Can travel change you?

Evidence That Travel Changes Us

As you might expect, studies show that inserting oneself into a new cultural structure can broaden one's outlook. For example, a study on study abroad programs in the University System of Georgia showed that students who studied abroad tested higher for intercultural learning skills post-study abroad than a control group who never studied abroad. They showed a good understanding of how a different cultural setting might affect one's reactions and interactions with other people, for instance [source: Inside Higher Ed]. And a separate study on a Lesley University educational trip to Cuba showed that students second-guessed U.S. news reports about Cuba and felt a connection to the country 11 months after they'd returned from the 10-day trip [source: Brown and Smith].

People looking for transformative travel experiences often choose certain kinds of trips: adventure challenges, volunteer trips, study abroad or spiritual pilgrimages [source: Ross]. And they often head to the wilderness. How effective are such trips into the woods at delivering lasting personal change? According to a survey of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) participants, even five years after their two-week or 30-day wilderness adventures with the organization, NOLS alums credited their experiences with increasing self-confidence levels and helping them to cope with difficult circumstances in their present lives. They also gave NOLS high marks for providing them with lasting leadership skills, team building skills and a "personal perspective on how life can be simpler" [source: Sibthorp].

But not every potentially transformative trip delivers lasting changes. For example, a study on Outward Bound participants showed that while the participants cherished their experiences with the outfit, they found it hard to hang onto any personal changes once they got home [source: Cushing]. And studies on how vacations affect happiness levels have consistently shown that glee levels peak during vacation and then promptly drop off post-trip [source: Nawijn].

However, another study did show that five weeks after vacation, vacationers reported less physical complaints than prior to their trips [source: Strauss-Blasche]. And even if a travel's transformative effects wear off days, months or years after the trip, there's always the opportunity to seek out another travel experience to, yet again, change one's life.

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