Can travel change our minds, bodies?

Travel alters how we “approach the world”, making our minds more open and flexible. Source: Unsplash.

PEOPLE often talk about the positive effects of regular travel and the transformative experiences they have along the way.

It leaves them feeling better inside and out, something that can last long after their tan has faded. But is it all in the head or can frequent travel have a powerful enough effect to cause tangible changes in our minds and bodies?

Insight from a growing number of sources suggests it does.

Psychologist Adam Galinsky is one expert to explore the connection.

In a recent interview for Contiki’s online travel community, Six-Two, he explained that when it comes to travel experiences it is the depth (how immersive they are) and breadth (how varied) that has the greatest impact. So much so, that it could bring about cognitive changes, altering the way we think.

Galinsky said travel alters how we “approach the world”, making our minds more open and flexible.

“Openness allows us to digest and take in new information without rejecting it or being defensive and flexibility allows us to break out of entrenched habits of thinking.”

Source: Unsplash.

But that’s not all.

Galinsky says other studies have found travel experiences can even prompt a shift in personality traits, increasing extroversion and decreasing neuroticism.

Contiki’s own independent research also supports this. In a survey conducted on over 2900 travelers aged between 18 and 35 from six different countries, 75 percent reported feeling more confident because of travel.

So what triggers these cognitive changes?

Galinsky believes it is a combination of engaging with and reflecting on experiences and different “world views” and then consciously integrating them into our thought process.

Elsewhere other research has discovered a link between regular travel and improved heart health in later life.

According to insights from the Global Coalition on Aging, “as one travels, one will be healthier”.

It reports that men and women who take frequent vacations throughout their lives are at lower risk of developing heart disease or suffering a coronary death, compared to those that skip annual leave or holiday infrequently (every six years or fewer).

Survey data suggests this is because many people (60 percent of those questioned) were more physically active on vacation than at home and that travel improved their commitment to health goals.

However, travel may cause negative changes, too.

The effect of frequent flying on the body is currently under research with experts warning that in certain circumstances, passengers could risk greater exposure to cosmic radiation.

According to an article on the BBC’s website, cosmic radiation is ionizing which in a high enough dose, could cause chemical changes in the body which can increase the risk of cancer and genetic abnormalities.

While flying, the dose we receive varies depending on altitude, latitude, and space weather. A flight during a solar storm, for instance, could deliver a far higher dose than average.

Solar storms aside, the article states that typical exposure during plane travel ranges from around 2.0 millirems to 4.8 millirems. To put this in perspective, a chest X-ray exposes us to between 2.0 and 10.0 millirems of ionizing radiation. And during a year, the average person is exposed to 350 millirems, only 9 percent of which results from cosmic radiation.

Source: Unsplash.

It comes as little surprise then that some sources question whether frequent flyers could really be at any significant risk of developing adverse bodily changes.

For those of us that are concerned though, apps such as Track Your Dose make monitoring the situation easy so we may make informed travel decisions.