Hola! I’ve just returned from a wonderful two-and-a-half-week vacation in Europe. It’s been many years since I’ve been on that beautiful, historical western continent, so it was time.

This trip was a special opportunity to enjoy a fun and meaningful travel adventure with my daughter and unplug from my regular work and household commitments and routines. My brain greatly appreciated the break, change of pace, and novel environments.

For my daughter, it was part of her envisioned ‘gap year’ travel experiences before she goes into full-time post secondary studies. Many countries in Europe appealed to her, but after lots of consideration, discussions with others and research, the decision was made to experience the sunny Mediterranean country of Spain.

Since countries are so closely located in Europe, it would have been possible to visit several other places during our travel time frame. However, that would mean a more cursory experience of each one, and that would take away from a more meaningful and in-depth exploration of the one we chose.

Thirty years ago, when I was a part-time University student and part-time nanny in the south of France, I spent a week in Spain back-packing with some friends. I recall greatly enjoying that Spanish travel excursion and was happy to return again and experience it anew with my daughter.  

We certainly made the most of our adventure and visited many cities and sites from the southern charms of Malaga and Mijas up to the bustling northern coast of Valencia and Barcelona. While we had a plan in mind, and a lot of the trip went according to it, we also had to be flexible, go with the flow and open to Plan B. 
What really struck me during our travels, was the reminder that life is always teaching us, and travel is an incredible way to learn, develop new skills and grow our brains. Too often we associate learning with a classroom, but ‘life is learning’ and it happens everywhere. 

In fact, there were many learning opportunities from the planning stages of the trip to actual implementation. Lessons that simply can’t be taught in a textbook; they require lived experience and practical application.

Real-life, hands-on, cognitive growth opportunities can occur near or far, whether you take a plane or not and whether it’s weeks in duration or even a day excursion to a local area that you’ve never visited before of your own city, town or neighbourhood.

Here are 12 examples of travel learning opportunities:

  1. Researching – read books, peruse websites, watch videos and talk with others who’ve lived in or visited the place(s) you are going to.
  2. Planning – create your itinerary and schedule while ensuring you leave ample time for unexpected opportunities and meandering.
  3. Organizing – pre-travel (pre-excursion) preparations such as; what you’ll take, the luggage you’ll use and how you will pack, travel insurance, car rentals etc.
  4. Time management – consider the schedule and length of flights, trains and buses. What will you use to navigate – GPS, maps? How much can you realistically fit into your agenda to manage it effectively?
  5. Critical thinking – gather information, consider, analyze and evaluate various angles of your planning or situation, instead of making a limited or knee-jerk reaction right-away.
  6. Decision making – weigh out options, consider possible outcomes of your choices and adhere to deadlines.
  7. Flexibility – have a plan, but also be willing to go with the flow, embrace the unknown and often the inevitable, “Plan B”.
  8. Creativity – think out of the box, be innovative, try new things, go in new directions, and re-purpose your resources.
  9. Observing – take in the experiences through your senses to navigate your surroundings more effectively and for safety purposes.
  10. Curiosity – ask questions, be open to learning and trying new things, and have unexpected conversations with locals and fellow travellers.   
  11. Connections – meet new people, share your experiences, keep in touch.
  12. Health – consider best practises for eating whole foods, a balanced diet and getting a range of movement to support your body, brain and immune system.

Additionally, enjoy the positive feelings you experience when travelling, which are thanks to a whole lot of happy brain neurochemicals that get activated, such as;

  • Dopamine – via the anticipation of experiencing new things
  • Serotonin – via learning and growing knowledge and skill sets
  • Oxytocin – via meeting new people, helping a stranger and sharing in special experiences with travel companion(s).

With all of these opportunities literally at your fingertips, consider how can you insert some ‘travel’ and exploration into your life. Simple things like going to a new restaurant, trying a foreign food, visiting a park or even hopping on a tourist bus in your own city can provide a whole bunch of healthy brain stimulation and growth. 

Make a list of ideas and go for it! The benefits are countless.  As well, they will provide immediate brain stimulation and long-term positive effects as you reminisce, look over photos, and re-tell many humorous, challenging, exciting and even life-changing stories. 

To Your Fit Brain & Fit Life,