremely false sense of experience and exposure. We face mental distractions and pressures prior generations could not imagine, making experiential and active learning all the more important. Individual learning is useful, but it cannot approach the value of physically and mentally travelling “out there.”
By “travel,” I mean the process of moving one’s body and mind to explore locations where we have never been before. My definition of travelling necessitates moving our gluteus maxima from one physical location to another and involves active observation and thinking about the environment (eyes glued to a smartphone doesn’t count).
Travel makes us smarter for several reasons.
Exposure to new ways of thinking: No two cultures are the same (though, unproductively, all cultures seem to share the trait that their culture is superior to others). Travelling involves interacting with people who think differently from us and broadens our understanding of what is possible. When we soak in different cultures, we open mental pathways to new options and ideas. This is at the heart of intelligent creativity and innovation. There are few better ways to pollinate our minds with new ideas than to travel to places where we’ve never been.
Mental flexibility: Also at the center of creativity and innovation is mental flexibility. In order to leverage new ways of thinking, we must have the flexibility to bring together seemingly different things and to apply different approaches in established settings. Travelling always brings the unexpected. From logistical bumps and cultural mishaps; to surprising opportunities and sudden deviations; travelling forces us to adjust to circumstances outside of our control. This is great practice for the same skills required for working creatively with others: a balance of good planning and “seat-of-the-pant” adjustments and decision-making.
Communication: Countless good ideas have died because they were not communicated or shared effectively. By improving our communication, we improve our ability to share (and sell) those brilliant ideas brimming in our heads. Travelling requires us to communicate with people from different languages and cultures. This is excellent preparation for conveying our goals and vision to other people who haven’t spent countless hours inside our thinking. We become smarter when we practice communicating to others in ways that are accessible.
Now here’s an important distinction: travel definitely does not have to be international. Though that does give a heavy dose of interesting different.
Want to know what two different worlds feel like? Go from Williamsburg to downtown Manhattan. Or from downtown Manhattan to the Bronx. Or from New York City to rural Appalachia. Or from rural Appalachia to Silicon Valley…
Travel requires walking and exploring new places. And the walking part is critical. Walking is really, really, really healthy (link — mind the language), and allows you to become immersed in a place in a way that nothing else can. Walking gives you a chance to observe the daily lives of individuals and — if your eyes are open — to learn about the diverse ways human beings perceive every situation.
Not everyone has the same budget, support, or opportunities to travel abroad or to far-flung places. But you can still “travel” to the other side of town, the other corner of the county, or to the next city over. Whatever works for your circumstances. As long as you’re physically moving to places that broaden your view of the world and challenge your ways of thinking, you are travelling. And travel makes us smarter. So travel…however you can.
Originally published at https://bwaters13.wixsite.com on Dec 13, 2017.