Evidence-Based Travel

(November 2nd, 2017) Does being a scientist influence the way you conduct your everyday life? Donald Nicolson say yes - his research work has made him a more skilful traveller.

Travel writing is littered with reflections of the great and the good, so it feels pointless to add to it. I have, however, a proposal for travel writing based on my experience that working in Academic research has made me a skilful traveller. This is a plausible idea because Psychologists have for some time known that skills that are learned in one domain can spill over onto other areas of life, having a positive impact. I have treated my research experience (in particular conducting systematic reviews) as transferable skills that can be used in travel, to my benefit.

To understand how my travel skills are influenced by doing Systematic Reviews, here's a short explanation of this method. A Systematic Review is a research method for finding, assessing and synthesising literature. A Systematic Review has five steps: (1) framing a question; (2) identifying relevant work from rigorous literature searches; (3) assessing the quality of studies; (4) summarising the evidence; and (5) interpreting the findings.

So, how does it relate to travels? Most people probably also begin their travel plans by framing a basic question (1), normally: ‘where do I want to travel?' When I plan my travels, I decide on what I want from them, and consider this in relation to my resources. Therefore, before setting off, when planning my budget, I would consider the costs and benefits of doing one activity over another; e.g. could I afford to go to two museums as well as a tourist bus ride, or only one museum and the bus ride? These calculations reflect an economic analysis that compares the costs and benefit of doing one thing over another.

After deciding on where I want to go, I search for sources of information to be better prepared for the destination (2). In the past these were travel guide books but are now supplemented by the vast array of web-based information. Because there is so much information available, it can be challenging to identify, which is reliable. As a researcher, I have to assess the quality of evidence daily. But as a traveller, I am unaware of a tool for assessing the reliability of information in travel books. By accessing information from multiple sources, I can compare and contrast these in hope of increasing the chance of finding reliable information (3).

I then summarise the information in a travelogue that I can carry on my travels (4). By recording this information, the travelogue removes the need to remember large amounts of prospective information for my travels, thus reducing my cognitive load in travel (5).

I have an example where my work experience spilled over into how I talked about my travels. When I travelled to the USA one winter, there was severe disruption due to heavy snow fall; and I did not see my luggage for the week I was there. As a passenger stranded at JFK Airport, I was interviewed live twice on CNN about my perception of the airport disruption. I managed to get a hold of the transcripts of the interview. Looking back on what I said, I explained our situation in relation to research concepts: planning, management and informed choice. I motioned to the interviewer: “I’m not sure if there's … any contingency plan. You can surely say that we could get people's luggage through… what's the point of arriving when we don't have our baggage? … Clearly, those baggage handlers - that should have been in the plans, they [airport management] should have anticipated that and have a contingency plan in place. That's just good management. [The airline] should have something like that in place. Not just doing whatever and try to get us … the bags … We [passengers] are frustrated, and we're not being informed. We're not able to make an informed choice and that's what is important”.

My proposed theory of “Evidence-Based Travel” is derived from “Evidence-Based Medicine” and emphasises using the best available evidence about destinations to make an informed choice about where to travel and having reliable information about a destination. The traveller invests time in planning and preparation beforehand to become an authority on the place of travel. This way, s/he can then make the most out of their travels.

In his explanation of the concept of slow travel, Dan Kieran examined how brain hemisphere function has a role in how we travel. At its simplest, the left hemisphere plays a role in logic and order, while the right hemisphere is attuned to creativity and the arts. From this, Kieran proposes that the left hemisphere will seek out the reliability and order of a travel guidebook; while the right hemisphere is wired for exploring and new cultural experiences. Noting the decline in funding for the Humanities in UK academia, Kieran proposes that this can be seen metaphorically as a triumph of the left brain with its vision of order and logic over the artistic right. The field of research I work in and the particular method I use (Systematic Review) can be seen to represent the ordered and disciplined left hemisphere, therefore, my proposal that working in research and conducting Systematic Reviews has impacted on how I plan travels, can be seen in this light.

It might be that Academics from different fields are equally influenced by their work in how they travel but in different ways. I can imagine how an ethnographer might look at the culture of a travel destination differently, or an archaeologist a set of ancient ruins. Again, there is good reason to think this. Author Alexandra Horowitz took a series of walks with a range of authorities, who through discussing what they saw changed her perception of where she lived. It would, thus, be interesting for Academics from other career backgrounds to explain if and how their work spills over onto their travels.

Donald Nicolson

Picture: Pixabay/Mohamed1982eg

Last Changes: 11.29.2017