There’s no doubt that traveling exposes you to all of new things that you might not encounter in your neighborhood at home, and it turns out all that new exposure might just be making you more creative. This probably doesn’t come as much as a surprise, since there are countless writers and other creatives who pick and move to complete projects. This is partly to do with focus, and partly because it might stimulate new ideas. Some scientists believe that there are some scientific reasons behind this.
The concept of creativity is directly related to the neuroplasticity of the brain, which has to do with how it is wired. Technically how the brain is wired is not set in stone and can be changes throughout your life, depending on the sort of experiences that you provide for it. Any type of new experience whether it is a taste, sound, sight, etc, has the ability to create new synapse connections within the brain which create new neural pathways.
Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, has written a number of studies on this concept. He says:
“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms. The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”
So the important thing to note about traveling from what he is saying is that the immersion is necessary. Staying in an Americanized hotel in another country is not going to provide the same boost for the mind that you would get if you were staying with a local family and speaking the language.
One of his more recent studies published in the Academy of Management Journal, took a look at fashion houses to try and find the links between who was the most creative. The researchers did find a correlations between the fashion designers who had spent time working abroad and their levels of creativity, in that those who were well traveled had more of a consistency to their levels of high creativity.
They also found the point at which there was a diminishing return on creativity. The people who had lived in three different countries showed more creativity than the people who had only lived in one country for example, but over three countries and the results did not hold up. This seemed to be because when people were living in many countries they weren’t getting the appropriate time necessary to immerse themselves and get the benefits that we are discussing. Cultural similarities in the new countries when compared to the home country were actually seen as a plus for increasing creativity, since something completely foreign can be more challenging and might not be as supportive towards sparking the brain in this way.