Today, we live in a very global society. We have easy access to people and products all over the world, facilitated by the ease of modern travel. This opens the doors to see more of the world, but it also means we have to be more open and understanding of other cultures to interact and coexist with them. In times before, people didn’t have as much contact with other cultures and they didn’t travel as much either. Their worldviews were much more narrow. Now that travel is at our fingertips, we have the chance to see the world and its cultures – and, in turn, to self-improve.
When you immerse yourself in another culture, you are moving out of your comfort zone. Being outside of this zone forces you to think in different ways. If you become accustomed to being outside of this zone, you will find yourself becoming more outgoing, spontaneous, and optimistic. You will no longer fret over little things or be as judgmental of people who are different than you.
Before you know it, your comfort zone will have new boundaries and your relationships will have more meaning to them. After forcing yourself to manage situations in foreign contexts, you’ll likely find you can think on your feet faster. All of these qualities will make you a more interesting and even charismatic person.
Self-improvement by traveling isn’t just a theory: it’s been demonstrated by scientific research too. In one particular experiment, a group of German students were selected and their personalities were evaluated for what is called the “Big Five” personality dimensions. These dimensions are Extraversion, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability/Neuroticism. The extensiveness of their social networks were also noted. These same students later fell into three categories: some went on a long study abroad trips, some went on short-term study abroad trips, and the others did not travel at all. When all students had returned, or after the same amount of time had passed, the measurements were taken again.
Scientists found that all the travelers had an increase in Openness to Experience, Agreeableness (or getting along better with others), and Emotional Stability. Their social networks also increased, which is directly related to the change in personality. It was found that engaging with new people from different cultures and countries is what developed the students’ qualities of Openness.
This Openness also increased Agreeableness, as meeting new people promoted that. Also, having to gain some independence to get around in a foreign country also helped the students who traveled gain perspective. This perspective helped keep emotions in check, thereby increasing Emotional Stability. Those who didn’t travel, on the other hand, experienced no significant improvements to their personalities during this time.
Based on this research, travel does in fact improve oneself by bolstering important dimensions of their personalities. When you get out and explore the world, you start to see things from a new view. You begin to let go of things that you realize aren’t as important as you once thought they were. You also begin to see people in a different way which helps you understand who is a real friend and who is just an acquaintance. In seeing this in other people, you may also see what kind of things you look for in other people as well. This can improve your relationships and your ability to work with others.
Any form of travel can have an effect on your personality. The more you independently explore a new place, the more you improve skills and dimensions to your personality related to problem-solving and managing emotions. Independent travel could include backpacking around Europe, or even going to foreign cities and figuring out the public transportation systems available for use. Backpacking in remote areas, like the Andes Mountains, will give you a grounding experience. Far away from even satellite internet, you’ll pay less attention to your phone and email and more attention to the hike and the view.
Tours, however, are also an important method of delving into a new culture. Especially for Romance language-speaking travelers, getting around in an Asian country, for example, is a little more challenging. Not only is the language different, but so are the characters. It’s especially in places like these that tours are a great way to relax and enjoy your experience. Taking a Japan tour is a effective way to travel the ancient island, or even a tour of Taiwan, Thailand, or India. Tours are an excellent way to see new places without fretting over details, yet they still offer the same valuable exposure to new cultures.
Traveling to many may just seem like a luxury or a vacation; but the fact that it is far more than that, that it actually facilitates self-improvement, is an amazing fact that should be taken advantage of!