Has Travel Made Me Dumber?

Has Travel Made Me Dumber?

By |2016-07-21T23:57:26-04:00January 4th, 2011|Perspectives|163 Comments

Am I Dumber?For all the talk about the positive benefits of travel, and more specifically, long-term travel, I’ve begun to realize that there is a completely different side to the story, one that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. And I will say that before I decided to discuss this unfortunate aspect of life on the road, I thought long and hard about whether or not my claim is actually true.

I think it’s the truth.

Traveling has made me dumber.

It goes without saying that what I like to believe is my open mind and respect for other people is a result of my extensive travels, as is a great deal of the knowledge that fills my brain, dictates my life and ultimately makes me who I am as a human being. And I am proud of who I am and every day I purposely take time to appreciate the life I’ve led.

However, it is also true that the culprit behind my frequent inability to speak clearly or to participate in intelligent conversations or to keep my mind as sharp as possible, is all of this traveling as well.


The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve basically spent the past 11 years speaking in broken, baby English, so it’s no wonder that my vocabulary is not as extensive as I would have hoped by this point in life. Usually, I’m in a non-English speaking country and as a result, I must alter how I speak. Instead of complete sentences, I’ve been saying such things as ‘You good?‘ and ‘Bus Delhi?‘ and ‘Me Earl‘ and ‘Happy yes!‘. Come to think of it, not only am I speaking baby English, but I’m speaking baby caveman English almost every single day!

And when I’m not trying to converse in simple English, I’m most likely trying to converse in some badly mangled version of whatever language is spoken in the country I’m visiting. Clearly this cannot be good for one’s intelligence and yes, I feel dumber as a result.

It’s also no mystery that it takes me an extraordinarily long time to think of words that should come into my mind much more quickly. Sometimes I’ll need 7.9 seconds to remember what I like to eat with my muesli in the morning (yogurt) and 12.7 seconds to remember that what I don’t eat is red ‘meat’ and not red ‘meet’. Just this morning it took me 10 minutes to remember the word ‘fabric’.

And even though my head is filled with the knowledge gained through constant cultural interaction, it often tends to be knowledge that is rarely useful when conversing with others. I personally could talk all day about Bangladeshi taxi mafias, the Syrian camel races or the details of every Central American border crossing, but those are not exactly topics that come up too often in conversation. As a result, such knowledge becomes buried in the bottom of my brain and then covered up with another layer of much the same. I love having this information in my head, but a good portion of what I learn is not at all useful to anyone other than a permanent nomad or long time traveler.

So what happens is that when I do find myself hanging out with people who are engaged in normal conversations while speaking intelligent English, I’m often left nodding my head, muttering ‘uh-huh’ every now and then and day-dreaming about my time at those camel races.


Indian sadhuAnother truth about long-term travel is that the life-changing intensity of new experiences can easily wear off and as a result, over time, the brain becomes less stimulated by what were once considered unique and eye-opening moments. Sure, the first time you see an Indian holy man walk up to a urinating cow, cup his hands together, place his hands directly into the stream of urine and then drink it, your brain is forced to re-evaluate everything that it once thought normal and acceptable in life.

But the second time you see it, you just shrug your shoulders and finish your chai.

Of course, I do put a great deal of effort into trying to ensure that my brain receives as much stimulation as possible and that I am constantly in situations that offer some sort of education. But it’s extremely tiring work, as the more I travel, the harder it is to challenge myself on a daily basis and the easier it is to just resort to a comfortable existence by vegging out on a beach for months at a time. When this happens, the brain is used even less and when coupled with the communication issue, it’s not hard to imagine how this can take a toll on a person’s intelligence.

So, am I really dumber because of all the traveling I’ve done?

To an extent, I really believe I am. Although, I don’t necessarily see this as such a terrible thing. I would in no way exchange what I have gained from travel for the ability to talk about stocks and bonds. But if or when I ever decide to alter my lifestyle in any significant manner, I might be in trouble. The relatively disconnected life I lead now might have so little relation to any other way of life, that I would lack the necessary knowledge and skills to adjust to a different path. Perhaps it is this truth that has kept me on the road for so long already.


And before I finish, I guess I should mention the ‘talking to myself’ issue as well, an issue that I believe springs from spending so much time on my own, often unable to communicate properly with others. Starting about three years ago, I began talking to myself and these days, I apparently do it so much, that I no longer notice it. While walking through the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand a couple of weeks ago, my friends would often ask me whether or not I was talking to them. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten I wasn’t. It was just me engaged in some ridiculously long conversations with myself, conversations that I was told were as loud and clear as if I was actually speaking to another person.

I’ll admit that’s a little disturbing and while it doesn’t necessarily translate to being dumber, it is another reason for concern.

Ahhh….traveling. To be out on the road, exploring, interacting and learning. It all sounds so glorious!

Except that it now takes me 10 minutes to think of words like ‘glorious’ and then another 10 minutes to remember why I was trying to think of the world ‘glorious’ in the first place, all because I’m too busy having a deep conversation with myself about the therapeutic qualities of Slovakian mud baths.

So, to all of you hopeful world travelers out there….I wish you the best of luck πŸ™‚

And I’m curious to know if any other travelers have also sometimes felt ‘dumber’ as a result of their travels?

Photo credit: Brain
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  1. Kisa March 5, 2019 at 1:25 am - Reply

    fter spending 6 months in Austria, I became exposed to a particular breed of German-English (Germglish?) so much that my grammar started to suffer as a result. I think its important to keep reading English texts while overseas for a long period of time – also writing daily helps.

  2. G October 28, 2017 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    The fact that you’re asking that question means you’re smarter:)

  3. Mai June 21, 2013 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    I’ve been soaking up as much as I can from your site these past couple of weeks, and I have to say you are my favorite travel blogger by far. Incredibly humble, street smart, resourceful, and hilarious to boot! Every entry of yours is worth the read. Every time I get stressed out about things going on in my life, I return to your blog and remember I’m preparing to be a long-term traveler in a few years, too, which is where I feel my true passion lies (in meeting people from all walks of life, living simply, exploring, and seeing the world for what it really is). Reading your blog confirms that for me; both the ups and downs do! You are so much richer because of the path you’ve chosen, and even if that makes you supposedly dumber, you are a king of the world. Thanks so much for existing. πŸ™‚

  4. Paul September 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    Very interesting post Earl. I’m curious as to how the brain works in this manner. Although you don’t converse as much with native English speakers as you would have in another life, you certainly have an excellent writing style and I can only assume that you read quite a lot too. I wonder why certain words that you don’t use much in speech take a while to come to the front of your mind when you still probably write and read them quite a lot. Funny thing the human brain.

    After 3 months in non-English speaking countries I noticed how unusual it was spending those first few days back in an English speaking country, having to readjust speech and all, so can only imagine how it must feel after several years!

    • Earl September 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      Hey Paul – I think with the writing, the benefit is that I have time to sit down and think of the words I want to use. But in conversation, I don’t have that luxury and so when I need to think more quickly, many words no longer enter my brain. I do read quite a bit though and that certainly helps ensure that I don’t lose my English vocabulary completely πŸ™‚

  5. Lucid Dreaming August 23, 2012 at 8:42 am - Reply


    This is one of the funniest pieces that I’ve read this summer. And I understand you 100%. As I lived in Europe and in non english country I noticed my English going bad after some time. I see it right now when I write but I wouldn’t change knowing curses in Croatian for full and pure English vocabulary.

    Also, that first impression that starts fading after some time, your brain gets familiar with all those changes, that is sad but we can’t do anything but accepting it and going even harder on waves of life πŸ™‚


  6. Joe August 21, 2012 at 7:36 am - Reply

    What a relieve to read this post.I live in the USA and every year spend a couple of months in my native South Africa. There I experience the same problem.It takes me a good two weeks to get fluent in Afrikaans (my home language) again.

    Seems to me the old saying of “use it or lose it ” is true.

  7. Flo August 2, 2012 at 1:14 am - Reply

    Just came across your blog while looking for arguments for my essay “Not all who wander are lost” and I’m going to use your blog as a source.
    I used to be a wanderer myself for 4 or 5 years, and now I am back to school and have to argue about topics such as Politics, recession etc. I also feel like a total dummy listening to my classmates who are 20 (I’m 30) debating. Well, I learned a lot in a few months. I am more aware about what’s going on in the world. What did I learn? that everything is corrupted (that I knew about it, just not in details), corporations are killing everyone with their greediness, and that we need to go back to a more sustainable way of living. Humm, that I learned it while on the road. So my point is even though we feel dumb and disconnected from the world and the current civilization, we learn MUCH MORE from wandering alone through this planet.
    About the language thing. Well, same thing here. I haven’t spoken French on a regular basis for 4 years, and I’m studying in the Us right now, so it’s getting worse. Apparently, I speak French like an old grandma… My english is also all over the place since I picked up slangs from other english speaking countries I lived in.
    Anyway, very cool blog, inspiring and truly honest. Keep doing what feels right to you!

    • Earl August 2, 2012 at 4:10 am - Reply

      Thanks for that comment Flo and I’m honored that you’ll be using the blog as a source! If you ever have any questions, just let me know.

  8. Elena Robertson July 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    I seem to be wildly late in the game, but I just stumbled upon this yesterday (as in literally using stumbleupon) and am really loving it!

    I can relate a little to the whole losing-language thing, or at least speaking in a way that my friends/family can’t really understand when I get back from traveling. I recently returned from a 6-week stint in Ghana, where people generally talk less, more quietly and using very basic English mixed with Fante/Twi etc. Going through customs on the way home is always a nervewracking experience, because by this point my passport is pretty full of visas (I was reprimanded in Amsterdam for not having enough blank space for them to stamp…oops) and as a 20 year old girl, customs is wildly suspicious of what I’m doing scampering around the world unaccompanied.

    Anyways, when I was being questioned about what I’d been doing, I guess I was replying so quietly that the customs official couldn’t hear me. Eventually I looked up and noticed she was just glaring at me and said “I asked you a question. Why were you in Ghana alone?” I awkwardly missed a beat then realized that, apparently, she hadn’t heard me.

    Ditto went for my first week or two at home–anytime somebody tried to talk to me I’d answer too quietly for them to hear. Not to mention immediately saying “Hello howareyouIamfine!” to every person I encountered.

  9. Donald May 16, 2012 at 1:11 am - Reply

    I’m reading this post and thinking to myself that I can sincerely relate to what you are going through. And the funny thing is, I’m not as culturally rich as you are. Meaning, I haven’t traveled across the globe to as many places as you have. But I have traveled well to the point where I share those self-same symptoms.

    When I was kid, I was back and forth between parents here in the states. If I wasn’t living with my mom in Camp Dennison, OH, I was living with my dad in either Boston, MA or Lithonia, GA or attending boarding school in Piney Woods, MS or being bored to death in Hampton Roads, VA. I’ve been flying since I was about 10 years old and I’ve been mistaken at times for being a ‘Military Brat.’ I will say one of my noticeable traits is that I don’t really have an accent, sometimes I’ll sound like I’m from Manhattan and other times I have this discernible Southern drawl. What made it worse was when I was in Boarding School in MS, where over half of the student population was either from Baltimore, Chicago or Detroit. Talk about culture awareness.

    There are certain things I can’t talk about with people because there are certain things that interest me as well, and I talk to myself so much it ain’t even a joke.

    So yeh, the traveler’s life is for me. Even though I’d much rather drive than fly (Flying can be so…….. meh at times)

  10. Joe Wong April 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    Hmmm, I’m barely getting started with becoming a traveling nomad, hope it aint true hehehe, love the post

    • Earl April 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Joe – Even if it does happen, it’s still well worth it πŸ™‚

  11. […] having little IT know-how or natural writing ability, Earl’s quirkily titled posts, including Has Travel Made Me Dumber? and The Day US Customs Found a Bullet in My Pocket found a wide audience and he now works solely […]

  12. Cindy Thistle February 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks Earl, I was beginning to think that I was suffering from early on-set altzhemiers when I read this blog and suddenly I realized there may be another reason for my lost vocabulary and stumbling conversation. Like you, I spend most of my time speaking with people for whom English is a second, or even third language. In addition, I decided a few years ago to “opt out” of TV watching and news in general, so I don’t usaually have a clue what’s going on in the world outside the range of my own senses.
    Last week I found myself on a small adventure cruise ship in Fiji with 9 other passengers, 7 from the UK and America and 2 Dutch who spoke perfect English. Quickly I discovered that only thing I had in common with these people was my skin colour and then again, I’ve been avoiding Canadian winters for a few years so even that didn’t match up especially after the first day when most of them came out of the water looking more like cooked lobster than people.
    Within a day, instead of joining in the nightly conversations in the air-conditioned lounge or on the fancy back deck sipping on cocktails, I found myself sitting cross-legged in the hallway or on the bridge with 10-15 crew members drinking cava, listening to Fijian/English conversations and guitar accompanied traditional music and laughing…we did a lot of laughing and I wouldn’t have traded a minute for an “intelligent conversation.”
    All this to say thanks for the insight and reminder that I’m not out here alone.
    Kind regards,

    • Earl February 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      Hey Cindy – That seems like quite a rewarding experience on that ship and I have a feeling if I was in your shoes, I would have ended up doing the exact same thing. So on one hand we may have lost our ability to partake in ‘normal’ everyday conversations but on the other hand, we are drawn to experiences that we will remember forever instead. I guess I’ll take that trade-off, even if it means I’m technically dumb πŸ™‚

  13. Ron January 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    I’m loving this post and can definitely “feel” what you’re saying here. I could easily take both sides of the fence when deciding whether or not travelling makes you “smarter” or “dumber”. Although I haven’t been travelling as long as you have by any means, I could see how the unusual becomes usual but then again, you could look at it from this point of view: if these things become normal to you, you are expanding your mind to accept new ways of life and new customs. In a sense, you are not becoming “dumber” but more so becoming accustomed to a “global” way of things, not just one society like most people.

    • Earl January 31, 2012 at 5:41 am - Reply

      Hey Ron – It definitely can go both ways and there are moments when I feel dumber and plenty of moments when I feel smarter of course. Perhaps in the end it all evens out, but I certainly wouldn’t give up the experiences regardless as becoming comfortable with a completely different set of customs is more than worth it!

  14. Chris Haughey October 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Haha this is funny. I’ve been rehearsing my best baby caveman english for haggling purposes and taxi bargains round asia.
    Seriously though, it would be a massive culture shock to try and adapt to a corporate job, real world life after long-term travel.
    I can’t imagine prospective employers being too impressed in job interviews with a spiel like “Me want job, me good worker” as you munch on some pad thai you pulled from your pocket.

    • Earl October 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm - Reply

      Hey Chris – Ha…that had me laughing, as I imagine my job interviews in the corporate world would take place in the same manner. It’s hard enough to carry on a normal conversation in English sometimes, let alone a conversation while under pressure!

  15. Michele September 25, 2011 at 12:33 am - Reply

    Hi Earl, thank you so much for sharing this information πŸ™‚ I’ve been reading your blog for about 2 weeks now so I’m fairly new around these parts. I realize this particular post is several months old, but I can’t even describe how much I enjoyed it! I’ve been planning some long-term travel and had actually considered this myself.

    • Earl September 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm - Reply

      Hey Michele – Well, I’m happy to know that a post about my ‘dumbness’ made for an enjoyable read πŸ™‚ But seriously, it is something to think about if you plan on traveling as well and if you are aware of what can happen from the start, then the chances of you being affected will be much less. I didn’t realize I was getting ‘dumber’ until a few years into my travels!

  16. Lily Leung August 18, 2011 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,

    What a great post! I’ve only been travelling 8 months and I already feel as though my brain has been deprived of analytical stimulation. Non-fiction English books are hard to find (e.g. books about business, economy, science etc), even though there are Twilights in every single country I’ve been in. Thank goodness for TED Talks, tech/business talks and being able to use software on my computer to build things!

    – Lily

    • Earl August 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Hey Lily – It does happen quickly, especially when you visit countries that are not full of foreign tourists! Books are difficult to come by and like you I imagine, I prefer to sit and stare at a wall than read Twilight books πŸ™‚

      We just have to be creative and find ways to keep ourselves mentally active in our own languages, with TED talks being a good example. Of course, then I start to worry that I should be out and about more and not sitting around on my laptop and that’s when the confusion really sets in!

  17. Superxicana July 8, 2011 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    Hahahaha this was such a funny read!!! Goo goo ga ga?? lol I still haven’t traveled in countries where I don’t speak the language yet, but I know it is going to be an even greater adventure just communicating alone ;))) thanks for the laughs!!

    • Earl July 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm - Reply

      @Superxicana: Well, now you’ll be prepared for what happens as your extend your adventures πŸ™‚ All I can say is good luck!!

  18. Tom May 31, 2011 at 5:07 am - Reply

    Highly amused at the talking to yourself comment. This is seen in England as a sign of mental abberation, however it is something that, living alone, I do quite frequently, and I am well read, reasonably intelligent and with any signs of mental illness (although my imaginary friend is willing to argue the latter point)

    People are usually by nature gregarious and like to hear voices, to which end so many people walk around with walkmans on, it is surrogate company. Talking to ourselves is merely a way of experiencing conversation without having someone to discuss the things we see with.

    One of my greatest worries when I do eventually follow the route that Earl has taken is the effect of solitude, however I hope to ameliorate that issue by utilising dorm rooms in hostels and ensuring that where I do stay for a while there are phones and TVs in the rooms.

    Most people like to talk to each other, however in the UK the adage that an Englishmans home is his castle has become a way of life and people in the main actively avoid interaction, locking themselves away in their castles at night. Speaking to a total stranger usually elicits a look of horror (why is he talking to me), I am hoping that the more friendly and outgoing nature of the people I met on my previous travels around the far east will make solitary travel less than solitary.

    • anca a (akafix) May 31, 2011 at 6:16 am - Reply

      I am a little surprised – I thought one sign of a perfect Englishman should be a drop of excentricity πŸ™‚ Talking to oneself should be perfectly acceptable. I have to admid I didn’t feel this “wall” in my relations to an English person – quite the contrary. Mind you, I’ve only been to London and Boscomb and not for long. I was very impressed in London, many years ago, when two young men (definitely British) stopped in the street to ask whether they could help us in orienting ourselves. I was holding an open map and probably looked very lost while the three people I was with (all men….not speaking English) looked entirely detached and helpless. And they did that in a very natural way – they were very nice and they saved my life πŸ™‚

    • Earl May 31, 2011 at 2:41 pm - Reply

      Hey Tom – Thank you for that comment and I too wish that people would talk to each other more often instead of isolating ourselves from each other. The good news is that when you do start traveling around, you don’t even need dorm rooms to socialize. There have been countless times that I’ve met other foreigners in the street, maybe at a particular sight or in a cafe, struck up a conversation and ended up spending a day or two or even a week traveling together. When traveling, it seems that socializing is completely opposite than what it is back home. Everyone talks to everyone else and finding new people to interact with is much, much easier!

      And I’d say that this one of the main reasons that I’ve continued this lifestyle. I’ve met more people traveling than I probably would had I just stayed at home.

  19. Giulia May 22, 2011 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Travel made me dumber too! Now, when I want to speak Italian I speak English, when I want to speak English I speak some sort of broken English too, when I want to speak Russian I speak Arabic and all this because I think my brain can’t take it anymore! πŸ™‚
    But honestly, I think it’s much dumber to speak in perfect English/American in the streets of India (or Egypt in my case) and not being understood, than trying to make it simple as you and me do. Yes, this can cause some loss in our language skills… Oh tell me about it! But it also allows us to fully live the experience.
    Oh and I also find myself talking to myself. Often practicing other languages. Wohooo, I’m not alone! πŸ™‚

    • Earl May 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      Hey Giulia – Hopefully you’ll be able to understand this message. Maybe it would be better if I wrote it in several languages all mixed together πŸ™‚

      I absolutely agree with what you said about it being better to speak a slower English or to mix up languages than it is to travel and not try to learn other languages at all. Even though I feel a bit ‘dumber’ with my English, I still wouldn’t change the way I travel and it doesn’t seem like you would either!

  20. […] Has Travel Made Me Dumber? […]

  21. […] There have also been times when I had no idea how I was going to earn money as I watched my funds shrink more and more with each passing day. There were times when I was all alone in the middle of some foreign land, terribly sick and unable to even get out of bed. There are still plenty of times when I wish I had a friend to share my experiences with or when I wonder if traveling is actually making me dumber. […]

  22. Juno May 16, 2011 at 1:20 am - Reply

    Talking to myself is a highly recommended way to solve problems. And, it’s fun but it’s weird, I know. And it gets worse time after time.

    I think about.. I am dumber when I jump right into something that I would normally not do. Just like the one story I commented on your Syria ‘Hello’ Story. I would never come to stranger male’s house and have home cook meal in here, ever. But I did, and I talked to myself on the way back to the hostel, ‘what’s wrong with you?’
    It’s a brilliant experience, but highly dumb move at the same time.
    Even though I’m living in my country at the moment, because I use English all.the.time for blogging and tweetting… sometimes when I say something an English word pop up in my head but not in Korean. How stupid is that, I sometimes think.
    But you know, what is ‘dumb’, really? It’s all relativity.

    • Earl May 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm - Reply

      Hey Juno – It is all relative, you are definitely correct. And I don’t think that any of the things you describe actually are signs of being ‘dumb’. They are signs of being well-traveled! After all, if you are mixing up languages or making decisions that you wouldn’t make at home, it simply means that you have a lot of new information inside your head πŸ™‚ You’re a smart traveler and I’m sure that everyone thinks the same thing. I would be surprised if anyone notices the things that we think are dumb!

  23. Roy | cruisesurfingz May 12, 2011 at 10:09 am - Reply

    I remember after living in Prague for a year, then moving to Toronto it took a few weeks for my normal vocabulary to resume. I thought I had become dumb too!

    • Earl May 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Hey Roy – Hopefully your vocabulary has returned by now!! I’m still waiting for mine to return but it doesn’t help that I keep on traveling….

  24. Vishal May 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Ha man! So funny and interesting. Though I must say you have good writing skills, so I’m a little hesitant to believe that you’ve become a little dumber. But I am not surprised in any way. Just like anything in life, you need continuous practice to be good at something. I was recently in Italy and France and after coming home from there, I was video-skyping to someone from Colombia (I had started learning Basic Spanish a while ago) and I had completely forgotten how to even greet in Spanish. All that was coming in my head were Italian greetings.

    Also after being away from Nepal for four years (my mother tongue is Bhojpuri), I only get to speak in Bhojpuri with my family once in a while. When my brother from Chicago visited me this winter, I realized that I had forgotten so many Bhojpuri words. I could barely converse with him without mixing Nepali, Hindi and even English words.

    Now I’m really excited about how we’ll converse. πŸ™‚

    • Earl May 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm - Reply

      Hey Vishal – Seems like you have too many languages floating around your head! I can imagine that it would be difficult to find the proper words if you haven’t been using one of those languages often. Hopefully our conversation won’t involve the both of us stuttering and pointing, unable to communicate clearly πŸ™‚

  25. Idelish May 10, 2011 at 1:51 am - Reply

    LOL! Hilarious post, thx for sharing! Totally rings a bell!!! The word I think I use most when traveling is OK. Goes like this… *points points points* OK? OK!… More gesturing and pointing while talking to the cab driver then “OK!” πŸ™‚

    • Earl May 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      @Idelish: The universal “OK”! It’s the word we turn to when no other word comes to mind or we can’t communicate at all. Your comment had me laughing as I thought of all the times I’ve used OK to try and convey my message πŸ™‚

  26. Mimi - SleeplessInKL April 22, 2011 at 4:02 am - Reply

    I travel a lot but mostly for business and I’ve never stayed anywhere longer than a week. But I do know what you mean when you mentioned having your brain becoming “less stimulated by what were once considered unique and eye-opening moments”. It doesn’t mean travel is making you dumber; it just redefines what is ‘normal’ for you.

    But travel does make us feel dumber in the sense that the more we travel, the more we know new things, and the more we know new things, the more we realise how little we knew before we left the comfort of home.

    • Earl April 22, 2011 at 10:19 am - Reply

      Hey Mimi – That’s an excellent point and at the end of the day is the very reason why many of us continue to travel for so long. Once you get a taste for all of the knowledge out there to be learned, it’s hard to stop traveling when you know there’s still more to be digested! And while such long-term travel does make it harder to relate to family and friends at home and harder to join in many of their conversations, I would still choose the education gained through travel any day…

  27. Stephen April 8, 2011 at 1:04 pm - Reply


    I’ve been skipping around your site for about an hour now, and really enjoy it.

    I cant identify as much on the vocabulary, but absolutely can on the conversations. Especially when I go back home, I feel like I have nothing to talk about with some of the people I was good friends with before I left. IT almost makes me feel, sometimes, like I’ve become less interesting for having been away and traveling for a while. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t a comfortable feeling is it?

    Keep up the posts, I’m definitely bookmarking.


    • Earl April 9, 2011 at 10:40 am - Reply

      Thanks so much Stephen and welcome to the site! I know that feeling you’ve described and I think we just have to realize that we’re not actually LESS interesting, we just have completely different interests after spending time away from home. Unfortunately, when we go home, most of the people we meet will not share our interests, making us feel somewhat isolated, as you’ve experienced. And then we have two options, work hard to find like-minded people at home or hit the road again, where we feel much more comfortable πŸ™‚

      And I see you’ve been to Bagan in Myanmar…that is one of my favorite places on the planet!

  28. Arielle March 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    I am so happy I found this post. Last week, I finally finished a 6-month tour of (almost) complete immersion in Graz, Austria, where I tried to make my brain think in German. While studying in Graz, I decided that it would be fun to take an Italian class (taught in German, whereupon I had to translate all words to English). The level of brain error was incredible, and every day after Italian class, I went straight home and vegged out for a couple hours. Near the end of my trip, I traveled to France to spend time with a friend.

    After not speaking French for nearly 4 years, my ability to recall words in French was… embarrassing, considering it was my best subject in high school. Not only that, but my friend would talk with me in English and his host mother would talk to me in German, so for being almost-fluent after 6 months of German, and for having had just 4-years of high school French, switching between the three languages was more of a headache than something to show off.

    Upon returning home a couple weeks ago, my friends now find me frequently lacing German words into conversation, or pronouncing English words with an accent that is neither particularly German, nor French, nor Italian… it’s just foreign. And I’ve also noticed that my ability to recall specific words is very stunted. In describing anything “cool,” the only other obvious synonym I can find is “awesome” or “rad.” So now, although I went through very intense liberal arts studies at one point, I have managed to come home to the US with a “surfer” vocabulary.

    I think what this all comes down to is, I relate so, so much. Even the talking to yourself part… I find myself trying to say things in a different language, perhaps to see if I can. But the awkward glances I received from the elderly woman at the bus stop were enough to make me wonder, “Okay, it’s been only 6 months, have I been gone for too long?” …I can’t even imagine how you must feel after so many years of endless adventure.

    Thank you for the humorous insight on this very interesting traveler’s dilemma, Earl. I will definitely share this with the friends I made while studying abroad. πŸ™‚

    • Earl March 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm - Reply

      Hey Arielle – Thank you for your comment! And it seems that you are all too familiar with what I was talking about in this post πŸ™‚ I’ve been struggling with English and only bits of other languages so I can’t even imagine your situation with having several languages running through your mind all the time. Hopefully though, you feel the same way that I do in the end…that the cultural experiences abroad are worth the stunted vocabulary and inability to communicate clearly at times! It’s just a sacrifice we travelers have to make!

  29. Bill February 5, 2011 at 12:55 am - Reply

    In college, I had a room mate who was born in Russia, moved to Spain, then Brazil and finally to South Plainfield New Jersey (US). Listening to his conversations when he called his parents was a lesson in language use. They used whatever word came to mind – in any of their four languages. It was quite odd to hear.

  30. justine February 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    Thanks a lot for this funny article ! πŸ™‚
    I definitely can relate to every points you made. Especially about losing your own language. I’m a french native but I’ve been living everywhere but France those past years and really whenever I’m back to my own country I struggle a lot when having to keep a conversation up and I find myself throwing whatever words come to my mind in the situation (be it an italian word or whatever else…). People usually give me strange looks wondering why I can’t remember simple words.
    Anyway you’ve got a good blog here and I really enjoy your lifestyle and the way you share your adventures with us ! Keep going ! Et bon voyage !!

    • Earl February 5, 2011 at 12:49 am - Reply

      Hey Justine – Thank you so much for your comment and it’s always nice to ‘meet’ another person who prefers to live all over the world πŸ™‚

      And it’s true about forgetting simple words. It’s not just rarely used words that we tend to forget but often times, simple, everyday words that we’ve been using for years. That’s what becomes so troubling at times and leads us to throw random words into our sentences, in any language, hoping they will make sense or that other people won’t even noticing what we’re doing!

  31. Bill February 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    We hosted German exchange students for 5 years in a row (and 1 Parisienne) and we saw this without fail. With our first student, he came down one morning and said “I’m losing my vocabulary”. We said, “You speak well”, to which he replied “No, my GERMAN vocabulary”. And it had only been 6 weeks. My wife saw this for herself after only a month in Mexico studying Spanish. Go figure.

    • Earl February 5, 2011 at 12:37 am - Reply

      Hey Bill – That seems to be a clear case of travel affecting someone’s language skills. And six weeks seems like a short amount of time to start losing vocabulary of your native language but it really doesn’t take long when you find yourself in a completely new environment. Thanks for the comment!

  32. Roy February 1, 2011 at 5:04 am - Reply

    I think when long term travel just becomes the norm, we just get desensitized and need something more exciting each day to feel that adrenaline rush.

  33. Jonathan Manor January 26, 2011 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Great stuff Earl, I just found your site today. It’s been circling, no doubt. But I specifically love this post because of it’s honesty. I might be your arch nemisis here. I’m set on staying in a place and making as much connections as possible to figure out who I am in the world.

    • Earl January 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Hey Jonathan – Haha…we definitely enjoy quite opposite lifestyles! But each have their benefits of course and I have no doubt that those deeper connections you do make are infinitely rewarding. I appreciate the comment!

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  35. Daniel N. January 19, 2011 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Great post Earl!

    Now define ‘dumb’ please.
    Would talking in simple English and not being able to follow a conversation about politics or economics make you dumb? Even though you have an extremely rich cultural knowledge about the world?

    If someone asks my opinion about the economic crisis, I’d answer: ‘It’s bad’ because I have no idea what to say or what it actually means (=dumb). But what if I ask him about how to prepare a tea ceremony, or the lifestyle of nomads in the deserts of the UAE or how to cook lamb under the desert sand, or the subtilities of Lebanese language vs. Syrian.. Would he also feel dumb?

    I think it’s just that you now have a wider range of knowledge, you are culturally rich, you have other interests. You may be speaking baby caveman english but you also can communicate in many different languages and not feel dumb when in a foreign country.

    We are not dumb! I refuse to accept that!

    • Earl January 21, 2011 at 1:56 am - Reply

      Hey Daniel – You are absolutely correct my friend. I think I used the world ‘dumb’ because nine times out of ten, it is I who is in the position of not being able to follow along in a particular conversation. Sure, we may have that insight about languages or cooking lambs under the desert sand (which you need to teach me one day!), but how many times do those topics come up in conversation? Much less than the economic crisis. So sometimes it can be frustrating when you’re always on the “It’s bad” end of the conversation. But I do agree completely that as travelers we gain a much wider range of knowledge…I just wish I could use that knowledge more often!

      This is another reason I need to get back to Chiang Mai, in order to be surrounded by people I can talk to!

  36. Jason January 14, 2011 at 10:09 am - Reply

    I can totally relate to the baby talk Earl, and only spent half the time on the road as what you’ve done. You don’t even notice yourself doing it, and the longer you spend traveling the more fucked up your accent gets. You must sound quite strange over the phone when you speak to your family by now. Safe Travels mate…..

    • Earl January 15, 2011 at 5:21 am - Reply

      Hey Jason – You are completely spot on! My accent is all messed up these days and during my trip to the Middle East, people I met would guess I was from places such as Germany, UK, Australia and France. Although, it does help me to blend in when I don’t want my nationality to be known!

  37. Caz Makepeace January 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Oh my gosh Earl!! I just had a thought. I think I might know what is wrong with you. You aren’t pregnant are you???

    Because forgetting words is a serious sign of pregnancy. Even the most basic of words.

    I’ll never forget standing in the health store buying some Spirulina tablets when I was pregnant with Kalyra. I stood there for about 5 minutes trying to remember my pin number on my bank card. It’s the pin number I have used forever and for every card.
    After multiple attempts, I had to say “I’m really sorry, I can’t remember my pin. I’m pregnant and I can’t remember much. I’ll have to phone my husband.” Lucky his number was on speed dial and he thought I was really special having to ring him to find out my pin number.

    Yep. I think that pregnancy be your problem Earl!

    btw.. I couldn’t reply directly to my thread above. Might be my computer.

    • Earl January 15, 2011 at 5:36 am - Reply

      Hey Caz – Sorry, I just did a pregnancy test and it was negative! Phew! But maybe it would have been better if it was positive so that I would finally have known the cause.

      That must be bizarre to suffer from pregnancy-related memory loss. Combine that with getting older and extensive travel and you’ll be senile before you know it πŸ™‚

  38. Neelima January 14, 2011 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Hilarious post, seriously! I relate to most of the stuff except for the baby english for I travel extensively only in India and if you have been to India you’d know how long it takes to cover the country tip to tip.

    Half the times I am in conversation with myself and there is no way I can sit through the conversation with a group of people who are not talking travel. I do not seem to have anything else to talk about. 😐 And as many others have said already, blogging sure keeps my vocabulary at an acceptable level yet.
    Waiting to see what happens once I step out of the country. πŸ˜€

    • Earl January 15, 2011 at 5:31 am - Reply

      Hey Neelima – I am definitely familiar with India as I’ve spent over two years in that country so far and still haven’t visited everywhere I want to go πŸ™‚

      And I know what you mean about not having anything else to talk about except for travel. That happens to me as well. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are other topics out there that other people are interested in talking about!

  39. anca a January 12, 2011 at 9:15 am - Reply

    You’re right, it’s very easy to get detached from the “news” which actually strengthens my conviction that 99% of what we find out daily from news broadcasts of any kind is realy not that important. When you stand on top of Uxmal pyramid surrounded by the forest, or look at the sun above the clounds form an airplane, when you watch Iguazu falls rolling down with such a force, when you skydive, raft, climb a peak, when you sit at the border of a blue, infinite sea, really the “news” seems so …vain.

    • Earl January 12, 2011 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Hey Anca – Most of the news indeed does not provide any benefits whatsoever. I actually was just watching the Australian news tonight for a few minutes and a three-minute story about the severe floods in Queensland was followed by a fifteen minute piece about the Princess of Denmark giving birth to twins. And you are right that when you’re traveling and experiencing some of the more dramatically beautiful and rewarding moments in life, almost all of what passes for television these days suddenly seems quite insignificant.

  40. Forest January 11, 2011 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Ha ha ha, not dumber just differently planned out up there…. The talking to myself thing has happened to me as my brain seems to think no one can understand me here so I just say thoughts aloud!

    Im sure blogging is helping to keep your language at least reasonable level.

    I find another thing with traveling is you lose touch with the news almost completely at times….. “A what where? No I didn’t hear about that……”

    • Earl January 12, 2011 at 8:07 am - Reply

      Hey Forest – “Differently planned out”…I like that as well! And with the way you explain your talking to yourself habit, it actually makes a good deal of sense. If there’s nobody else around to understand you, then why not converse with the one person who will!

      And as far as the news goes, I’ve been clueless about mainstream news for years. It’s quite incredible how quickly one can tune out from all of the happenings around the world that are grabbing most people’s attention.

  41. […] functions and and even an attempt to speak resulted in a jumbled collection of incomprehensible caveman sounds.The time was only 3:00pm but the day had already been quite full of activity. From the moment I […]

  42. Andrew Murray January 11, 2011 at 4:21 am - Reply

    LOL Earl, who cares if your brain is frazzled, so long as you continue to make us laugh in this way. Maybe there is so much information stored away in that head of yours that it takes slightly longer to access the required data sometimes πŸ˜€

    • Earl January 11, 2011 at 5:50 am - Reply

      Hey Andrew – That is perhaps the best explanation I’ve heard yet. Too much in my head = longer data processing time. Although, as convincing of an argument as it is, it unfortunately takes me much longer than ‘slightly longer’ to access the information I need!

  43. […] Has Travel Made Me Dumber? (Wandering Earl) […]

  44. Theodora January 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    I’d agree there’s something slightly zombifying about longterm travel: intense and challenging experiences followed by long periods of vegging out on the beach. I find learning a bit of the local language, so you’re speaking pidgin foreign language rather than pidgin English helps… But you certainly don’t sound dumb to me…

    • Earl January 8, 2011 at 8:25 am - Reply

      Thank you Theodora! I also prefer to be speaking a pidgin form of a foreign language than of English. Having poor grammatical and vocabulary skills then becomes quite acceptable and I don’t feel nearly as dumb in those situations!

  45. Erica January 7, 2011 at 10:05 am - Reply

    I know that when I’m going back and forth between Spanish and English I can often forget words on mix the two together, but I can’t say that I’ve experienced the dumbing down… yet. I’ll get back to you on that one once we are in the middle of our trip.

    • Earl January 8, 2011 at 8:20 am - Reply

      Hola Erica – I like how you threw in the ‘yet’ with your comment πŸ™‚ Hopefully you will escape the dumbing down altogether and be one of the lucky ones!

  46. Audrey January 7, 2011 at 5:48 am - Reply

    Great stuff. Can relate to so much of this. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia, we’d have competitions when the volunteers would get together for putting together 3+ syllable words. It got tough to do after about a year. And often it would end up as a team effort to remember the word. Don’t even want to think about where my brain is at now…

    • Earl January 8, 2011 at 8:19 am - Reply

      Hey Audrey – Haha…it just took me a minute to reply to your comment because I began trying to think of 3 syllable words myself! And it did not go well at all. That’s hilarious that it was an actual competition for you.

      I’m sure you’re doing quite well these days though. It probably helps that there are two of you together most of the time! Perhaps that’s what I really need…a spouse.

  47. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog January 6, 2011 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Wow Earl, great stuff. I never thought about any of these “ill effects” of long term travel. I dont think you are dumber, but your brain may have atrophied a bit because you havent exercised the muscles and thought processes that you bring up in this post. Im sure that if you get back to an area where english is spoken freely, your grammar and skills will come back in a few hours.
    Good luck!

    • Earl January 8, 2011 at 8:13 am - Reply

      Hey Jeff – Hopefully you are correct! Although I think I need more than a few hours to reboot my English skills as even when I return to the US for a month or two at a time, I still struggle. Maybe a year in an English speaking country would do the trick!

  48. Odysseus January 6, 2011 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Humor is often considered an indicator of intelligence. I think you’re doing just fine, Earl. πŸ™‚

    • Earl January 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Odysseus, I do appreciate it. I always thought that I was the only one who laughed at my posts, so it’s good to know there are others out there!

  49. Sabina January 6, 2011 at 9:45 am - Reply

    This is simply hilarious. I was lol’ing the whole way. I think actually trying to jar your brain into speaking other languages, as you daily do, is probably good for it. The struggling to think of words – me too. My afflication began prior to my leaving the States in June, though. Perhaps it’s a function of age and not travel?

    • Earl January 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      Hey Sabina – Wow, that is definitely the first documented case of a traveler starting to forget words BEFORE they even leave for their trip! I’m worried for you πŸ™‚

      It may very well be due to age, but travel makes for a great scapegoat…

  50. Andrea January 6, 2011 at 9:32 am - Reply

    LOL, that’s so funny. Unfortunately I can completely relate. After 11 years living with my non-native English speaking husband and 5 years of living in France, my English has gone down the toilet.

    I am a long term sufferer of ‘what the hell is the word for that’ syndrome and I can no longer spell without a spell checker.

    As for talking to yourself. I can relate there also. When my husband went away for a couple of months last year I quickly started talking to myself without even realising it. That’s a very bad and embarrassing habit to get into!

    Wish I could give some words of advice but I’ve got none!

    • Earl January 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm - Reply

      Hey Andrea – Seems like you know exactly what I’m talking about and I like your label of ‘what the hell is the word for that’ syndrome! If I were you I also wouldn’t let your husband travel anymore as, from experience, the talking to yourself only gets worse the more time you spend on your own πŸ™‚

  51. WanderingTrader January 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    I am still not able to get past the part of.. put his hands in the stream of the urine and then drink it… wow lool

    • Earl January 6, 2011 at 1:43 am - Reply

      @WanderingTrader: I know you what you mean. The first time I saw the holy man do that I couldn’t speak for about an hour due to shock!

  52. Lisis January 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Hey, Earl! Happy New Year!! This was an awesome post, as always, and just about everything I thought of as I read it has been covered in the other comments. But one part struck me on a whole different level:

    “… if or when I ever decide to alter my lifestyle in any significant manner, I might be in trouble. The relatively disconnected life I lead now might have so little relation to any other way of life, that I would lack the necessary knowledge and skills to adjust to a different path.”

    This is the very thing I think about in terms of unschooling my son (now 10). He has the most amazingly fun and free life, gets to do things other kids only dream of, and learns new things all the time from everywhere… but he isn’t versed in the “normal” experiences (or school subjects) the other kids are. One day, if he decides to become an engineer, or a veterinarian, or even just to go to college, he’ll have to bridge that gap. He will have to work extra hard for some length of time to pick up the lingo and habits of the “natives”… IF he ever wants to.

    I’ve talked to him about this often. The longer we unschool, the greater that gap becomes. He knows it and feels about like you do about your travels… even if this is the case, he’d rather have the freedom and adventure of unschooling and, if he changes his mind later, he’ll have all the motivation he needs to do whatever it takes to get back on that traditional path (though he doesn’t think he’ll ever really want to be on that path anyway!).

    Sorry, I’ve totally rambled. Just thought I’d share ’cause your post made me feel much more at ease about the whole thing. πŸ™‚

    • Earl January 6, 2011 at 1:56 am - Reply

      Hey Lisis! Happy New Year to you as well, and to your entire family!

      I think that as difficult as it may be, it all comes down to the fact that, just like me at the moment, your son wouldn’t give up his current lifestyle for a chance to be more like everyone else. And it’s not as if the unschooling is damaging to him in any way, it simply is leading him down a different path, which happens to be one that he has clearly aligned with and now much prefers.

      While it may one day be a challenge to cross over into a different lifestyle at some point, something that I do think about often myself, I then remind myself that I don’t want to change anything right now. Also, it would be much easier for your son to cross back into a ‘normal’ life than it would be for him to break out of that ‘normal’ life one day and attempt to live with the freedom he currently enjoys. So in the end, he is only benefiting from the fun and free life he is living now.

      At least that’s how I feel about the matter πŸ™‚

      I wish you and your family even more fun and freedom in 2011 and it’s always wonderful to know that you’re out there reading these posts when you can!

      • Lisis January 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm - Reply

        That’s a great point, Earl… the crossover into mainstream is much easier than trying to get out of it. Plus, as you alluded to, *at this moment* we are happy, we don’t want to change anything. To do so would be trading our current happiness for some future possibility of it (which we don’t really control and have no way of predicting).

        I guess we’ll stick with what we’re doing now, Carpe Diem, right?


  53. Peter January 5, 2011 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Hey Earl,
    very nice post. I just wonder why do you think about Slovakian mud baths when walking the streets:) but it makes me feel proud of being Slovakian and from Piestany.
    Love every single post man. Keep up the good work.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Dobry den Peter! Actually, the reason I do think of mud baths from time to time (not every time I talk to myself!), is because of my visit to Piestany a few years ago. I spent an enjoyable couple of days at the spa and the mud wrap was by far the most interesting!

  54. Michelle January 5, 2011 at 6:59 am - Reply

    Hey Earl – I can totally relate to you on this one! This is something I’ve noted myself before and have actually spoken to people about. Spending so much time in non-English speaking countries and speaking pidgin English or a simplified version of my own native language has definitely had an impact on my own ability to speak fluently! I guess I really become aware of it when I’m back in a native English-speaking country (what a novelty!) and do feel a bit ‘dumb’ at times when I find myself tripping over my tongue, or stuttering to get a word out or simply using an inappropriate word because I can’t think of the one that I really want to use in time, or taking forever to answer someone’s question because I can’t even think of how to structure a sentence properly in order to even start talking!

    I don’t think it means I’m actually dumber, just that I appear to be!

    Talking to yourself? Doesn’t everybody do that…? I just had a great conversation with myself about the pros and cons of my new house. In the end there was a general concensus that the pros outweighed the cons…

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      Hey Michelle – Well, don’t worry, as I didn’t notice any problems with your communication skills in Syria! Although clearly, after writing this post, I’m not the best judge of that πŸ™‚

      Does everyone talk to themselves? If so, then I’m relieved, although I still worry about the incredible length of these conversations. I could go on for 20 minutes without even realizing it. Glad that it has worked out for you and that you were able to sort through the pros/cons of your new house. I’m starting to see how talking to oneself can actually be quite handy!

  55. Fresh From Twitter January 5, 2011 at 6:00 am - Reply

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  56. Connie January 5, 2011 at 5:45 am - Reply

    Earl, you are too funny! But you speak wise words, yet again! It makes me a bit sad to think of how immune to stimulation I can sometimes get about things. I wish I didn’t but after seeing amazing things hundreds of time, the novelty sure does wear off.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:53 am - Reply

      Hey Connie – Exactly! Who would think that some of the incredible, eye-opening things we see out there would eventually become so normal? It is a shame that it happens but I guess the fact that we realize it, makes us want to put an increased effort into finding even more eye-opening experiences that will grab our attention!

  57. Invest It Wisely January 5, 2011 at 4:52 am - Reply

    Well, if it’s true, your writing doesn’t show it. πŸ˜‰

    I don’t think I became dumber during my 4 months in South Korea, though I certainly did less than I’m doing these days (though I also explored more and had many more new experiences during those times); I certainly did feel some reverse culture shock upon coming back to Canada. It’s a different context, and a different feeling of “normal” that you have to realign yourself with.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:45 am - Reply

      @InvestItWisely: The reverse culture shock is always a potential issue for those who spend time abroad and I think that for most people, after a while, it eventually fades and you’re able to find your comfort zone once again. Although, there is always that chance that what you learned while overseas simply doesn’t allow you to realign with life at home and then, the issue becomes a bit bigger. Seems like you had the best of both worlds by maintaining your intelligence while in South Korea and being able to return to a life in Canada!

  58. David Cain January 5, 2011 at 3:03 am - Reply

    Hey Earl. I’ve never been in a non-English-speaking country long enough to have some of the side-effects you’re talking about, but I’ll take your word for it. I mean, my English gets a bit dumber after two hours of French class, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.

    I guess it’s a tradeoff though, like anything. Even if you were actually getting a bit dumber, you’re definitely a lot wiser.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:39 am - Reply

      Hey David – Haha…well, at least you’re getting a taste of what it’s like with your French classes!

      It most certainly is a trade-off and one that I believe most travelers would accept without hesitation. In the end, it’s a minor sacrifice to make in order to enjoy the life-changing experiences that travel so often provides.

      And I am looking forward to the huge 2011 you have in store for Raptitude!

  59. Ozzy January 5, 2011 at 2:22 am - Reply

    One thing I believe could easily help with this is reading a lot, either on planes, buses, trains, etc. Whenever you have free time and nothing else going on. It helps keep your mind sharpish when no one else is around and you are by yourself for long periods of time(speaking from experience).


    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:32 am - Reply

      Thanks for that comment Ozzy! Reading does help quite a bit and I probably should do a better job of being prepared for when I travel to countries that don’t have many English language books available. Sometimes I find myself without reading material because I incorrectly assumed I’d find something while out on the road…

  60. rose January 5, 2011 at 12:12 am - Reply

    This post had me nodding my head in agreement quite a lot – especially the part about forgetting basic words! After years of travelling to non-english-speaking countries, living with people from all over the world and being the only one to speak english as a (sort of) first language, my english is in shambles. I generally have to sift through a few different languages before finding the appropriate word to communicate basic things! I try to read in english a lot to compensate, and end up coming out with archaic english words I’m not even sure how to pronounce, much to my family’s amusement.

    I think I quite understand what you mean about feeling dumber & dumber the more you travel, but I like to think of it as a different kind of intelligence. After all, after my mom got over laughing at my broken english in India, she was quickly amazed at how well I could communicate with rickshaw drivers & guesthouse owners… Adaptability is a big skill, whether you’re travelling or not!

    Besides, there are more and more travelers out there to talk to, whether it’s in broken english or not πŸ™‚

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:30 am - Reply

      Hey Rose – So is it only English or do you now speak in broken French and Spanish as well?? That would have the potential to create a huge mess inside your head πŸ™‚

      And adaptability is a great skill to have and come to think of it, knowing that I can travel to most regions of the world and almost immediately feel comfortable, more than makes up for my inability to communicate at times.

      You’re also right about being able to talk with other travelers as broken English seems to be the language of choice (or necessity) out there on the road…

      • rose January 5, 2011 at 2:10 pm - Reply

        Well, English is the worst because of speaking with so many people who have a very limited vocabulary – it definitely takes its toll! But French and Spanish are definitely affected too, and they all seem to jostle for attention in my head when I am looking for a word… like …ummm… tela – no wait, tissu… ooops – FABRIC πŸ™‚ Needless to say, I had a really hard time playing scrabble with my grandma the other night.

        Talking with my mother (an editor and translator) is the one thing the puts me back on track. It also gives her countless opportunities to laugh her head off!

  61. Caz Makepeace January 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    Ha Ha. You are hilarious Earl. I can’t tell you how relieved I feel to know that this condition I too suffer from is due to travel, I thought I was just getting old!
    Now that I am back living in Oz, I found myself constantly asking people,, “How do we say that in Australia again?” They just look at me like i am mad.
    And as for the fitting in part which has been mentioned in some comments above. I think this plays a part in it. I know longer have the language needed to talk about other people, depressing news or bad reality TV programs.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:18 am - Reply

      Hey Caz – Well, perhaps it is because we’re getting older but blaming it on extensive travel feels a whole lot better! And what you said reminds me of whenever I’m at home and I use a word like ‘jumper’. If I’m around my mom she’ll always say, “Earl, we use the word sweatshirt in this country!”

      And if feeling a bit out of place means not spending a good portion of our time talking about gossip and reality TV, I’ll take that trade off any day and I imagine you feel the exact same way…

  62. Andi January 4, 2011 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Haha, well it could be debated that while your English might get worse or “dumber,” you get smarter in other languages!!!

    I don’t think I’ve ever become jaded with an Indian holy man drinking a cow’s urine.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:14 am - Reply

      Hey Andi – That could very well be true, so the pieces of other languages I’ve picked up fill in the gaps in my English communication abilities. I like that explanation!

  63. Little House January 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    At least you can still write in English intelligently so you haven’t completely lost your communication skills! And as for talking to oneself, I do this as well and I have no excuse such as “I travel alone frequently,” I just plain talk to myself when solving problems.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 7:07 am - Reply

      @LittleHouse: Ok, that makes me feel much better πŸ™‚ I’m starting to get the idea that talking to oneself is a lot more common that I thought and in your case, at least it’s being used to help solve problems!

  64. krantcents January 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    If this is true, are you going to stop traveling? I feel dumb when I get lost (last year) driving in England. Apparently,I can not follow directions. Whenever I try to pronounce a foreign language and destroy it. Occasionally, the person listening to me laughs because I said it incorrectly.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:07 am - Reply

      @krantcents: I won’t stop traveling as a result. But now that I’m more fully aware, I’ll work a little harder to maintain the stimulation and improve my communication skills as much as possible. And at least with speaking a foreign language, you have the excuse that it’s not your mother tongue, so in that case, I say keep on practicing regardless of the laughs!

  65. Harrison January 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Maybe it’s a bell curve. Pre-travel, people are less knowledgeable because of less experience in interaction. As traveling increases and more cultures are experienced, the smart-ness level goes up to a threshold, to where your blog post suggests, the “brain stimulation” gets used to it, and the curve goes down. Don’t know if that made any sense, but that’s what I pictured in my mind while I read your post. Great take on the result of excessive travel though!

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:04 am - Reply

      That makes perfect sense Harrison! And actually, I feel a bit smarter for being able to follow your comment without scratching my head in confusion πŸ™‚

      I think the key is to figure out a way to continuously increase the threshold, which becomes a significantly more difficult challenge the longer you travel. But I’m not giving up, so hopefully I’ll find a way to force the curve upward once again!

  66. Jasmine January 4, 2011 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    When I first saw this post in my email box, I immediately thought, Β¨Why is Earl tapping into my brain waves?Β¨ When I was once able to carry on witty conversations with multiple-syllable words with my Dad, I now turn away embarrassed, saying my English isnΒ΄t that good. I remember how intellectual I used to be before traveling, and how now I have to Google everyday phrases to get the words in order into something understandable.

    I can also relate to the novelty of new experiences wearing off… IΒ΄m not sure how to counteract this one, though traveling slowly does help a bit. Great post as always!

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:00 am - Reply

      Hey Jasmine – Well, maybe we need to meet up so that we can have a conversation in our own baby language. I don’t think we’d have any troubles at all communicating considering that we bother suffer from the same issue!

      And traveling slowly does indeed help keep new experiences from wearing off and I’ve also found that traveling between drastically different cultures helps as well. For example, I don’t suffer as much from this problem when I go from Europe to India or Australia straight to Central America. The greater the differences in culture, the more stimulating the experiences tend to be for me.

  67. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler January 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    I can totally see what you mean about how speaking in broken English everyday can make you feel dumber. But I think you have the advantage of still writing for your blog and interacting online with people who speak English. It’s an interesting thought though. Maybe it’s time to spend some time in an English speaking country?

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 5:37 am - Reply

      Hey Christy – The blog has definitely saved me from losing my communication abilities even further. And I actually am in Australia at the moment, so hopefully this visit will help me recharge my English skills!

  68. kandyce January 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm - Reply


    i have spent an extensive amount of time in india, and find myself adapting my english to ‘indian english’/ hinglish often and with gusto… sometimes without even being in my beloved india.

    i also work in the states with people who speak english as a second, third, fourth language (and some who don’t speak it at all, really), so i’m stuck in ‘travel english mode’ all day. it takes me FOREVER to come up with some very basic words and phrases, and makes me feel like a moron in the context of an intellectual conversation.

    thank you for writing this. it’s nice to know that i’m not alone!

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 5:34 am - Reply

      Hey Kandyce – Hopefully it will make you feel even better to know that I am also often stuck speaking Hinglish, even when I’m back home in the US. I’ve spent so much time in India as well that I tend to say things like, “Where do you stay?” instead of “Where do you live?” and “Kindly pass me a napkin” instead of “Please pass me a napkin”. Although, I’ve yet to ask anyone “What is your good name?” or refer to my first cousin as my cousin-brother yet!

      I think we’d get along quite well and would understand each other perfectly πŸ™‚

  69. Azizeh January 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Salaam from Iran, Earl!

    No, I don’t believe you could have possibly become dumber at all from travelling – FEELING dumb and BEING dumb are two entirely different things!

    Because when we travel to other countries, I believe we all render ourselves children again, in that: we frequently have to trust total strangers, whereas at home we’d probably be quite wary of doing so; we have to point, draw, use hand gestures and ‘baby talk’ (as you said) to get our message across; we have to take in/absorb each new unfamiliar place with the curiosity and blind experimentation of a child (especially when alone). I think these are all natural parts of travelling e.g. that bewildered feeling you get when you just can’t understand something, whether it be the ‘vibe’ of Beirut, not being able to communicate with many people in Iraqi Kurdistan, etc…sure, you may FEEL stupid that you don’t ‘get’ something, can’t speak the local language or that your English has become garbled/stunted, but this is all only natural for a traveller!

    By the way, Earl, yours is the only travel blog I’ve ever cared to follow/become addicted to, precisely because you ARE so eloquent and clear in the way you write, with endless intelligent and open-hearted observations! (too many travel blogs are very poorly written, from the ones I’ve seen!). So even if it does take you a long time for the words to emerge coherently, know that the end product is always wonderful πŸ™‚

    Finally, I’ve never heard of talking to yourself being a sign of stupidity, only insanity! And some of the most famous academics/artists/musicians/scientists/writers in the world were said to be ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’…so I don’t think being crazy is such a bad thing for you πŸ˜›

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 5:27 am - Reply

      Hey Azizeh – I like how you make the distinction between feeling dumber and being dumber as the more I think about it, it is a case of just feeling dumber from constantly being in such foreign situations. As for the talking to myself, I realize it’s not a sign of dumbness but I’d just like to keep it in check as I think my current amount self-conversing is more than sufficient!

      And on a a final note, I am honored that you have become interested in following my blog and please know that it does mean a great deal to me to read such positive comments about my writing….I really do appreciate it!

  70. Sam January 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Well if it’s any consolation, Earl, your “dumbness” doesn’t ever come across in your blog posts – they are always well written and following your train of thought is simple (and enjoyable) as a result. But at least you’re noticing yourself loose these abilities; not even knowing you were getting “dumber” would be more worrying!

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 5:18 am - Reply

      Hey Sam – Yeah, that’s a good point. Now that I’ve realized it, I can hopefully take some steps to correct it. Glad to know you didn’t catch on to my communication issues when we met up in Syria!

  71. anca a January 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Si, gracias. Espero que tu tambien. Veo que hablas espagnol. Muy bien! Estan tantas cosas de ver en America Latina y es mucho mas facil si conesces un poco la lengua.
    Que te va muy bien!

  72. Pauline January 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Baby caveman English?
    Well… thank you!

    That said, I like this post, especially the last paragraph.
    I have found my self several times talking to my backpack.

    • Earl January 5, 2011 at 6:47 am - Reply

      Hey Pauline! Haha…I can easily picture you talking to your backpack. Actually, I remember you doing that quite often while I was in Syria πŸ™‚
      Perhaps you need to get some more interesting housemates!

  73. Sarah January 4, 2011 at 10:45 am - Reply

    So funny, I’m an English teacher in Thailand and even I’m losing my ability to speak English because I have to revert to a slow/broken form to emphasize things to my students….hopefully it will all come back when I’m back in the States!

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      Hey Sarah – That’s exactly how it started for me….while teaching English in Thailand 11 years ago! So be careful, it will only get worse πŸ™‚
      Although, if you are headed back to the States after, you should be all set, although you’ll definitely get a few strange reactions at the things you say during your first couple of weeks back.

  74. anca a January 4, 2011 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Aside the very intelligent (you see, you’re not dumb..) self-irony and the courage of your post, I should say you need a break. A break from travelling I mean. It’s strange, I was just thinking these days about how much I want to travel and that I can’t do it enough and wondering at the same time whether travelling all the time would not wear my feelings and excitement off. And that, would be worse than travelling less. English is not my mother language (actually it’s Romanian) and I also speak French and some Spanish which makes things easier. I also tend to travel with somebody not that I’m afraid of going on my own but one of the things that I miss when I’m alone is not as much speaking but sharing. I admit there is a sort of exhilaration of power when I am alone and manage in any situation but, all in all, I’d rather have someone to travel with. Maybe you should try it sometimes – that might cure you from talking to yourself. By the way, this is not a sign of dambness, I hope you realise :))

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      Hola Anca – Thank you so much for sharing your comment! You’ve actually touched upon a couple of very interesting points. Last year, I took a 12 month break from traveling when I decided to live in Mexico for a year and that definitely helped me re-energize and re-group. It was a very positive period of time for me. And I have traveled with other people over the years, everyone from friends, to girlfriends, family and people I’ve met on the road. But unfortunately, since I’ve been traveling for so long, it’s not possible to always be with someone else and so I do tend to spend a lot of time traveling on my own.

      However, I do wish I traveled with other people more often as I completely agree with you that sharing is one of the most rewarding aspects of new experiences!

      Espero que hayas tenido un feliz ano nuevo!

  75. Turkey's For Life January 4, 2011 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Ha ha. We’ve definitely lost vocabulary and ‘automatic’ spelling knowledge since being in Turkey. We also word sentences in different ways and this has now become the norm so that when English friends come to visit, they ask, ‘Why are you talking like that?’
    Of course, it could just be age too. None of us are getting any younger… πŸ™‚

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      @TurkeysForLife: Well, a combination of extensive travel and getting older must be terrible for the brain πŸ™‚

      And whenever we meet up one day, we’ll have to exchange oddly-worded sentences that we each use on a regular basis. Just reading that you do that had me laughing for a few minutes!

  76. Dina January 4, 2011 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Hahaha πŸ˜€
    Certainly traveling makes me forgetting Chemistry that I took for many years before we traveled. That does make me feel guilty somehow.
    Traveling makes me better in English because I’m not a native English speaker and we were in Australia for a long time, but I understand how you feel forgetting your English and American aspect of life. I felt strongly the same with you about Indonesian language and aspect of life in my first few years being in Canada. Talking to family and friends back in Indonesia either by phone or messenger helps a lot. But there are some figure of speech that I’m more comfortable speaking in English than Indonesian…

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      Hey Dina – So nice to hear from you!

      It sounds like you now have a comfortable mix of English and Indonesian to carry you through your travels and communication with family and friends at home. As for forgetting Chemistry, if you’re like most of us, you would have forgotten that even if you never traveled anywhere!

  77. Kirsty January 4, 2011 at 8:55 am - Reply

    This post is ….. ummmm what’s the word …. hilarious! I find myself forgetting words all the time, but think it is now a wonderful game of word association for Poi to guess what the hell I am meant to be talking about!

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Hey Kirsty – You know what, I noticed that you were hesitating quite a bit when we spoke up in Chiang Mai and now I know that you just had trouble finding words πŸ™‚ I’m joking of course but it is always nice to know there are others out there feeling the same way.

      All I can say is good luck Poi. Your conversations must be thrilling if both of you start forgetting words!

  78. ayngelina January 4, 2011 at 4:59 am - Reply

    You know I totally disagree πŸ™‚

    I think in travel we begin to process things differently. We are so overstimulated in North America and laying around on a beach is OK. We don’t need a tv, radio, advertising constantly around us to make us smarter.

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Hey Ayngelina – Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love lounging around on a beach myself πŸ™‚ And I also don’t believe that being surrounded by constant advertising and ‘breaking news’ is what makes people smarter either. I was simply trying to say that the longer one travels, the harder it is to stimulate the brain and when combined with the communication issues of constantly being in foreign countries, it’s quite easy for the brain to start resting a little too much. And then it becomes even harder to participate in any conversation, no matter what the topic!

      Looking forward to seeing your new site design by the way!

  79. Priyank January 4, 2011 at 4:02 am - Reply

    Hi Earl,
    Haha, that was funny! What you describe is simply a loss of tangible skills. Language can be picked up in no time, go spend a month at home and it will be back! Vocabulary is simply a tool for eloquence, not a measure of intelligence, right? For this small price the intangible things you are learning on the road are priceless and will keep you smart for ever. So I don’t think you are getting dumber at all, duh. πŸ˜€

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      Hey Priyank – You made some excellent points and my only fear is that the longer I am away from home, the more my communication skills begin to unravel and then, when I do spend extended periods of time at home, I’m unable to find a way to re-integrate. But that’s alright, and I do agree that vocabulary is not a measure of intelligence. I just wish words like ‘fabric’ would come to me a little quicker πŸ™‚

  80. TourAbsurd January 4, 2011 at 3:54 am - Reply

    Hahaha, Earl! Good post! It reminds me of the virtual reboots and cleanup I have done of my brain after moving or switching jobs. Have to do a memory dump to make room for all the new habits and skills.

    The fact that English is my hubby’s second language (he’s Italian) helps me stay on my toes. Not only do I need to have my own words, he asks me for help with his.

    Reading good fiction really helps, too. Don’t forget to read in your own language! πŸ˜‰

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      @TourAbsurd: I like that idea of doing a memory dump of your brain before a change in lifestyle! It would certainly help keep your thoughts and skills in order. And the reading tip is a good one and I must admit, I don’t do it as often as I should be these days.

  81. Alan January 4, 2011 at 3:43 am - Reply

    Couldn’t agree more, Earl, though I’ve never seen anyone spell it out like this. Also, you forgot to mention jet lag and general sleep deprivation, which go hand in hand with long-term travel. In fact, this report came out quite recently:


    Anyways, stay smart out there. Remember, it’s worth the experiences! You’ll be back to speaking like the true academic you are in no time.

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm - Reply

      Hey Alan – Thanks for sharing that article. That is really interesting as to be honest, I would never have even thought of there being any potential long-term effects of frequent jet lag. I don’t even want to think about how many time zones I cross each year.

      And you know I agree that it’s worth the experiences in the end, even if my memory/communication issues are affected to some degree. Although, if I start forgetting to post on this blog, then I might think otherwise!

  82. Paddy January 4, 2011 at 3:30 am - Reply

    In my opinion, the difficulty that comes from expressing yourself with clarity (due to your years of solo travel) has little to do with intelligence. Your ideas have become more free-flowing rather than linear, that’s all. Besides, what is a “normal” conversation anyway? πŸ™‚

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the comment Paddy! And I do agree, there is no ‘normal’ conversation and I was just thinking about conversations that the majority of people I know at home would be comfortable engaging in, most of which I would not be so comfortable with. But maybe it is that our ideas lose their structured form and as a result, it is much harder to transform such free-flowing ideas into reasonably intelligent sounding words. I like the sound of that quite a bit πŸ™‚

  83. woollypigs January 4, 2011 at 3:27 am - Reply

    A very good post and I understand were you are coming from. I too struggle with my mother tongue after 15 years away.

    Not that I feel dumber but is hard to talk to friends back home. Simply because I haven’t been around to watch the same telly, read the local news, know who moved into number 42 and massive thunder storm that knocked over the old school, who is dating that fella out of that band who had hit you have never heard etc etc

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm - Reply

      @woollypigs: That is true and it’s sometimes hard to fathom how not knowing those things can make such a difference in one’s ability to communicate with friends. On the other hand, it can also act as an inspiration to continue traveling as I’d prefer to fill my head with the knowledge gained on the road than with knowing who is in fact dating who back home!

      • woollypigs January 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm - Reply

        Yup that is why I love living in London and to travel. Here get I meet people from all over the world from all walks of life, I didn’t do that in Denmark.

        Filling my head travelling is so much better than filling my head with what ever “real life drama” they are showing on the box.

  84. Nicole January 4, 2011 at 2:48 am - Reply

    I don’t know about being dumber, but feeling like I don’t fit in? Yes. My boredom in everyday normal conversations & others tiring of hearing all my stories. Maybe that’s why I decided to write a book, so those stories don’t die but I don’t have to tell them all the time. But, will anyone care???

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 11:58 am - Reply

      Hey Nicole – Perhaps that is a better way to explain it…not fitting in. We do tend to become outsiders to an extent as, like you mentioned, our conversations don’t exactly line up with the conversations that other people around us are having.

      So is your book finished?? Does it have a title yet? I’d definitely be curious πŸ™‚

      • Nicole January 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm - Reply

        Hi Earl, my book isn’t yet finished but there’s an excerpt on my site. It’s about when I lived on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent with my young family and our struggles operating an off-the-grid beachfront resort.

        BTW, your written conversations are the exact opposite of dumb. πŸ™‚ Thanks for your curiosity!

        • Earl January 5, 2011 at 5:20 am - Reply

          Hey Nicole – Sounds interesting as I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Caribbean myself! I shall go ahead and read the excerpt on your site πŸ™‚

  85. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Paul Grant and Jack and Jill, Derek Earl Baron. Derek Earl Baron said: New at WanderingEarl.com: Has Travel Made Me Dumber? https://bit.ly/e8h2j6 […]

  86. Kenan Lucas January 4, 2011 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Yes I know exactly what you mean! After spending 6 months in Austria, I became exposed to a particular breed of German-English (Germglish?) so much that my grammar started to suffer as a result. I think its important to keep reading English texts while overseas for a long period of time – also writing daily helps.

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 11:56 am - Reply

      Hey Kenan – I like that…Germglish! Reading and writing in your native language is definitely a must while traveling and I can only imagine what my communication skills would be like if I didn’t write on this blog!

  87. Lol, this post is hilarious :p
    I moved to the US from Indonesia when I was 16, so I have an Indonesian vocab of a 16 year old. Can’t handle too much conversation whenever I’m back home, and just like you, I’ll be struggling to remember words for, say… ‘concrete’ and then forget why I’m talking about concrete in the first place.

    • Earl January 4, 2011 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Hey Jill – Glad to hear you can relate πŸ™‚ I’m constantly shaking my head in disbelief when I can’t remember certain words, but at least I usually remember them eventually. Hopefully you’re able to do the same!

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