31. Your brain on travel


I haven’t written much as I’ve spent the last two weeks traveling on honeymoon in Italy. It was delightful to a degree I find hard to express in words. I had never been to the country but I really loved it.

This was the first “big trip” that I had taken in a number of years. COVID and founding a company kept me more local in the recent past.

One thing that occurred to me during the trip is I’ve always felt more creative and productive - in a thought-expanding way - while traveling. More words pour out of me on a plane. Unrelated thoughts click together taking in a new place. A coffee abroad sparks more ideas than one at home.

I was curious why. Here’s a few hypotheses:

  • Travel disrupts regular thought patterns. Life at home is marked by a general rhythm. Outside of novel work and one’s intellectual realm, there is little variance in the physical - in the shapes and sounds one encounters in the course of a day.
  • Travel enables new vocabulary or data to expand one’s world model. This often feels like dislodging a nearby thought, like whacking a stuck gumball machine at just the right angle to cough up your prize.
  • Consuming new things reshapes our pattern expectations. New landscapes, distinct architecture, rich history, unique foods, and provoking art poke different parts of the mind. This sounds like, “I didn’t know the earth could make this shape” or “This object is older than I could have imagined” or “This person was more ambitious than I thought anyone could be” or “I didn’t realize art could make me feel this way.”
  • I can’t call myself a “big travel guy”. I like home and a routine of work too much. But there is something very fulfilling and mind-expanding about going to a new place and looking at the world in a different way.