Why do we (need to) travel?

I love to travel.  Really love to travel.  And now I know why.

Jonah Lehrer in his post called ‘Why we travel’ says travel puts distance between who we are and what we know.

When we’re surrounded by the familiar we’re surrounded by associations and assumptions that are as hard to get rid of as clutter in a teen’s bedroom.  When we travel “the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas we’d previously suppressed”.

Note he said suppressed.

In other words we have the goods, we’re just suppressing them.   It’s not that we’re not creative or not a font of “errant ideas” or a plethora of possibilities, we’re all creative.  We all have it in our DNA.

It’s just that the daily repetitive rounds of work, play, parenting, and overall tending to one’s lengthy laundry list of life’s flotsam and jetsam tend to grind down our ability to free associate, have floating time and imagine new ways of invigorating ourselves.  Much easier to flop on the couch after a long day of work, after the kids are in bed, and numb out with TV remote in hand, watching other people’s so-called realities.

Travel shoves all that messy stuff in suitcases, which we promptly leave at home.  The suitcases wouldn’t fit within the airline’s luggage restrictions.  Such is the weight of daily life’s flotsam and jetsam that taking them with us would cause massive overweight luggage fees.

Jonah cites a study by psychologist Lile Jia at Indiana University which underscores the impact of how easily we put cramping frames around our thinking and how the mere idea of travel releases us.

Students were asked to work on a problem that they were told was created by students in Greece.  Other students, working on the same problem, were told it was created by students at the local university.  The task was to generate alternate modes of transportation.

Who did the best job- those that thought local students designed the problem or those that thought international students designed it?  Or did it even make a difference?

Turns out those who believed the problem originated in Greece thought of way more opportunities and were significantly more creative.  They were buoyed and unrestricted by their local, homegrown, self-imposed constraints.  Transportation didn’t have limitations, such as what would work in the here and now and known but rather in the imagined.

So next time you want  to travel, leave your self-imposed constraints in their suitcases at home and off you go.  No plans to take off into the sunset anytime soon?  No problem.  Just take a problem that you’re facing and pretend to jet away with it.  Original and novel ideas that-a-way.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply