How travel makes you a better decision maker

How travel makes you a better decision maker


For the record, I’m not saying travel makes your decisions better, although it might. What it definitely does is it makes you a better decision maker.

There is a whole science to decision making, which I’m going to ignore in this post. With the exception of one book that is only indirectly related to decision making: Why Most Things Fail.

In that book, Paul Ormerod draws a parallel between biological and economic evolution and arrives at the conclusion that like most species, most companies go extinct in the long run and that chance plays a much bigger role in who stays alive and who doesn’t than we like to think. It’s not merely the survival of the fittest (or the one who makes the best decisions), but the fittest who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

He goes on attacking conventional economic theory by stating that the profit maximising economic agent doesn’t exist. We never have access to all the information there is to be had and even if we did, we would not be able to process it all. Which is why rather than trying to make the best decision ever, we try making good enough decisions.

Malcolm Gladwell arrives at a similar conclusion in his book, Blink. It’s not my favourite book of all times – too much fluff around a little bit of juice -, but it succeeds in making one thing clear:  oftentimes we’re better off making a gut decision than a rational one. We make gut decisions in the blink of an eye, while carefully considering all the alternatives and weighing the pros and cons may take ages and lead to a similar success rate statistically.

And that’s where travel becomes your ally.

By simply overwhelming you with decisions you have to make all the time, travel teaches you to:

  • prioritize between less and more important decisions,
  • make less important decisions literally in the blink of an eye,
  • make important decisions quicker,
  • accept the consequences of your decisions,
  • learn from the bad decisions you make,
  • realise that not making a decision is also making a decision, and usually not the right one.


How does travel do all that?

By breaking your routines.

Routines, like taking the same route to work every morning, going to the same restaurant and having the daily menu, going to the same gym, same shops etc. make our lives easier. We made the choice once and don’t have to make it all over again every day.

That’s all gone while travelling. You have to make these choices every day. So instead of running the routine, making these decisions becomes routine.

As you get better and better at it, you’ll know what you want to order before the waiter brings out the menu. (When sampling local delicacies is not the objective of course. But even if it is, you might just play “menu roulette”.)

And that’s why you’ll have more mental energy to focus on the big decisions that really matter. Like whether you should throw all your plans of travelling out of the window and stay somewhere for what might be the love of your life. Or not.

I’m not sure whether any of this applies if you run a hedge fund and need to decide about which paper to buy or sell. But to become a better decision maker in your personal life, I can’t think of a better education than travelling.


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4 Comments How travel makes you a better decision maker

  1. Martijn says:

    Excellent post! I agree with your point, and think that the amount of information available is also a big factor. When travelling, you often have to make decisions based on preciously little info (because you don’t understand the language, or don’t know many people around who could inform you). You learn to make adequate decisions without knowing all the facts. And yes, that’s a major skill if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, or hedge fund manager. Conversely, I find that having a surplus of information can be paralysing when travelling… like when you are looking for a decent hostel, and there are 50 rated 4+ stars on Tripadvisor. :)

    Two Bags and a Suitcase

    • zsolt says:

      Couldn’t agree more Martijn! Reading too many reviews can drive you crazy… not just about hostels, but literally any product. I caught myself spending hours reading reviews on amazon about a camera or something, just to end up being more confused than I initially was :)

  2. Henry Scullion says:

    It’s all about Risk Management… ie what are the consequences of this particular decision being wrong… like, “do I trust my rucksack to the roof rack or carry it inside for 7 hour bus ride…?” :)

    • zsolt says:

      Hi Henry,

      Quite right, and the answer to that specific dilemma is no way :) I had my bag between my legs for the better part of 35 hours in Mexico and even that was risky :)

      But the real challenge for me is usually when there is something to be gained rather than lost. For instance starting a business over another. How do you risk manage that? :)

      Also, how do you decide whether you should lend someone a book? Chances are you’ll never get it back, but you want to be nice :) It’s at my parents garage somewhere :) I’ll dig it out and get it back to you sooner or later :)