Creativity, Wanderlust, and the Mind

 

Let me know what you think.

There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.

Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “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.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

In Galinsky’s latest study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and three other researchers examined the experiences of the creative directors of 270 high-end fashion houses. Combing through 11 years’ worth of fashion lines, Galinsky and his team searched for links between the creative directors’ experience working abroad and the fashion houses’ “creative innovations,” or the degree “to which final, implemented products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of external audiences.” The level of creativity of a given product was rated by a pool of trade journalists and independent buyers. Sure enough, the researchers found a clear correlation between time spent abroad and creative output: The brands whose creative directors had lived and worked in other countries produced more consistently creative fashion lines than those whose directors had not.

The researchers also found that the more countries the executives had lived in, the more creative the lines tended to be—but only up to a point. Those who had lived and worked in more than three countries, the study found, still tended to show higher levels of creativity that those who hadn’t worked abroad at all, but less creativity that their peers who had worked in a smaller number of foreign countries. The authors hypothesized that those who had lived in too many countries hadn’t been able to properly immerse themselves culturally; they were bouncing around too much. “It gets back to this idea of a deeper level of learning that’s necessary for these effects to occur,” Galinsky says.

Cultural distance, or how different a foreign culture is from one’s own, may also play a role: Surprisingly, Galinsky and his colleagues found that living someplace with a larger cultural distance was often associated with lower creativity than living in a more familiar culture. The reason for that, they hypothesized, was that an especially different culture might come with a bigger intimidation factor, which may discourage people from immersing themselves in it—and no immersion, they explained, could mean none of the cognitive changes associated with living in another country.

Traveling may have other brain benefits, too. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California, says that cross-cultural experiences have the potential to strengthen a person’s sense of self. “What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” she says. “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”

Cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own. “We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity,” Galinsky says. “When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust.”

This trust may play an important role in enhancing creative function. In a 2012 study out of Tel Aviv University, researchers found that people who “believe that racial groups have fixed underlying essences”—beliefs the authors termed “essentialist views”—performed significantly worse in creative tests than those who saw cultural and racial divisions as arbitrary and malleable. “This categorical mindset induces a habitual closed-mindedness that transcends the social domain and hampers creativity,” the study authors wrote. In other words, those who put people in boxes had trouble thinking outside the box.

Of course, although a new country is an easy way to leave a “social comfort zone,” the cultural engagement associated with cognitive change doesn’t have to happen abroad. If a plane ticket isn’t an option, maybe try taking the subway to a new neighborhood. Sometimes, the research suggests, all that’s needed for a creative boost is a fresh cultural scene.

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Europe, on sweet training wheels.

You know I’m all for savage adventure. After Colombia and a brief respite back in the mitten, through chance and a bit of luck I’ve found myself back on the road. An easy flight to Amsterdam, and a few days on the canals turned into a run to Brussels and the push down to the Mediterranean. I’ll start by saying I love the Netherlands. I’ve used Amsterdam well over a dozen times to base invasions or departures from Europe. Winter, summer, spring…never a bad time here. Stroll the Red Light district, have a waffle, enjoy the people watching and the canals. Take it all in and relax. You’ve arrived! This is the perfect starting point. I’ve come to look at Amsterdam a bit as the perfect beginners gateway to Europe. Or, as the title suggests, Europe with training wheels. Let’s start with the airport. It’s big, sure, but easy to navigate. Make your way through customs and viola, the train station is in the basement of the airport. 25 min and 6$ and you are now in the city center.

How easy was that?!

Arriving in the morning is cool as the city is disarmingly quiet. Make your way to your accommodation, drop your stuff, grab a shower/charge your things and get out there! The people here are used to tourists. Don’t worry too much, if you’re confused about something, ask. There are tons of foreigners here, especially in the center. Find a cafe, grab a coffee and start your exploration. I’m a total sucker for canal shots as you can tell. These make for the ideal morning wander as they have a tendency to get jammed packed as the day goes on. You will log serious miles marveling at the old world architecture, waterways, and other sordid attractions. As this is the red light district, you will walk past people engaging in the time honored wake and bake, hitting it hard in the various coffee shops as well as on the street.

Yes. Weed is legal, taxed, and regulated. Enjoy that shit. Just don’t be a wanker about it.

One of the other big taboos for Americans is legalized prostitution. Get over it. Also, respect the ladies. Don’t try to take their picture or waste their time. Smile and walk by. Enjoy the ambiance. How many places like this exist in the world?!

Enjoy the European cafe culture, walk this city, and see how much different things can be. The Dutch are awesome, and as an American they may just ask you why everyone in the States is so sensitive. Grab a beer at one of the dozens of eclectic bars and think about this question. Hang around for the night life, and soon you will be with people from 10 different countries, sampling beer and snacks that simply don’t exist at home, expanding your mind with conversations you never thought you’d have.

A mind stretched by new experiences has a terrible time being closed again. Instead, it will leave you hungry for more.

Buy the ticket, take the ride, and let the good times roll. Amen.

WOW for Iceland!

Sometimes one must start the telling of grand adventure from the end. Images, words, experiences, all mash together in a stream of consciousness that runs in loop form within the mind. Do you tap this loop and pour it through a writing instrument, or do you let it sort a bit, and go from there?

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Time to talk about Iceland, and the art of spontaneous adventure. Remember the back drop here A Note on Spontaneity  As a  friend and I booked $200 USD round trip tickets to Reykjavik for the weekend.  We did this a bit over a week before departure. Now, Ive been to Iceland before, but I was mainly interested in WOW Air as an option. The Icelandic airline received great fanfare for publishing 99$ one way fares to Europe from the eastern United States a few years ago. If this proved a viable option, what a great addition to the travel toolbox this would be!

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But c’mon. $200 flights? What is this, the international version of Spirit Air dressed in pink? Gross. No thanks.

But wait! I’ve had so many people ask me about WOW, that I decided to investigate for you. (I’m a nice guy like that) Throw in a stop in Reykjavik, a few hot dogs, a waterfall or two, and we have a weekend adventure! WOW now operates out of Chicago Ohare, as well as Detroit (DTW). These fares are cheap, come with limited baggage allowance and random seat assignments. Both ways we flew a moderately new Airbus A321  with a 3 +3 seat configuration. Both times I ended up in the middle. I was prepared for the flight from hell, but I have to say…this wasn’t bad whatsoever. The flight over was a bit warm. The staff proved courteous and efficient. I packed snacks and a water bottle, so I didn’t need to purchase anything on the 6 hour flight to Reykjavik.  (water was priced at $3.25) which is similar to airport prices and not overtly horrendous. My backpack the SwissGear Travel Gear 597 Packed with weekend essentials came in at 14lbs or so.  My bag fit easily, and caused no problems.  We were set to land in Reykjavik just before 5 am.IMG_1723

Landed! and exactly what kind of trial run would it be if potential disaster didn’t strike?! Expectations exceeded for the flight over, and feeling a bit sweaty from the middle row passage over, I eagerly departed the plane and made my way to line for customs. The line is long, its 4:50 am, and i’m ready for a shower. I’m getting my proverbial ducks in a row for passport control and I go cold. Starting from my spine and soon radiating throughout my whole body cold.

 

Where the fuck is my passport??

 

My poor battered, beaten, and glory giving passport….sweet Jesus, I must have left it on the plane! I notify my friend and tear out of line, hoofing it back toward where we had entered the airport. Of course we cant get back there,  So the “service counter” must be located in a panicked rush. (I’m telling this story, so that you know, even frequent travelers encounter snags of their own making…like my forgotten iPad incident from a while back) I find WOW air agents at the service desk, explain my plight, and knowing how cheap my ticket was expect sheer calamity… And I am once again pleasantly surprised! The agents were nice, chatty and understanding. I waited 15 min or so, and I soon had my passport returned, even with enough time to glance the Icelandic sun rise. IMG_1594

what a day of victory!

Shuttle into the city (the airport is 45 min away from the capital of Reykjavik)

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and we are ready to go! Now remember, Iceland is a small country population wise, and are proud of their long Viking tradition. The Icelandic language is fascinating to hear, and is largely unchanged over the previous thousand years. We knew we were going to hit the city, and then soak up the jaw dropping scenery a shortish trek from the capital.

Savage nature abounds for this tiny and amazing nation. This weekend included mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, geysers, and even a Continental rift!

IMG_2889 I have long thought of travel as therapy. I expounded more on this here 7 more days…Travel to soothe the soul Putting miles under foot, and absorbing these landscapes did grant me a sense of clarity. This trip was short, but I felt a sense of renewal by the time of the flight home. IMG_2926

How can one not marvel at such a sight? Standing here, experiencing the layers and complexities that exist in the natural world. This moment alone made the entire run “worth it”.

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Words of course simply cannot do these landscapes justice. Just give you a teaser for what is awaiting you. You can even go back a few times, and be stunned each and every one of them.

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A full day of exploring brought us back to the city for Fish n chips and few beers.

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Thinking back over this weekend, There is a sense of accomplishment. I give final exams this week, and wrap up my 7th year in the classroom. I am unsure what lies ahead.  This is  the season of conclusion, and of course then by default also a season of beginning.  You wake up in Chicago, Reykjavik, lose an hour, gain hours, etc etc. I woke up in Iceland, knowing I was leaving that day. That feeling of packing, of thinking over exit logistics. I’ve woken up in countless hotel rooms, apartments, houses, hostels etc, and known that feeling. This particular segment is over. the hope that there will be renewed adventure in the future, but feeling thankful you had at least one more go of it.

Nothing on the road is perfect, and expecting it to be so is rather greedy. Its all in the experience. I was quite impressed in the performance of WOW air, and no longer have a wary feeling about using them. Iceland as always proved thrilling and other worldly.  Thank for coming with me once again.

 

get there anyway you can.

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A Note on Spontaneity

Just fucking go.

 

Seriously.

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There will always be a thousand excuses not to. Some more pliable than others.  Is it the perfect time? Probably not. Do you have wads of disposable income with no other designated purpose than making you smile? Probably not. On the flip side, however, do you need to eat out 3~ days a week? Probably not.  Lease and drive a new wanker mobile? Most likely not.  Do you really need that 5$ a day latte habit? Certainly not. Do any of these things actually make your life better?

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Find a way, buy the ticket, take the ride.  adventure is the one purchase that will always make you richer. Set the goal, embrace the unknown, and love taking the plunge. Love yourself enough to say “Lets do this”!  Even if this means finding yourself post leap, hurdling toward certain disaster, then at the last minute  building your wings on the way down, and coasting into bliss. I’ve never encountered anyone, late in life that said “I wish I didn’t adventure as much” or “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”…because that shit simply does not exist.  This is your life, and its ending one minute at a time. Why are you wasting these precious minutes on shit relationships, craptastic jobs, or toxic friendships?  There is a freaking world out there to discover. Literally billions of people, crazy flavors, insanely great cultures, traditions, and collective experiences.

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I want to help you. In fact, I am dedicated to helping you. In this vein, I want you to maximize those travel dollars and inspire you to get up, get moving, and get into having your mind blown.  I have posted about some crazy airfare deals in the past, its one of the main pillars for cheap travel. In recent years there’s been a monsoon of activity for the LCC (Low Cost Carrier) segment.  What is this all about?

 

Funny you should ask.

 

I will take the plunge for you. I’ve just booked 200$ (USD) roundtrip flights to Iceland…for a weekend…Two weeks from now. This is exam season, and I don’t have a ton of time. Who goes to Iceland for a weekend?! Who books transatlantic travel less than two weeks out!?

The GypsyProfessor, that’s who. I’m going to detail the experience, and let you know how twisted it gets, and how bare bones it can be. Savage plastic lawn chairs aboard an airbus for 6 hours. Will it prove worth it?

This way when the next dirt cheap fare pops, you will have all the info you need to pull the trigger. Just a mini weekend run before we prep for a run through the jungle after the semester finishes!

Reykjavik! Prepare for my triumphant return!

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Wish me luck, and leave some love!

Gear Review: The Kelty 44L Pack

Here she is. The  Kelty Redwing 44 L Backpack 2013 – Black. I’ve been traveling for a few years with this pack as my mid range option. I’ve made this beast work for numerous  month long trips to both Asia, as well as Europe. I also use this pack for my shorter 10-20 day excursions as well. From Cabo, to Bangkok the Kelty 44 Redwing gets it done. Please use the above link to purchase.

Lets take a look at the specs.

Features

Specifications

    • Dual side pockets
    • Front pocket with organization
    • Front Stash pocket with closure hook
    • Top stash pocket
    • Side compression straps
    • Water bottle pockets
    • Dual use Laptop / Hydration Sleeve
    • Hide-Away Daisy Chain and Handle
    • Ice axe/trekking pole loops
    • Key fob
    • HDPE frame sheet
    • Hex Mesh back panel, shoulder straps and waist belt
    • Padded and ventilating back panel
    • Sternum strap
    • Load lifter straps
    • Single LightBeam aluminum stay
    • Removable waist belt
    • Volume: 2700 in3 / 44 L
    • Frame Type:  Internal
    • Weight:  2 lbs 10 oz / 1.2 kg
    • Torso Fit Range:  14.5 – 18.5 in / 37 – 47 cm
    • Dimensions: 25 x 15 x 12 in / 64 x 38 x 30 cm
    Body Fabric: 
    Poly 420D Small Back StaffordReinforcement Fabric: 
    Poly 75x150D Tasser Coal

    Frame Material: 
    Aluminum + HDPE

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fresh with a crumpled Ukrainian air tag, on the floor of the Chicago L train from the airport to the loop.

IMG_6958 This bag has served as a carry on for me with numerous regional carriers, LCC’s and everything in between. I’ve never had a problem using this pack as a carry on. 2016 I logged 225k miles in the air or so, and use the Kelty as my “one bag” option.

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Here is a handy video of the features.

I have loved this pack, and its versatile features. The zipper design means I dont have to use it as a top load only, and thus smashing all of my stuff into the bottom. I have traveled with laptops, tablets, etc, and this is a superb design for the digital nomad, and mobile professional.

Kelty Redwing 44 L Backpack 2013 – Black

Please leave a comment with any questions or comments. Thank you!

Friday Motivation

 

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The weekend is nearly upon us! It’s time once again to momentarily shed the office shackles and wander a bit farther afield…Even if only in our imaginations.

Today’s blurb comes to us from an unlikely source.

 

Remember that there needs to be a balance, don’t kill your self for a company/job that would replace you in minutes.

Take care of yourself.

“The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save – the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour – your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being.”

– Karl Marx, 1844

 

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Now rock that weekend!