Passport Report: International Travel Boosts Creativity, Says Science

Researchers find a direct correlation between creativity and time spent overseas
Per Swantesson/Stocksy

Annie Daly—Of course you know that traveling abroad is amazing. You get the see the world, try new things and learn about different cultures. But what you may not know is that it can also increase your creativity, according to a new study published in the Academy of Management Journal.

Related: Science! Vacations as Good for Your Brain as They Are for Your Tan

For the study, researchers from Columbia University analyzed the experiences of three creative directors from 270 high-end fashion houses over 11 years. They looked at how long each creative director had worked abroad, and then brought in a team of trade journalists and independent buyers to judge how imaginative their lines were through those years. Well, get this: It turns out there was a direct correlation between creativity and time spent overseas. The longer a director spent on international soil, the more inspired their lines were in the long run.

There was a more nuanced finding, too. Researchers also concluded that directors who’d lived and worked in fewer than three countries were more creative than directors who’d lived in three or more—but all overseas directors were still more creative than those who hadn’t trekked out of the country at all. Translation: All international work increased directors’ creativity, but those who didn’t hop around as much were better off. 

Who knew riding a camel could be so good for your brain? (Photo: Getty Images)

Related: Beating Jet Lag and Travel Exhaustion with Science and Magic

The question, then, is this: Why does concentrated international travel make people more creative overall? It comes down to cultural immersion. Putting yourself in a new place and truly interacting with the people and the culture forces you to think in different ways and jump between different ideas— a term scientists refer to as cognitive flexibility. “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” Adam Galinsky, the study’s lead author, told The Atlantic.

Related: Get an Ivy League Education – on Vacation

Galinsky is also quick to emphasize how the so-called “immersion effect” only works if you truly immerse yourself in the culture. In other words, if you go to a resort in Punta Cana and don’t talk to a single Dominican person aside from your bartender, your creative juices won’t be stimulated as much as they would if you ventured out into the villages and talked to the locals. Can’t get time off for a while? Simply taking the bus to a new neighborhood with a different culture may deliver the same effect, Galinsky said, though immersion in an entirely different country is still your ultimate golden ticket.

These travelers, who are helping a member of the Hulis tribe in Papua New Guinea prepare leaves, are in for a major brain boost. (Photo: Marc Dozier/Corbis)

Our suggestion, not surprisingly, is to take this news *very seriously* and book your next international trip ASAP. And if your boss gives you a hard time for taking too many vacation days? Show him or her this study—and say you are going abroad “in the name of work” so you return with even more amazing ideas.

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