Travel opens my mind to new perspectives and allows me to recontextualize existing systems of thought.
I had casually studied Roman history over the course of a few years, prior to my travels to Italy. My understanding was built upon a small collection of books and two excellent podcast series. While one can learn a great deal from books, podcasts, and other media, that knowledge is divorced from its original context — i.e. we musn't mistake a map for the territory.
A museum - by its very nature - strips the subject of its contextual time and place (arguably the time, and sometimes place have been lost to time). A museum succeeds if it is able to recreate the context of the subject in both time and place, within the mind of the museum visitor. This leads to a more delightful understanding and appreciation of the subject.
When I travel, I seek to create new understanding - a recontextualization of the artifacts of knowledge I grasp on the subject. From facts and anecdotes taken from books, images and perspectives gathered from museums — all mashed together again, and then reformed within the milieu of their original spatial context.
Its important to note that this is a passive activity, simply walking around Rome was enough to ignite this recontextualization. Characters take on new roles, events have more (or less) relevance, and places are imbued with life, color and motion. Understanding becomes alive.
Travel seems to make me step outside the world, so that I can look back upon it with new eyes. And when I return home, my new eyes are the eyes with which I've always viewed the world.