Vacationing somewhere new has surprising mental benefits

Traveling to an unfamiliar place has been found by research to increase emotional agility, empathy, and creativity.

Do you vacation in the same quaint town in Maine every year? Love that Florida timeshare? Try going someplace different next year, suggests psychologist Todd B. Kashdan in the Harvard Business Review.

There are significant mental benefits to changing the scenery, he writes, especially considering “far too many business and personal trips are designed to maximize comfort and minimize uncertainty.”

Kashdan’s insights about exploring – which he says leads to greater “emotional agility,” increased empathy, and creativity – were sparked by a trip to Sri Lanka and Thailand, but they’re also all backed up by research.

Here’s what can happen when you trade your yearly ski trip for Fiesole.

Emotional agility

his refers to the ability not to react immediately, but instead observe your thoughts and rationally plan the best course of action. “By spending time in unfamiliar towns, cities, or countries, you become tolerant and even accepting of your own discomfort and more confident in your ability to navigate ambiguous situations,” Kashdan writes.

Increased empathy

In a study of 485 Americans cited by the article, those who had traveled to other countries demonstrated a greater ability to hold off on judging a person until they’d learned more information about them beyond basic surface data like age, gender, or race.

Creativity

Several studies confirmed that international travel leads to higher creativity. Researchers in Singapore found that unusual problem solving was linked to exposure to other cultures – and not just travel. Studying languages, eating food and listening to music from other countries, and having international buddies also counted.

You don’t have to go to Thailand to experience the growth of inhabiting a new place for a while either, writes Kashdan.  Different cities and towns also count – as long as it’s a new place where the people there aren’t just like you. The locale need only to be exotic to yourself. The place outside your comfort zone may be much closer than you think.

Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.