- Studies show that the positive effects of a holiday do not last very long once we have returned home.
- Travel is less geographical than it is a psychological, as we are taken out of our comfort zone and discover other parts of ourselves.
- By applying the traveling mindset to our everyday lives, we can continue to reap the psychological rewards after our holidays are over.
The leaves are falling, summer is over, and our suitcases have returned to their spots at the back of the cupboard, waiting patiently for next year’s holiday.
It has long been accepted that holidays help us to feel "refreshed" and "recharged," ready for the daily grind again. However, studies tell a different story:
So, what is it about traveling and being away on holiday that makes us feel so good? More importantly, can we harness those same mindsets to keep reaping the psychological rewards year round?
The Psychology of the Traveler
1. Increased self-confidence. Psychologist Daniel Vera describes "inner travel" as the shift in mindset that occurs when we travel and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, making us more open to learning. Whether it be navigating from A to B in a new city or ordering food in a foreign language, we are given countless opportunities on holiday to feel accomplishment. These small behaviours reinforce us, making us feel more capable and independent.
2. More fluid and multidimensional perceptions of self. Sociologist Karen Stein has argued that people don’t just have one identity but many possible selves that can emerge or disappear over time, depending on how much attention we give them. So, a mother-of-two microbiologist who spends most of her time alone in a laboratory setting and eating ready-meals late at night might find herself completely enthralled by a week of all-day group cooking classes in Vietnam.
For a moment during such trips, we are given a chance to explore our other identities and discover parts of ourselves that are often sidelined by careers or family life. These experiences help us feel less married to our current paths and make us more self-aware.
3. Decreased stress: Many studies show that traveling reduces stress, particularly stress that is work-derived. This is largely due to the physical distance afforded by travel, which leads to effective cognitive detachment, too.
By not being physically there, not having your laptop, not having a signal, and/or not knowing what the latest development with *that project* is, travelers are rendered powerless when it comes to their work and often find relief in it. It’s the classic case of "You can’t stress about something you have no control over," and it is very effective at doing just that.
How to “Travel” at Home
1. Start learning: The aim here is to induce that state of "inner travel" that Daniel Vera describes by moving outside of your comfort zone, at home.
Start expanding your horizon and learning— take up that language you’ve always wanted to speak, take a new route to work, or try out new cuisines; be adventurous in your own city and explore parts you’ve not been to before; move outside of your social media echo-chamber and expose yourself to broader opinions.
It is through this learning that we can experience the unfamiliar once again, and shift our mindset back to that of a traveler.
2. Give credence to your “other selves." Contrary to popular narrative, we are not defined by what we do for work, where we live, and with whom we are in a relationship. We are complex, have many sides to our personality, have multiple social identities, and often want to live in many different ways. So, make time for hobbies or projects that were sidelined by work or family commitments—you can be a rational scientist and a creative chef.
Also, be more open to meeting new people and making new friends (as we are when we travel). It is in these situations that we are given the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and are able to reflect on what parts of ourselves we are most keen to project.
3. Strengthen the line between work and play. This is harder but more important in our post-COVID working world, as most of us are working from home. To properly de-stress and experience relaxing evenings and weekends, we must mimic the detachment we get when we’re traveling and create psychological distance.
This might mean having a conversation with your boss to let them know you won’t be checking your phone or emails after 6 p.m., turning your notifications off, or scheduling things in the evening to ensure you can’t think about work.
Seeing foreign places and getting away for a couple of weeks is an irreplaceable joy, but the real journey is psychological. The positive effects of traveling don’t have to be geographically dependent. By harnessing these mindsets in our everyday lives, we can always be traveling: alleviating stress, increasing confidence, and learning more about ourselves.