Use Your Next Trip To Solve That Big Problem You Have Back Home

July 2, 2013 by Anil Polat  

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You may be traveling on an extended trip, career break, or gap year but no matter where you’re going or for how long, the simple act of heading out on the road won’t fix any predicaments you’ve left behind. Traveling doesn’t make your problems go away, it just brings them along for the ride. Although your next trip likely won’t solve dilemmas directly, vagabonding can redirect your focus in unique ways, preparing you to tackle life crises of all sizes.

Meeting New People Allows You To Re-Invent Yourself

Our personal perceptions of who we are base themselves on how others see us, in a process sociologists call identity negotiation. The theory is an intricate one, but basically we have ideas of what our personality traits are, basing those perceived traits on the cues we get when interacting with others. Our brains are wired to make us feel we’re right all the time, so we tend to reaffirm what we others think of us [PDF]. That’s part of the reason you can be a grouchy, pessimistic person in one relationship yet happy-go-lucky in the other.

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These emotional feedback loops are difficult to break but when you meet new people traveling, it’s an opportunity to start a fresh “negotiation”. Your perceived flaws (e.g. shyness) – and the problems you associate with them back home – don’t have to be on display in a new group. Others seeing the more outgoing side of you, for example, will only help reinforce the little extrovert inside.

The perceptions we carry about others and how they see us, waivers with time (due to a lack of reinforcement). That’s part of the reason everyone seems so “new” to us upon returning home after a long trip. Until they do something to remind us of our previous concept of them and remember “that’s the same old Benjamin!” or, “wow Curzon, you’ve really changed!”

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efes beer istanbulDistractions Are Good For Creativity

Focusing on a problem for too long is often counterproductive, since our active memories fatigue easily, get lazy, and then have us banging on a solution that doesn’t quite fit to the obstacle at hand. Our brains however actively search out solutions to problems even when we’re not concentrating on them, according to Incognito by David Eagleman. Those “ah-ha!” moments we’ve all experienced were simply our subconscious delivering ideas to our conscious minds, humbling not taking credit for all the work it did.

Not focusing opens up your mind to considering all sorts of new solutions – and few things in life are as delightfully diverting as climbing an Ecuadorian volcano or figuring out that Bulgarians nod backwards. The occasional beer doesn’t hurt either.

Deadlines May Work In Your Favor

Although their arrival can be stressful, in small doses, the stress deadlines produce creates the right hormonal cocktail for productivity. Chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline sharpen your senses, giving you faster reaction times to tiger attacks and the occasional life-challenge. Deadlines let you know when you have to get things done and the book by the same name points out that they let you know when you’re running behind.

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So, even if your problems are waiting for your after your next trip, your journey may have just given you enough neural ammunition to tackle them effectively.

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  1. Gayla says:

    ‘Neural ammunition’. I never really thought of stressful deadlines quite like that before. Gives me a whole new perspective 🙂

  2. Nice insights mate, I think that any time away from a problem, generally helps to solve it for me. Let that subconscious do it’s work while you chill or focus on something else. I think that travel also gives you the time to face up to problems or issues and in a different environment things can seem very different than at home. But.. I will say that don’t start a journey expecting to have all you issues solved when you get home, doesn’t quite work like that, in fact I wrote a post about how travel is not a magic bullet that was picked u by a few news sites [EDIT].

  3. I couldn’t agree more! Travel is one of the best ways to rediscover yourself and solve a problem. I escaped on my first solo trip after a really bad breakup and it not only helped me heal but I just learned so much about myself that summer.

  4. Paula says:

    Travel gives you a reality to check. It puts into perspective many things that might seem massive at home, but in the global context are really quite trivial. Very much my personal experience(s) on this one.

  5. Danni says:

    What a great discussion of travel. I love the physical as well as the philosophical side of traveling and this was a great foray into the later. Sometimes people have this impression that others are “running away” from their problems by traveling, but I just don’t see it that way, sometimes they may be just getting a new perspective, looking from a different angle. Great discussion!

  6. Steve C says:

    Anil, thanks for this new bit of incite to the self. I’ll certainly bookmark it to my “Travel Philosophy” folder. I definitely agree that distractions are good for creativity. Unless you are keenly aware of all goings-on around you at all times (who is?), continuing an everyday life on the block makes for boredom, and a lazy brain. Traveling and experiencing new things everyday always get my creative juices flowing. And a beer once in awhile doesn’t hurt either. 🙂 However, any more than once in awhile and you’re on your way back to “lazy brain” time!

  7. Solid advice! I think it’s important for people to realise travelling wont make problems disappear but they do give you a new perspective to tackle them from.

  8. That is so true! I did try this on my first journey in SEA and I realized some aspects of my problems that I can resolve on my own easily.

  9. Travel teaches you how to cope with a fast paced life

  10. Barbara says:

    Very good advice. That travel time can give your brain the much needed rest it needs to be more productive when you return home!