It’s no secret: people love to travel. Of the thousands of bucket list items, traveling the world and challenging your comfort zone account for most of them. Not only is it a revered activity, scientists say it can also alter your personality — for the better.

These changes are not instant — you’re not going to be a new person after one-weekend getaway. But extended travel periods, where you immerse yourself in a different place and culture, can have positive effects on openness, emotional stability, and a host of other important traits. Scientists have backed these positive personality impacts and made our travel bug ten times worse in the process.

Gain a unique perspective

Extended travel opens you to a world of other perspectives — literally. We tend to settle into a place and stay comfortable, forgetting that more exists outside our finite bubble. When we step outside that bubble, it has positive effects on how we see the world — and our personality in the process.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Openness was one of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits measured. The researchers — Julia Zimmermann and Franz Neye — tracked personality changes in a group of students that studied abroad, comparing the results to a control group of students who remained at home. The ‘Openness’ trait increased in students abroad, especially in those who expanded their social networks globally.

Meeting new people, understanding cultures, and generally immersing yourself in a new place confronts preconceived notions of the world. Embarking on adventures helps formulate a more well-rounded, unique vision of the world. You gain a better understanding of yourself, your life, and how different people live theirs. Scientists say these factors all contribute to making you a more imaginative, curious, and open-minded thinker.

Face your fears

Openness to experience accompanies increased spontaneity. Travel throws you out of your comfort zone, with no reprieve but to embrace the chaos and enjoy it. Travel disasters are inevitable (anyone else been stuck in an airport with lost luggage?) But each time you overcome a challenge, the next one becomes a little bit easier.

Fear stops us from fully experiencing what the world has to offer. When you travel, you are forced to face your fears and adapt to these situations. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, openness to experience becomes a habit, and eventually a new personality trait. As they say — practice makes perfect.

Become a social butterfly

Travel can be an introvert’s worst nightmare. You are forced to interact with people you’ve never met, often in a language you don’t understand. The success of your trip relies on it. But social interaction abroad doesn’t have to be hard, and research shows it will make you a better communicator overall.

Whether it’s asking for directions or recommendations for a local eating hotspot, you are bound to be communicating with strangers often. You’ll get more practice in a country with a different language than yours, as you are forced to communicate through body language. Studies show these skills improve the ‘Agreeableness’ trait. You get along better with others, come off as friendlier, and become more optimistic. Who knows — you may even pick up a new language too.

When you travel solo, you’re also bound to meet people and get some practice making friends. In fact, the study found making friends and forming international relationships was the greatest influence on personality changes. This impacts your confidence and can help you improve your relationships at home.

Improve your creativity

Another paper, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, studied the impacts of living abroad on creativity. The findings suggest the cultural experiences gained from travel have a positive impact on creativity and imagination. The change was only found in people with lived travel experiences, not in the people who merely learned about a culture before completing the study.

Creativity improves when we witness the practices of other cultures firsthand and understand the subtle differences in how people live their lives. Challenging preconceived ideas and adjusting accordingly is a hallmark of creativity. This is a strong argument for embracing the culture of your host country fully when you travel, not just seeing it through the eyes of a tourist.

Improve emotional stability

Another ‘Big Five’ personality measure improved in the study is Emotional Stability (also measured as Neuroticism, or Emotional Instability). Travel is inherently unpredictable, and problems are bound to arise. Dealing with these challenges improves our emotional stability and makes us more adaptable to change.

Travelers are less likely to give up on things that don’t work the first time. Instead of being discouraged, they embrace the challenge and are willing to look at a problem from all sides before tackling it.

People with high Emotional Stability are stress-tolerant, less likely to view a tough situation as threatening or impossible, and less likely to experience persistent worries or anxiety. Of all the improved personality traits, Emotional Stability can have the biggest positive impact on your life — improving health, wellbeing, and relationships.

If you were looking for an excuse to take that backpacking trip across the country or spend a year abroad, there’s no better excuse than becoming a better person. Have you started packing yet?

Featured image: Ray rui via Unsplash