To travel or Not to travel should never be a question!

The answer is always to travel!

hiking-peakI don’t claim to be an accomplished traveler. In fact, I am a home body – always have been, always will be. However, in 2010, my husband wanted to go on a trip. I resisted. He persisted. So fine, we went on our first out-of-country trip for a week…and it changed me. It was exciting and thrilling to explore a new land, navigate a new language, solve problems on our own, and experience new adventures in a new setting. And I’ve wanted to travel ever since. We’ve been to 10 different countries since, and all along the way, I’ve found myself growing in perspective and enjoying the journey.

While I’m still quite introverted, enjoy independent work, and value my alone time, I know that if I had not started traveling seven years ago, my thoughts and ideas about the world and its people, along my ability to connect with others most certainly would have suffered. This is why I love to hear about others’ travels, see photos, and encourage those who are young to travel when the opportunities present themselves.

In fact, there are lots of opportunities for students to travel – be it to postpone your degree and travel the world, to take a study abroad placement, to take a group trip with a class, or to spend your summer months volunteering somewhere else.

Nationally, the number of U.S. students studying abroad for credit during the 2014-2015 academic year grew 2.9 percent from 304,467 students to 313,415 students. This represents just over 1.5 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States and about 10 percent of U.S. graduates. A recent survey found that almost 40% of companies surveyed missed international business opportunities because of a lack of internationally competent personnel. When 95% of consumers live outside of the United States, we cannot afford to ignore this essential aspect of higher education.

It’s hardly surprising so many students decide to spend time away. The benefits of traveling are well documented. You can make new friends, broaden your outlook, and gain stories to tell. But that’s not all. You may also improve your brainpower and become more outgoing.

According to a study by Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, those who have lived abroad are more creative. His research found that the more countries people had lived in, the more creative their work tended to be. However, Galinsky says that just being a tourist isn’t enough to see any benefit. “Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment,” he says.

Gain confidence and independence

Traveling and living abroad can also affect the way we interact with people. Research by Dr. Julia Zimmermann and Dr. Franz Neyer compared the personality development of a large sample of German university students who had studied abroad for at least one semester with a non-traveling group.

The results showed that those who studied abroad were generally higher in extraversion than those who chose not to travel during their studies. The travelers were likely to enjoy being around other people more than being alone. When they returned home after traveling, the participants also tended to show an increase in openness to new experiences, agreeableness, and emotional stability.

Moving abroad also allows young adults to gain a new sense of responsibility and independence, and to manage their own finances. Nikitha Aithal moved to the UK from India when she was 10 years old, and later worked in Spain for a year as part of her undergraduate language degree at the University of Leeds. She says: “Living and working in Spain made me appreciate the struggle my parents went through when moving to the UK – simple things such as setting up a bank account or paying the water bills.”

Sharpening your mind is a no-brainer

The new and unusual situations we encounter while traveling – whether trying to figure out how to navigate the local metro system, or just to order a meal in an unfamiliar language – help to keep our minds sharp, according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association.

It found that challenging new experiences can boost cognitive health, as when your brain is exposed to an environment that is novel and complex, it reacts by forming new connections as it tries to categorize the new and unusual stimuli. This grows the brain and keeps it active in a similar way as taking up a new hobby or learning a language.

So if you’re in the fortunate position of being able to choose whether or not to travel, why not take the plunge and explore the world – your brain will thank you for it.