Historias de Marte / Ad-ventures
Decoding the travel PR machine, and travel as a creative booster
By Marte Martin | August 21, 2019 Category: Ad-ventures
Do you ever wonder why we all seem to be so eager to travel these days? Surely there are obvious things to be gained from traveling, like meeting people, seeing new places or going through new experiences. But aren’t we, often, making too much of a big deal out of traveling? Scientists and enthusiasts alike recognize that travelling has the potential to cause positive mental change. They have learned that travelling can enhance creative-thinking, which in turn can be essential to achieving personal success. The business world too recognizes that international experience prepares people to work and compete in a global economy. But not all travel experiences will grease the wheels towards a more creative life nor greater success – how we approach those experiences is critical to determine creative growth, both personally and professionally.
A PUBLIC RELATIONS MACHINE
Travel has become so broad and common that at times it seems as if the travellers’ are becoming ‘the locals’ and ‘the locals’ are becoming ‘the travellers’. When I do ask people about our love for travel, I often get back as an answer that travel is a really cool thing to do. Remaining positive and open-minded, my follow up thought often is: ‘REALLY...?!’
I know, perhaps I should be asking the more profound questions such as:
Are we undertaking an experience with the potential to change our lives or are we engaging in just another form of consumption? Do we immerse ourselves in authentic experiences or wall off in popular themes? Do we travel with the purpose of really understanding a different way of life or are we just escaping our own?
Or maybe the simpler questions would be best to ask, like:
Can’t we travel somewhere just to go have a good time and forget about the ‘to do list while in ________’?
Many of the more popular travel-quotes you come across on the internet are part of marketing campaigns by the travel industry – an industry which moves billions and billions of dollars evey year and which is currently going through a boom period. In fact, the penetration of the travel offering (and its bordering life-style & tourism participants) is so encompassing that it can be overwhelming at times.
WHAT PEOPLE SAY
It is often said that travel is a basic human desire. Until recently, I didn’t care to understand what is it that makes travel so desirable, and it turns out that there's plenty of work on the psychology-of-travel and plenty of travel-industry PR out there to justify this popular saying. Travel is about exploring and developing a sense of belonging, it is about the human desire for adventure and the need for change. In fact, the desire for adventure is just one of many desires motivating our behaviour as humans, or 'what makes us tick'. [I think you might find Steven Reiss’s 16 Basic Desires Theory 16 Basic Desires Theory to be insightful].
You might agree with the notion that travel stimulates the mind in different ways. You might also be agreeable to the idea that we can stimulate the mind doing other things such as exercising, reading, making love or taking drugs, to name just a few. That travelling makes us more open-minded is another popular saying, and while I personally did not find any scientific research that confirms or denies this, I tend to believe that yes, we are more likely to be more open-minded if we are well travelled than if we are not. At the same time, I believe we should accept the idea that traveling does not necessarily make us more open-minded, understanding that the concept of ‘open-mind’ belongs to a basket of many different interpretations depending on who we ask – different meanings which often happen contradict each other.
Instead, what if we ask ourselves: Are cultural differences really that different? Are we even capable of differentiating race or culture from background? Is this collective urge to travel still a worthwhile compulsion? Why are we so willing to put distance between ourselves and everything we know?
WHAT SCIENTISTS SAY
Scientifically speaking, creativity is related to how the brain is wired. The brain pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning that they are also sensitive to change: new language, new sensations, new weather, new sights, etc. And ‘change’ causes a variation in impulses through neurotransmitters (something to do with how chemical signals pass from nerve-cell to nerve-cell) which have the potential to refresh the mind and enable a more creative brain. [Getting the Most Out of Living Abroad: Biculturalism and Integrative Complexity as Key Drivers of Creative and Professional Success; Tadmor, Galinsky and Maddux, 2012]
According to psychologists, travel is not about relaxation, it is about the tedious act itself of putting distance between ourselves and everything we know. When we leave behind the place where we spend most of our time, the mind is made aware of the ideas we had suppressed, or at least some of them. When we are away we suddenly think about possibilities that would have never occurred to us had we not left home. And this aspect of traveling comes with the practical advantage of the times when we need to be creative about resolving situations or problems.
Thoughts are bound by the familiar, and a bit of distance helps loosen the chain of cognition, making it easier to see something in the new old. Research shows that time abroad correlates with creative output, and that the most creative people are the ones who not only travel, but those who immerse themselves in other cultures when they travel. Also meaning that we should do more looking in and not so much looking at.
The connection between creativity and better mental-physical health is well established by research studies. ‘Creating’ makes people more conscious and certain, it makes people happier. It makes us more resilient and better equipped to problem solving in the face of hardship. Creativity gives us a sense of purpose.
IN OTHER WORDS - EXPERIENCES
In other words, those who stay in boxes have trouble thinking outside of the box. Researchers have studied how psychological distance and time away from a problem increases the likelihood of solving that problem. Still, even though traveling might improve your creative thinking, you do not need to travel to reach that state of mind. Or at least, you do not need to travel far as you can boost creativity by simply traveling to a neighbouring town. Some people can unleash that creative thinking by merely going for a walk around the block.
When did going on vacation become a means of experience? How did marketers and corporations board millennials and almost everybody else on the 'experience train’, and why is it so difficult to get off it? When did traveling become synonym of cultural awareness and a way to gain perspective in life? When did traveling become a remedy for the human condition – just like taking an aspirin when we have headache? How does travel help us learn to enjoy life more or to appreciate what we already have? Somewhere along the way, we realised that we weren’t going on vacation or on holidays just to have a good time or relax. As part of this phenomenon, we now travel to places to better ourselves, and instead of calling it ‘going on vacation’ we now call it travel.
People want to go out there and travel around, meet places and people. I could just go live and stay in Madrid, that is what I really want. Most of the people I know find it hard to believe that I never really cared to travel, and I still don’t. Not only I find travel irritating, but I also think that we are doing ourselves a disservice by not properly valuing the time we spend traveling. We don't seem to realize that the opportunity cost of traveling can be much higher than the actual rewards.
My intention here is not to turn people off towards traveling. This is not to steer anyone away from experiencing new places, though you can probably tell by now that I’m not a big fan of travel. Instead, this essay is for people around my age and younger, people who feel the need to travel afraid of being missing out, or perhaps jealous of others showcasing a global lifestyle. This is for the people dedicated to their dream of traveling the world but at the same time wonder if their dedication is causing to miss out on life. More particularly, I write this essay to celebrate a less popular but more meaningful perspective on travel, and that is that travel happens to boost creativity.
It's OK to be happy where you are. No destination is denying you of a special experience. If you want to travel, go for it, purchase that great air-travel deal. But remember that you are not missing out on life by not traveling, and you are definitely not missing out on life changing experiences. I think we often undervalue what we have at home, that we should take better care of it, and that we might be overpaying to see what's out there.
The argument I'm making is that merely traveling will not change the way we are, it will not take our problems or prejudices away, as our biases will go with us wherever you go. Someone who has not travelled isn’t necessarily any less cultured or less enlightened than someone who has.
These days, we all must travel because somehow we’ve managed to convince ourselves that traveling is an investment in ourselves we need to make. “Must love to travel” is even a requirement for today’s single person. But for the most part, traveling means just that: going from one place to another.
Travel is no longer a luxury in the sense that the industry has become so big and broad that travel has become another common product available to just about everyone – in the same manner that designer-fashion has become available to everyone through the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon –. The commoditization of travel or fashion is due to new technologies in information-sharing and manufacturing, or generally speaking, to the forces of a global economy. On the one hand, things are becoming more attainable, and on the other hand, we can’t help but purchasing more things. Globalization is sort of a function of ever-increasing availability and ever-increasing consumption, and while it should produce more wealth and wellbeing for all, it will also certainly drive many of us crazy.
Leaving for a new place far is an easy way to leave behind the zone of what’s familiarly uncomfortable. traveling also reminds us of all the things we don’t know, and for some reason we are propelled to believe we must know all those things. And as we are not all that different from one another culturally – globalization is making sure of that –, we marvel at the little things and as a result the travel rush fuels itself.
Without realizing it, I’ve experienced for years the “dual home-host cultural identification” prescribed by some psychologists to help with creative thinking. Also, for some time now, I have subscribed to the notion that the mere exposure to other cultures is insufficient to bring about creativity.
But since we travel so much, weather we love it or not, and since we 'invest' so much of our time away, we should probably engage in some self-reflection and mindfulness when we think of travel, just like when we do daily exercise, meditation or recollection of our day. Writing this story about 'why we love to travel' has helped me think of ways to engage in self-reflection and mindfulness when I project travel, and I’m sharing them hoping you find them useful.
When I think 'travel' I will:
Define what's important to me and my vision (it can be anything; it doesn’t have to be a life-changing vision) .
Block the noise, stop blaming others.
Believe in myself and stick to what’s mindful to me.
Listen and ask questions as I can learn a whole lot from people anywhere before, during and after travel.
Remind myself to learn constantly about things I can apply to building my vision.
Think about making more decisions and doing less analysis – 'how can this travel help me assess situations more naturally?'
Ask myself how I can become more of a master my domain, at home and at work.
Revisit how I'm taking ownership of my time – how am I accounting for my time and making every day count? (I literally count all my hours every day, and what is it that I do with those hours).
Know that travel can ignite creativity and look forward to take advantages of opportunities to do so.
By: Marte Martin