Jonah Lehrer: Why We Travel

Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, wrote a fantastic piece for Panorama Magazine a while back about the benefits of travel. He talks about the different states of thinking we engage in while moving, and the cognitive benefits of traveling and getting out of our daily routines. I LOVE the act of traveling for many of the reasons Lehrer describes; I do some of my best thinking, reflection, problem-solving and brainstorming while on moving vehicles - whether by bike, car, train or plane. There's something soothing, cathartic and almost meditative about getting quiet and watching the world zoom by; with nowhere else to be and nothing else to do, my mind feels free to just relax and do its best work.

My favorite excerpts of Why We Travel:

We travel because we want to, because the annoyances of the airport are outweighed by the visceral thrill of being someplace new. Because work is stressful and our blood pressure is too high and we need a vacation. Because home is boring. Because the flights were on sale. Because Paris is Paris.

...When we escape from the place we spend most of our time, the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas we'd previously suppressed. We start thinking about obscure possibilities that never would have occurred to us. Furthermore, this more relaxed sort of cognition comes with practical advantages, especially when we're trying to solve difficult problems.

...The larger lesson, though, is that our thoughts are shackled by the familiar. The brain is a neural tangle of near infinite possibility, which means that it spends a lot of time and energy choosing what not to notice. As a result, creativity is traded away for efficiency; we think in literal prose, not symbolist poetry. A bit of distance, however, helps loosen the chains of cognition, making it easier to see something new in the old; the mundane is grasped from a slightly more abstract perspective.

So let's not pretend that travel is always fun, or that we endure the jet lag for pleasure...We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.


Speaking of travel, I am packing all my geeky tech & blogger gadgets (iPhone, Mac, Flip Cam, Moo Cards & Moleskine) and heading to Austin, Texas on Friday for the SXSW Interactive conference. I am so excited I can barely stand it! I can't wait to finally meet so many people I've known virtually through Twitter and blogging (some for over two years!) in person. If you are going and want to meet for cupcakes, coffee or a beer - definitely let me know (and/or follow me on Plancast).