Travel Builds Your Brain Capital


Travel can boost a clinician’s brain health, cultural intelligence, and creativity.




In a world beset by a number of significant issues—including societal divisions and a mental health pandemic—travel serves as an antidote. It can boost a clinician’s brain health, cultural intelligence, and creativity. It makes them more effective at caring for their patients.

As a brain health physician-executive and neuroscientist who grew up in the Great Barrier Reef region of Australia, lives between San Francisco and Houston, and works in various parts of the world, I have witnessed firsthand the divisions in our society. These divisions, fraying our social fabric, are particularly acute given the many global elections in 2024 (eg, for the President of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Members of the European Parliament). We stand on the precipice of a year that can rebuild our fraying democracies and collective trust or weaken it further. Relatedly, we need to better understand how social, cultural and economic divisions disrupt therapeutic relationships between patients and their health professionals.1

Health professionals are experiencing high levels of burnout as they seek to manage the significant mental health pandemic sweeping over communities, and the tools in their clinical toolkit are less-than-perfect. This is where travel comes into play. Travel, in my experience, is more than just taking a break, seeing new places, or meeting new individuals. As health professionals, it is about building our brain infrastructure: expanding our horizons, understanding different cultures, fueling creativity, and even developing a diverse microbiome, which we know is healthy for our brains.2 It is about building our individual brain capital, our cognitive, emotional and social brain resources.3

Travel is good for our brain health.4 It stimulates our brain, keeps us active, and helps us think creatively. It exposes us to new experiences, ideas, and perspectives that we wouldn’t encounter in our daily lives. This exposure can spark creativity, which is vital to scientists and clinicians in developing new preventive, diagnostic, and treatment modalities.5 Work travel to conferences fuels mental health diplomacy, the sharing of best practices and ideas between disciplines, cultures, and countries.5

Travel also enhances our cultural intelligence.6 As we interact with individuals from different cultures, we learn to understand, appreciate, and better respect their values, beliefs, and ways of life. This understanding can help us build stronger, more meaningful relationships with our patients, particularly those from diverse cultural backgrounds. This is key to achieving our desires for health equity, where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.7

Since COVID, I have lived and worked as a digital nomad worldwide—from Zion National Park in the US to Zonda in rural Argentina. Digital nomads are people who travel freely while working remotely using technology and the internet. This tremendous opportunity provided a silver lining from the global pandemic. It seemed to have built my brain capital. It led me to the creative insight that I indeed could reconcile my training in socially accountable health care, advanced brain science and entrepreneurship. I could find a way to begin to drive systemic change to improve people’s brain health at scale. I saw the nascent area of brain capital, and have wholeheartedly embraced it. Global actors and I now lead the Brain Capital Alliance and seek to upgrade the governance of nation-states to have brain capital paid as much attention as GDP and road and bridge infrastructure. Public policy and private investment can now be channeled toward brain capital as a common goal.

On one of my many hikes around national parks as a digital nomad, I also had an epiphany that my migraines are a superpower.8 This medical issue that has afflicted me for 20 years has led me to a fascinating career in brain and mind innovation and provides tremendous empathy for those living with conditions modern science cannot well explain. Given my condition is now well treated by a new advanced medication—unavailable and/or unaffordable for most in the world living without health insurance—this also makes me appreciate the importance of health equity and why we need to strive for it, less we will lose many individual’s productive capacities to newly treatable conditions.

Travel does not have to mean going abroad at great expense. It can be as simple as visiting a foreign restaurant or talking to a stranger. In his new book, How to Know a Person, David Brooks, the famed New York Times opinion columnist, suggests asking strangers questions like ‘What’s your story?’ or ‘What do you love to do in your spare time?’9 These questions can help us get to know people deeper and broaden our cultural intelligence, and can be readily adapted by clinicians in mental health practice. So, whether you are a doctor, a neuroscientist, or a digital nomad, I encourage you to embrace travel. It might just be the antidote we need in these divided times.

Dr Eyre is a Fellow at the Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy, Lead of the Brain Capital Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Dr Eyre teaches at the Global Brain Health Institute and advises the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association and the Latin American Brain Health Institute. He is a member of the Champion’s Cabinet of the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative and a member of the Expert Advisory Panel for the Mental Wealth Initiative. He is an alumnus of the Forbes 30 Under 30 and the Fulbright Scholar program, an awardee of the EB1A Green Card, an honor typically reserved for Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners. He has authored 200+ papers with 1000s of coauthors and was the lead editor of the book, Convergence Mental Health (Oxford Press).


1. Brietzke E. Understanding and navigating the repercussions of the politically polarized climate in mental health.Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2023;45:e20210350.

2. Liu L, Huh JR, Shah K. Microbiota and the gut-brain-axis: implications for new therapeutic design in the CNS. EBioMedicine. 2022:77:103908.

3. Smith E, Ali D, Wilkerson B, et al. A Brain Capital grand strategy: toward economic reimagination. Mol Psychiatry. 2021;26(1):3-22.

4. Anciaes P, Metcalfe P. Constraints to travel outside the local area: effect on social participation and self-rated health. Journal of Transport & Health. 2023;28:101535.

5. Eyre HA, Berk M, Lavretsky H, Reynolds C, eds. Convergence Mental Health: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Innovation. Oxford University Press; 2021.

6. Wang KT, Goh M. Cultural intelligence. In: Carducci BJ, Nave CS, Mio JS, Riggio RE, eds. The Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences: Models and Theories. Wiley; 2020.

7. Health equity. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Accessed November 28, 2023.

8. Eyre HA. My migraines are a super power. European Federation of Neurological Associations. Accessed November 28, 2023.

9. Brooks D. How to Know a Person. Random House; 2023.

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