Travel opportunities arise for all kinds of reasons – from education or business ventures to celebrating a momentous occasion. Traveling can have a huge impact on a person emotionally, mentally, and physically.
That moment when you leave behind a world of familiarity and step foot into a place with a different culture, food, language, and, above all, new people, the influence may last you for the rest of your life.
To see which types of trips have the greatest impact on people’s perspectives and worldviews, we surveyed over 1,770 residents from both the U.S. and U.K. Read on to explore the benefits of traveling abroad.
The Impact of International Travel
Choosing a travel destination can take a lot of careful consideration and proper planning, especially if the goal is to return home with newfound knowledge and a life-changing experience. International travel can broaden your horizons and make you want to incorporate the things you learned abroad into your everyday life.
A staggering 67 percent of Americans who’d been to the Middle East said their travels completely or greatly changed them. However, only 37.5 percent of U.K. residents who’d been to the Middle East felt this way.
It’s no secret that in the U.S., there are many misconceptions and stereotypes about the Middle East perpetuated by news and pop culture. When Americans actually see the region firsthand, they might be surprised to see how different it is from what they imagined.
No matter which region they visited, Americans were more likely to say their travels changed their perspective more so than U.K. residents. This could be because fewer Americans actually make treks across the globe. On the other hand, traveling abroad seems to be much more common for U.K. residents, although those who’d been to South America were the most likely out of their cohort to report feeling high degrees of change.
“What Brings You Here?”
Not only does the destination have a great impact on how beneficial an experience is but also the purpose of travel can be an important influence.
Travelers who were affected the most by their excursions were those who lived as expatriates in another country. Whether it’s for work or leisure, there are a lot of reasons someone would want to live in another country for an extended period. Some report it improves their mental and physical health and enhances their creativity.
Another group of people who were positively impacted by their international travels were those on volunteer or mission trips. Volunteering leads to multiple opportunities that provide travelers with life-changing experiences, such as learning new cultures, languages, ways of life, and a newfound appreciation for their own culture.
Among those surveyed, those who traveled solo were more likely to say they were greatly changed than those who traveled with friends or family. The idea of traveling alone, especially to another country, could seem a little scary. However, some enjoy the total control they have over their itinerary, and even consider it a major rite of passage.
Some countries may be more accommodating to solo travelers than others, which can help when narrowing down where to go. Some of these to consider are New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Austria, just to name a few.
Getting “In” With the Locals
The way you interact with your surroundings during an international travel experience can influence how much the trip changes your perspective. Sure, it’s easy and comfortable to stay within the confines of your hotel or resort and visit the typical tourist attractions, but if you crave a real cultural experience, you may have to go a bit past your comfort zone.
With safety and common sense in mind, make a plan to venture off-site from wherever you are staying and try something new. One of the best ways to really learn about a culture is through its cuisine. Seek out a family-owned restaurant, sign up for a cooking class, or take a culinary tour.
Attempting to learn the native language is another great way to gain an understanding of a culture. Learning the local language allows you to have conversations with the citizens, which can help to enrich your experience further. Roughly 44 percent who attempted to learn the local language while traveling experienced a great or complete change in perspective due to their trip, compared to less than 24 percent of those who made no attempts to do so. Not only does learning the language help you better enjoy your trip but also there are additional benefits that will help you become a more enriched person, such as increasing brain power and knowledge, improving listening skills, and being more open-minded.
Finally, over 41 percent of people who tried to understand or practice local customs, and nearly 45 percent of those who made friends with the locals reported their trips greatly changed them. Meeting and spending time with locals is a surefire way to give you a real taste of the culture. Their suggestions can surpass any guidebook or tourist itinerary and explain the reasons things are done a certain way.
Connecting to Community Near and Far
As we’ve seen so far, travel may change people’s perspective on the world, but it can also help them feel more connected to those at home. Those who traveled internationally were more likely to report feeling connected to the local community than those who had not.
Our findings showed that being exposed to new cultures may help people to see those around them differently and appreciate them more. Additionally, around 35 percent of international travelers felt they were more able to strongly identify with people from all over the world, compared to 24 percent of those who hadn’t traveled abroad.
Those who hadn’t been abroad were more likely to report being connected to their home countries than their own communities or the world at large.
Debunking Traveler Myths
There are a lot of notions or stereotypes about tourists and travelers – as well as those who haven’t traveled. However, these stereotypes don’t always stand up to the truth.
The most common perception of travelers was that they were wealthy. In fact, almost 79 percent of non-travelers believed those who traveled internationally were rich. However, less than 16 percent of people who traveled internationally made between $75,000 and $99,000 a year. These individuals may work hard to have the means to travel, possibly making huge sacrifices to pay for all the expenses. Non-travelers do recognize these travelers’ work ethic, though, as over 77 percent described travelers as successful, and more than 48 percent described them as hardworking.
It might also be assumed that someone who is constantly traveling doesn’t have a real job. Out of those polled, the highest percentage of international travelers were, in fact, unemployed (22.5 percent, to be exact). Under 13 percent of international travelers were salaried or hourly employees, and almost 12 worked for themselves. These people may travel for work purposes such as teaching abroad, have telecommunication positions that allow them to work while traveling, or have the luxury of creating their own schedules.
Learning Through Travel
The longer the trip, the more the travelers in our study were changed. Travelers who spent eight or more weeks, on average, abroad experienced a greater change in perspective than those who only traveled between two and 4.5 weeks. Those who traveled for 14 weeks, on average, reported experiencing a complete change. Although a two-month vacation is something most of us can only dream of, lengthier trips can be truly life-changing experiences. However, you can still make the most of a short trip by planning out your itineraries and staying in accomodations in the middle of the city.
International travelers who visited more countries also reported having greater changes in perspective. By traveling to more countries, you have more opportunities to learn and grow and more experiences to write home about. Those who traveled to an average of 4.5 countries said they felt no change at all, while those who visited over 10 countries felt they had been completely changed.
International travel can have a profound effect on your mental, physical, and spiritual health. It can greatly impact how you live your life on a day-to-day basis, and make you view the world and the people around you in new ways. It also may motivate and inspire you to continue traveling and exploring – whether abroad or within your own country.
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To conduct this survey, we recruited 1,773 participants using Prolific and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. 762 respondents were U.K. residents, and they took the survey using the Prolific platform. 1,011 participants were U.S. residents who took the survey through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
81.4 percent of all participants had traveled internationally, and 18.6 percent had not traveled internationally.
To determine the level to which people identified with their communities, countries, and world, we used a scale from the University of California at Berkeley’s “Greater Good Magazine,” which is a simplified, adapted version of a scale recently developed by psychologists at Western Kentucky University. To simplify our visualizations, we grouped responses of “quite a bit” and “very much.”
We asked participants to rate to what degree their international travels changed their life or perspective on the world. They could choose from five answers: no change, slightly changed, somewhat changed, greatly changed, or completely changed. To simplify our visualizations, we sometimes grouped “greatly changed” and “completely changed.” Then, this was applied to the regions people visited. This means we cannot directly determine how much their lives were changed by specific places.
All of the data presented here were self-reported by our participants, which means there may be inherent issues with the data. These issues include forgetfulness, exaggeration, and minimization, among others.
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