Why Traveling Really Makes You Smarter

Written by Marco Morawec

Topics: Featured, Travel Advice, Travel Planning

I am convinced that traveling makes you smarter. Or maybe that’s what I always told myself to justify my extensive traveling in the last 10 years. But after recently reading what Lonely Planet had to say why traveling makes you smarter, more productive and sexier (Sorry to disappoint, but the sexier part did not work out for me at all) I noticed Lonely Planet missed three of the most important reasons.

Here’s why traveling really makes you smarter:

Out of Your Element

Remember when you first learned how to swim? It was difficult figuring out how to stay afloat and not swallowing a whole lot of water. The reason learning to swim is so difficult at first, is because you are completely out of your element. Just like a fish on land is trashing around with his tail not knowing what’s going on, you can’t breath underwater and move the way you are used to.

The situation is pretty much the same when you are traveling. You’re facing a new element. Striped of your language and communication skills, confused by different customs and a radical different transportation system you quickly feel like a fish on land.

Slightly uncomfortable and a bit shy at first you venture out of your comfort zone to figure out everything from scratch. It’s almost like your entire point of reference system has been torn down and replaced by something strange and new. People now longer use supermarkets, food is bought on markets, prices are not fixed, everything is bargained for and bus stops and schedules are replaced by unmarked stops across town with no fixed time schedule.

This re-building effort of your point of reference system and starting to understand a new place and culture is one of the reasons traveling really makes you smarter.  This process of understanding and re-building is filled with making mistakes and self-reflection. You have to opportunity to make a million mistakes and learn from them, gain experience in areas you usually don’t need as often back home and in turn develop new skills in high-speed.

For example, how often do you have the opportunity to negotiate a price for anything back home? A few times a year, maybe once a month if you enjoy going to garage sales and flea markets. When you travel in developing countries and visit any of the regular markets you can easily spend 5 hours doing nothing else than sharpening your bargaining and negotiation skills. Like everything else, how you practice is how you play. And before long will become really good at getting what you want for the price you want. You are a bargaining pro and on your way to use your new developed skills during your next salary or consulting fee negotiation.

Constant Problem Solving

I’m convinced that constant problem solving plays a big part in making you smarter. Mostly because being confronted with new problems forces you to analyze the situation closely and come up with the best possible solution with the limited information you have. That problem solving process builds your analytic capabilities and is one of the main reasons why all Harvard Business MBAs solve case study after case study. It kick-starts their problem solving capabilities and prepares them for the real business world with all its complicated challenges.

While traveling you’re actually putting yourself in an even better position than all the Harvard Students together. You’re in the real world, not a classroom, confronted by real problems, face bigger consequences than a poor grade, and mostly operate under time constraints absent form the academic world. You won’t succeed in solving every problem you come across and often times you never know if your solution to a problem was actually the right one. But what you will achieve is a sharp analytical instinct ready to tackle any problem or challenge that will cross your path.

Need an example? Think about something as simple as jumping on a train in India. Buying a train ticket, finding the correct platform and boarding the right train is so simple back home you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that it took me almost an entire hour to find the correct train with ticket in hand. Remember you are like the fish on land, completely out of your element, and ignoring hundreds of touts, picking the official train ticket booth among commission charged impostors, and plowing your way through thousands of people will challenge your analytic skills like no case study on paper ever will.

Love to problem solve and boost your analytic skills? Go travel!

Steep Learning Curve

Traveling means moving from one place to another. Sometimes fast, other times at a slower pace. But very seldom are you at one place for longer than a week.

This constant moving means that you are constantly confronted with new surroundings, people, transportation systems and places to stay. With that confrontation come new challenges and problems for you to solve. Sometimes you can use skills and tricks you picked up before, other times you have to fall back on analyzing the situation and coming up with a completely new solution, but at all times your learning curve is super steep.

It’s the unexpected, mysterious and surprising new situation confronting you on the road that makes traveling so addicting.  Exactly those ingredients also keep the learning curve steep. The unexpected makes sure that you learn something new, solve another problem and prepare you for whatever challenge the next day may bring.

Traveling really makes you smarter, can’t you see?

Now it’s your turn, do you really think traveling makes you smarter?


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