Eye on Extension: The unexpected benefits of travel

VALLEY — I’m currently gearing up to head to Colombia for an international robotics competition with members of one of my local 4-H robotics teams. Packing and trip planning always gets me thinking about why I love to travel so much. There are obvious benefits to travel that we all understand, like the thrill of seeing new things, the joy of making memories with family and friends, and the relaxation of putting our work and home responsibilities on pause.

Studies, like a 2013 report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies and Global Coalition on Aging, show that travel can also benefit us in more unexpected ways. For one, that stress relief we get from even a short vacation can help prevent burnout at our jobs and lead to long-term reductions in heart disease. This translates to people who live longer than their non-traveling peers.

In addition to these health benefits, travel has also been found to help promote creativity. When we travel, we frequently experience new things, meet new people and deal with new situations. All of these novel experiences spark new connections in our brains and make them more flexible. This ability to process and adapt to new experiences can help us approach challenges in new ways and make unexpected connections. These qualities are tied to increased creativity.

Another way we benefit from traveling is by increasing our cultural awareness. Mark Twain once wrote that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Research supports this observation. Travel can help expose us to new people and cultures. Getting to know how other people live, and what they value, can help develop our own cross-cultural understanding. That makes us all more tolerant and open-minded.

In the process of learning about others we can also learn surprising things about ourselves. Travel frequently forces us to get out of our comfort zones as we deal with unfamiliar situations. This helps us build resilience and confidence in our daily lives. When you can manage to order food in a foreign language, or navigate around an unfamiliar place, small challenges back home can seem more manageable.

Travel is also great for our kids. They get a lot of the same benefits as adults. Youth of all backgrounds who travel also tend to get better grades and be more interested in their studies. In addition they are more likely to earn a college degree than their non-traveling peers. Travel also broadens their horizons and makes them more prepared for the modern global world.

If you’d like to follow my robotics team, of Mason Torr and Michael Ward, and me on our travels in Colombia you can check out the San Luis Valley 4-H Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SLV4H. We’ll be posting photos and videos from May 10 to the 15 to let everyone in our San Luis Valley 4-H family share our journey. Maybe we’ll inspire some of you to go from armchair travelers to jetsetters!

Amy Henschen is the 4-H Youth Development Agent for Colorado State University Extension. To find out more about Extension and the 4-H program visit http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu or call 719-852-7381. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.