The Science of Travel. Part IV.

The Science of Travel. Part IV.

In the previous posts, basic arguments about travels were discussed. This post is focused on psychology and the way the human brain works in a process from an impulse to a memory.

The Change

Whether you like it or not travel means change. Travel changes both: a traveler and a place where the traveler is heading to. It triggers a variety of psychological mechanisms of adaptation in order to sustain a natural balance (so called homeostasis). First, all humans have a general tendency to simplify the reality. Every mechanism which cuts down the effort of the human brain is preferred and repeated. You are not the exception. Therefore, we have hundreds of small mechanisms which reduce the effort of perception, analysis, and understanding of what our senses perceive. The travel does not decrease the natural tendency of simplification. On the contrary!


Here is a short story that explains what overstimulation is. It is useful in understanding how the human brain works.

Brain on digital screen

Imagine a house of a poor and disadvantaged family where both parents are heavy drinkers and they have a newborn baby. It is an ordinary evening and they make a noise so the baby starts crying, which is what you would expect. Time passes and the volume of the noise made by drunk parents increases. Eventually, the neighbors call the police. When they come what do they see? A crying baby? No. They find the baby that sleeps. The noise was so loud for so long that put the baby sleep. This is what overstimulation means.

When there are too many impulses our brain switches off.

This rule also works for the adults and for the travelers. I am sure that many travelers had such moments and were surprised that instead of excitement they felt burnt out or instead of going out exploring all they were dreaming about was staying home and do nothing. Travels bring many moments full of the noise, colors, movement, impressions, and all of them are new to a traveler. It is impossible to analyze and remember everything. Therefore, the question arises: what decides which impulse is analyzed and which is dropped?

It brings us to the second stage of the process: the selection.

The Selection

Out of all impulses detected by our five senses our brain picks up what to analyze further. It is absolutely impossible to analyze everything. The impulses are brought to short term memory. From there, selected again, they are eventually brought to the long term memory and stays there for a long time, and sometimes even forever.

Each person, each traveler, has his/her own filters that he/she puts information through. The prior knowledge you have before visiting the place decides on what you see and, eventually, what you remember. Every memory is highly subjective.

Science of travel

The more impulses on the same object or place, the deeper and accurate our opinion becomes. The attention and concentration have a paramount significance. If you saw a place for one day your impressions from this place are close to a statistical error. It will be still yours and very personal but not even close to the truth.

The Memories

An unconscious process of processing information from an impulse noted by our senses to the memory takes seconds. Therefore, there are few crucial things that each traveler needs to remember. Our preconceptions play a pivotal role in our perception. Further, the development of our consciousness is helpful in getting the full picture of the place. Again, the more focused you are and the more attention to the details you give your memories becomes multidimensional. The more time you spent in a place, the more accurate your impressions is.

The best news is that the journey lasts much longer than the travel itself. Just like in a book by John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley”. In one of the small towns of the West Coast of the USA, he met a man who thirty years before went on a journey to Hawaii. For all these years he was sitting on his porch thinking about this journey. Analysing and remembering all details he was traveling again and again.

Now, I’m not saying everyone should travel only once and analyze the journey for the rest of their life. In between, however, lays the balance. Instead running like mad and collecting the places, limit your travels and make an effort to think, analyze, make sense out of them. Developing such skills of a deep analysis is crucial in understanding other people, their habits, their culture, and the context.

The Science of Travel

Next post will discuss a controversial issue of the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Disclosure: all posts ‘The Science of Travel’ are based on scientific literature. The authors of the books and articles included in these posts were s follows: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Eric Cohen, Chris Rojek, John Urry, Tim Edensor, Judith Adler, and a few others. Any comments are more than welcome!

About the author

I get easily fascinated with people and places. I am passionately curious. I get often seduced with the beauty of nature. Blue sky, pure water, white snow and endless horizon seams to be enough to make me happy.

View all articles by Agata Mleczko