New Science Reveals How Travel Actually Changes Your Personality
Every time I travel — even if it’s just a short weekend away — I come back feeling different. I bask in an after-trip glow that lifts my mood and feelings of wellbeing. I’m always slightly taken aback by how travel can have such a tangible impact in my own life.
An innate desire to explore our world (and beyond) has always been an impetus for humanity’s growth, but only recently have we started studying from a scientific perspective what travel actually does to us on a psychological level. In addition to the many psychological benefits of travel, a recent study reveals that extended travel actually changes our personality.
What the science says about how your personality changes when you travel
Researchers published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2013 that looked at the effects of extended travel on different personality dimensions.
They looked at two different groups of German college students: one group studied abroad for an extended period of time and the other studied at home for an equivalent amount of time.
Firstly, they found that those who chose to study abroad were already more likely to have certain personality factors like extraversion. Those who chose to study abroad for a semester were more conscientious than those who stayed home, while those who did a full year trip scored higher in openness to experience.
But the most interesting findings compared people’s personalities before and after their trips. Those who travelled showed increases in openness to experience, agreeableness, and emotional stability upon their return. These changes occurred alongside changes to the social networks of those who travelled, as they met and engaged more with new people and lost touch with some of the existing people in their social networks.
These findings suggest that travel can impact such deep aspects of ourselves; characteristics that are defining elements of who we are.
Can travel be good for society as a whole?
This study raises some compelling questions. If travel has the capacity to make us more open, agreeable and emotionally stable, could going on an extended trip abroad make us better as a society?
We need only contemplate briefly the sensational headlines, polarized politics, and culture of fear that seems to be rising around us to consider how things might be different if more people were open to others (other religions, races, cultures) and new ideas.
Or perhaps how toxic corporate cultures might be improved with an injection of more agreeableness to encourage greater cooperation and understanding within companies. Or how we could invite moderate, balanced discussions back to social media channels stuffed with extreme, knee-jerk responses and emotionally charged rhetoric.
In fact, if I try to take in the sociopolitical landscape as a whole, it seems that these characteristics of openness, agreeableness and emotional stability are exactly what I notice as increasingly absent from the picture.
Perhaps we need to start looking at travel as an educational tool, just as critical as the subjects we study in schools. If we have a tool for building better societies, and the science to back up the claim, what will we do with that knowledge? For me, knowing that travel can make me a better person is empowering. I want to have a positive impact on the world and I believe one of the most important and necessary steps is to be a better person every day.
Let’s use travel as the tool we need to remember who we are at our best and what we can achieve when we step out of our comfort zone.
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