Travelling has always brought me a huge amount of joy. 

I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world for work and play, and even lived in a few countries along the way. I always seem to find that travelling creates an optimism and openness in me that normal life just can’t match.

Whenever I’ve returned to my London life, I’ve tried to integrate that optimism and openness, along with other travel insights. But somehow those good feelings seem to subside over time once I got back home. 

Well now we have a bit more insight as to why that is. 

Let’s start with the brain. The brain is rewarded by a hormone called dopamine, which is a molecule that provides us with the feeling of reward and motivation. We tend to repeat the behaviours and actions that give us this molecule release, because it feels good, and so we try to seek out more. 

If you want to deep dive on this topic, you can read about the nobel prize winners who discovered that dopamine is the big motivator of human beings throughout the whole of time. 

So here we are, going about our lives seeking out dopamine, when we decide to travel to a new place – sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure. What happens when we do this? We experience new things, we meet new people, we see new perspectives… and we’re rewarded with a dose of that feel-good molecule. 

In addition to the dopamine hit from actually travelling, science tells us that thinking about future travels is good for our mental health.

When we plan our next trip, we transport our minds out of the now to what we perceive to be happier times. This is particularly significant and important in times of chaos and uncertainty, because it produces optimism. 

Planning a trip has been shown to provide us with dopamine rewards just as significant as the actual trip itself. In a recent study it was discovered that planning, confirming and looking forward to travel gives us a feeling of control

Knowing this meant that with my recent trip to Chicago, I could appreciate at a deeper level the feel-good feelings as I planned my itinerary, got excited about the details, thought about all the yummy food I might try, and anticipated all the people I might meet. 

I was neurochemically rewarded even before I got there. Talk about an excellent return on investment!

Now, from a leadership development perspective (you must know by now this is where I will go with this), there is another aspect about travel that I think is invaluable for leaders and future leaders to consider: The fact that travel can rewire your brain. 

Scientists used to believe that the brain was only changeable during childhood, but now widely accept that neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to change — is present throughout your life.

Travel has the capacity to change your personality, believe it or not, because if we get outside our comfort zones, especially when thinking about something like living abroad in a country that you are not native to, you have to challenge your own perceptions in order to be successful. You develop a greater ‘openness to experience’. 

People with high levels of openness tend to seek out new experiences, be comfortable with the unfamiliar, and be more introspective than those lower on the trait, who can be perceived as closed-minded. 

How does this relate to leadership? 

A core component of being a successful leader in today’s digital age, is being comfortable with the unfamiliar. Being comfortable with the unfamiliar means you’d be able to adapt better, and provide greater support and resilience to your team. Plus the increased sense of openness in someone who has travelled or lived abroad, would make them have greater empathy – again a vital skill for today’s leader. 

As millennials get to higher positions of responsibility and leadership, we will need more leaders who have had travel experiences that have shaped them and developed their personalities to have some of these characteristics. 

So if you want to develop your leadership capabilities, then I can wholeheartedly endorse travel as a transformational experience. 

You now know that it not only brings positive rewards to you personally in the short term, but also longer term benefits for your team, and the people in your life. 

What are you waiting for? Get thee on a trip! And also, reach out to Slate Digital to talk more about how to develop your leaders today. 

We can always do it on location 😉