When asked about their hobbies, everyone says they love to travel, but very few of us spend our lives away from home. I am not only a devoted traveler, but I have also spent close to a decade exploring the question of what causes us to live fun, exciting, and remarkable lives. Here are four nuggets of knowledge every traveler should keep in mind, whether you are traveling for work or wanderlust.
1. Your brain operates differently in new environments.
Have you ever noticed that you are more willing to try new foods when visiting a foreign country? Or go bungee jumping or try other adventure activities you've never tried, even of they're offered where you live? When your brain is exposed to an unfamiliar environment, it becomes thirsty to understand what is going on. Research by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel proved this when they showed that the brain has a heightened response to novelty, and that response triggers a drive to explore and understand.
2. Beware of misattribution.
Misattribution occurs when you confuse the emotional experience you're having with another factor. For example, if you go on a date to a comedy show and have an incredible time, you could easily confuse your date as fun, when really it was just the activity you enjoyed. Similarly, just because you went somewhere on vacation and it was incredible the first time doesn't mean that you will feel the same when you visit again. In fact, Bunzeck and Düzel's research also suggests that the more frequently you interact with something in a predictable fashion, the less the areas in your brain that react to pleasure respond. This doesn't mean that your favorite food will stop being delicious, but it does mean that crazy party in Ibiza will likely be less exciting year after year.
3. Focus less on fun and more on growth.
First off, fun isn't something you have, it is something you create. Fun is a byproduct of other activities, so it requires effort and often planning. Second, travel is not always about having fun, but about growing and embracing opportunities. Often, people tell travel stories about getting robbed or losing their luggage that could be described as terrible, but it was in overcoming a challenge that their travel became enjoyable and interesting. You'll often find that your greatest stories and memorable experiences while traveling required you to overcome some challenge. What makes exploration so wonderful is that it gets you out of your comfort zone. The greatest gift isn't necessarily the memories, but the person that you become in the process.
So don't feel obligated to do all the "fun" stuff. Don't feel bad if you wake up late and don't get to see all the sights. After a while, there are only so many churches, temples, and statues that you can see before they all start looking the same. I used to beat myself up when I'd miss a morning of exploring a new city because I was out late the night before. It wasn't until traveling with a family with small children that I gave myself a break; I realized that those parents don't get to see half as much as I do, since they have to stop every few hours for bathroom breaks, food, etc. As a traveler, you have to be true to your interests, and mine are social.
4. Make time for rest.
It's no fun being hungover on a flight or getting sick on a trip, so make sure that you listen to your body and get the rest that you need. Take care of the basics: food, sleep, sunscreen, and hydration.
For more science-backed tips on to live an exciting and fulfilling life and outrageous stories, pick up a copy of The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure, on sale now.