It may seem like the WORST time to start a blog about travel, right now.
I write to you from my favourite slouching spot on the couch, in the first days of another national lockdown due to the worsening Covid-19 pandemic. At this moment in time, we cannot physically travel beyond the boundaries of our nations, towns or even our homes. But the very fact that so many people are expressing a desperate longing to roam again highlights just how important travelling is to us.
I have always been an avid fan of travel and I cannot wait to get out and about again, especially with the extra pleasure of reporting back to you guys. Until we can once more traverse our world in footsteps, I’m going to share some ways that we can travel with our senses, creativity and mindset. For now, this partiular post is going to focus on WHY travel is so important, and the many benefits that it can bestow upon us.
Physical Health Benefits of Travel
I remember going to Orlando, Florida, as a child. My whole life I have had a pretty unhealthy relationship with food… and little or no relationship with exercise! I relished the all-you-can-eat breakfasts and dinners on International Drive, and made it my mission to tick off a list of sweet treats unique to the theme parks. Yet I still lost weight. In later years I enjoyed going to music and arts festivals each summer. The diet is not the healthiest at these events! In fact, a high percentage of my intake for whole weekends was liquid, alcoholic and calorie laden. Still, I maintained or lost weight! It’s been the same story with every holiday I’ve been on. Better yet, my skin improved and I had more energy.
To understand why travel benefits us physically, we only have to look at the history of holidays. In 1910 U.S President Taft (unsuccessfully) attempted to instate 2-3 months of paid leave for all men:
“in order to continue his work next year
with the energy and effectiveness that it ought to have.”
Earlier still British companies like Cadbury were creating villages to provide accommodation, healthcare and education to workers and their families. They also made it customary to close their factories on bank holidays. It made sense for business! Workers are more compliant and productive when they have their basic needs met - and when they have time to refresh themselves, celebrate important events and take exercise, leisure or rest.
Travel in the context of a holiday is good for us physically, because it gives us distance from our working day-to-day life. Our bodies have time to relax and recuperate from their normal stresses. Ideally, we also have choice in the climate we visit on our travels. We can top up our levels of sunlight, fresh air and outdoor activity. Given more ideal circumstances and less duties, we are free to DO more - which often results in increased levels of exercise and activity. An added bonus is that this exercise is combined with interests, and so feels less of a chore, if we notice it at all! Attendees of Glastonbury Festival walk almost SIX MILES EVERY DAY – nearly 30 miles over the weekend! Disney World visitors report tracking anywhere from 5000 to 35,000 steps a day, and I’ll bet the kids aren’t moaning about it either! More people take the opportunity to swim on holidays in warm climates. We try new activities in ideal settings for learners (SCUBA Diving, Hiking, Surfing, Snow-sports). The opportunity for improved physical activity abounds.
Meanwhile, warmer climates and entertaining distractions are a boon for those of us who struggle with healthy eating. Salad just tastes better in a hot climate! We might usually seek out carbs and calories for energy in a cold wet climate. It’s easier to be satisfied by lighter meals when the environment is temperate. Boredom-eaters, now engaged with excursions and discoveries, aren’t as bored (and hence eat less) and fussy eaters may be encouraged to try new foods, taking a ‘when in Rome…’ attitude. A holiday is a holiday - it’s a break. If you self medicate your stress with food (or anything for that matter), a relaxed holiday mood, distanced from the things that trouble you at home, can often leave you feeling less need for your crutch.
NOTE: These observations are only of benefits for improving average food relationships. If you are living with, or think you may have, an EATING DISORDER - please seek professional HELP AND ADVICE. This is particularly important for TRAVEL DURING EATING DISORDER RECOVERY.
That same break from stresses can also mean our bodies have time to rest, with muscles recovering, blood pressures dropping and more regular release of ‘feel good’ chemicals like opioids, oxytocin and dopamine in the body.
Mental and Emotional Health Benefits of Travel.
We already lightly covered the idea of travel bringing relief from demands of everyday life.
Travel also provides relief from mental and emotional stresses. In many ways, when we go on holiday, we take a vacation from our self. It could be argued that we should work to evolve our everyday self so that we are happy to be our-self every day. In the meantime, travel can give us a taste of the person we would like to be, providing us a goal to work towards. For some, time away can also give the space and distance from a problem, which allows processing of that issue. At home we might be too close to the upset mentally. Being able to think over a situation from a place of safety and calm can help us take a more objective view.
Extended, deep or ‘Experiential’ travel can expose us to different cultures. If we commit to being receptive, we can experience different value systems and priorities, alternative mindsets and approaches to life, and perhaps new solutions to our concerns. We add to our toolset for problem solving and evaluation.
Journeys intrinsically generate purpose and meaning (some of the building blocks of Positive Psychology, Humanistic Psychology and many other theories on achieving contentment, happiness and wellbeing). In the very choice to make a journey, we set a goal, make decisions, negotiate challenges and (hopefully) achieve something. These key requirements of meaningful living are scaleable from a walk to achieve relaxation, to a worldwide trip to discover a lost artefact. We can take trips that challenge us to different degrees, sometimes expectedly, sometimes not! In either case, this can let us practice courage, resilience and flexibility. When we meet with difficulties or with the unexpected, we can build self-esteem by responding in ways that we feel appropriate and positive. As we find solutions to problems and adapt to change en-route, we evolve our personal strength.
Travel can be tailored to give ourselves time alone, as an act of self-care. We can strengthen existing relationships by sharing the experience, or we can meet new people. From grinning our way through an attempt at another’s language, to participating guided tours and group activities classes, to longer stays for work or volunteering - human connection is almost unavoidable when travelling. Even when we experience uncomfortable connections and confrontations - we can learn a lot about ourselves. Hopefully confrontation is rare - but experiencing and demonstrating tolerance is beneficial to everyone.
Creative Benefits of Travel
New experiences increase neuroplasticity. Simple as Neuro-Science! When we learn a language or skill, we chemically and physically change our brain. When we travel (assuming we are open to new experiences), we learn. It could be taking on a new language or set of customs. We might acquire knowledge about the history of a destination, or try play music in the style of the culture. Trying new crafts, hobbies and sports is a great way to spend time on holiday.
Taking your ‘tourist mind’ out for a walk is like a brief trip in time back to your ‘child mind’. Relative anonymity can free us up to admit our inexperience and ask more questions. We can enjoy, quite literally, UNADULTERATED wonder, joy and passion. Our tendency to self-censor decreases, so new ideas have more chance of making it through our own ‘normative’ filters. The finite time-span of a holiday pushes us to ‘make the most’ of the experiences - recording them via photo, journal or any other way we choose. This leads us to foster a mindful, receptive state more frequently and for longer periods of time, seeking out opportunities for memory making, or some crystallising sensory experience.
Exposure to different cultures, as with mental health, promotes creativity. The variety of new input is copious. Cuisine, Music, Education, Art, Religion, Languages, Politics, Architecture, Wildlife, Environments, Histories - the lists goes on and on. Every visit to a new country, (even a new town or district) brings a fresh wave of difference and therefore potential inspiration. I particularly enjoy seeing how artists local to an area respond to, and depict, their surroundings. The artist-environment relationship is a two way street and you can sometimes see the influence of the environment upon the style and ‘voice’ of a final product. Wether you are witnessing other peoples’ creativity or collecting sensations, patterns and inspiration for your own creative tool-pool, travel cannot help but add to your ammo!
Extensive travel often involves large stretches of time spent waiting around or in transit. One thing that many people find lacking in modern life is time to sit and be bored, to idle (yep, that’s a verb!) and to daydream. Long flights, waits in airport lounges and bus rides can be harnessed and turned to high-quality mental meandering time!
As if you ever needed an excuse…
I’ll be posting more in the TRAVEL category of Make Tracks Travel, including ways to explore and discover when you’re stuck at home, environmentally considerate travel, and more.
Comment below to tell me what and where you’d like to see more of.