Why Travel Makes Us Happy

Friday, August 24th, 2012
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Someone asked me recently what the Travel section of this web site was for. What does travel have to do with happiness?

The simplest answer is that traveling makes me happy, and so I write about it. But I confess that there’s more to it than that.

I’m not just a fan of travel; I’m an advocate for it.

I believe in travel.

I want to encourage as many people as I can to get out and see a little bit more of the world.

As much as I believe that we must all define our own version of happiness, I am also confident that travel can help you be happier.

On a flight last month, I tried to figure out what it is about getting out of town that always lights me up. I made a few notes in my journal about the benefits and how they might correlate with increased happiness. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Travel gives us a sense of accomplishment.

Conquering something for the first time – whether it’s a foreign language or a new subway system – always makes me feel like a rock star. Navigating my way to a restaurant in a strange neighborhood helps convince me that I can solve any problem that comes my way. I think this is why I like traveling alone so much; I’m destined to experience a personal success when I don’t have someone else around on whom to pawn tough decisions.

2. Travel helps us learn about ourselves.

I love to hike. I like climbing uphill in the woods and splashing through rivers. I didn’t know this about myself until I was 31 years old. In fact, I was certain that I hated nature if it didn’t include white sand and an ocean breeze. Then I took a trip to the Grand Canyon and trekked three miles into the mouth of the biggest hole I’d ever seen. I fell in love and wanted to explore every rocky crevice I could find.

When we travel, we give ourselves more opportunities to discover our passions and our purpose. We get to learn what we like and what we don’t like (fried oysters!) Knowing ourselves better is the first step towards accepting and loving ourselves more.

3. Travel makes us more interesting.

Let’s face it: well-traveled people are way more fun to sit next to at a dinner party. But why should you care about who wants to sit next to you at some imaginary dinner party? You shouldn’t. That’s not the point.

The point is that getting out and doing stuff allows you to bring something to a relationship – stories, perspective, fun facts – and that makes for healthier, more balanced relationships. Being an interesting person helps you attract other interesting people into your life, people who will also have something to “bring to the table”. As social creatures, we need strong relationships to be happy.

4. Travel reminds us how unimportant most things are.

The more you see of the world, the more you realize how tiny your own corner of it is in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t mean that your world isn’t a big deal to you, but it’s helpful to remember that very few things really matter forever and ever.

You are small. This is small. So no matter how much you mess it up, it’s not really so bad. That perspective is a key tenant of sustainable happiness.

5. Travel connects us to people.

One of my favorite things about visiting a new place is learning about the ways the people who live there are different than me. I like learning about local food and little idiosyncrasies. But I also love that I inevitably realize we are more alike than different. We love. We fear change. We resent things that are forced upon us. We hope. Traveling makes me feel part of a larger whole, which means I am never alone.

6. Travel helps us avoid dying.

I’ve never heard of any research that links globetrotting to length of life, and I’m not actually suggestion that racking up frequent flier miles will help you extend your life. What I am suggesting is that travel helps you use your years on Earth to live.

The cycle of living things is: birth, growth, dying, and death. Stagnation is an illusion that is often just a convenient cover for dying. Travel keeps you growing and blossoming. It doesn’t prevent death, but it helps us avoid meeting it with a basket full of regrets.

So I will continue to find excuses to travel, and I’ll continue to share my stories in the hopes that you will be encouraged to seek out new places. And I hope that when you do discover new corners of the world – be it a shop across town or a waterfall on the other side of the world – that you’ll share your stories with me, too.

Did you enjoy this post? Consider sharing it with someone who would make a great road trip partner.

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  1. Naomi says:

    I like the “shop across town” idea … so many of us live in towns/cities with SO much to offer, yet we very rarely go to the “other side of town”, right?

    I’m expecting your travel section to LIGHT up as you explore your new home!
    Naomi’s most recent post: Singapore

    • Miss Britt says:

      Yes! I’m always amazed how few people play tourist in their own town or take the time to investigate what is at least in driving distance of their home!

  2. I like travel but I do it with a small amount of fear, well, a lot of fear. I’m really not good with it but I know I must to break out of the world I have lived in. Luckily I have a hubby that loves too and is patient. We’ve been to Paris, London, Ireland, transatlantic cruise…lots of stuff and I’m so glad that I have done it. I try to not let my fear of the unknown hold me back.
    Jill of All Trades’s most recent post: Fortune Cookie Friday

    • Miss Britt says:

      I love that your husband helps you do this thing that is out of your comfort zone. What a great thing to have in a relationship.

  3. Kent says:

    Three cheers for #4 :)
    Kent’s most recent post: Finishing What We Started

    • Miss Britt says:

      Yeah – although I’m rethinking the wording of that after reading your most recent post!

  4. first, i am a big fan of travel. funny that i never looked at it the way you do. you make some great points that i never would have thought of. i just knew i liked it.

    second, i think you need a number 7 up there. travel tends to make one appreciate home even more.

    third, i clicked on the link about fried oysters and whooooooooooooooweee!, did i laugh so hard at that post. great weekend. really great. if travel doesn’t expand our horizons it certainly can make us laugh!
    hello haha narf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think I’m one of the few people for whom travel doesn’t inspire a deeper appreciation for home. Not sure why that is.

      And you don’t over analyze shit like I do. lol

  5. Kat says:

    We travel as a family as often as time and money allow us. It’s a chance to bond with our children in ways not possible when caught up in the rhythms of daily life. If we had our way we’d arrive home and already have a ticket booked for the next destination.
    Kat’s most recent post: Old stones and abandoned train tracks make strong families.

  6. Liz says:

    I’ve been doing The Artist’s Way — a book to help creatives unblock themselves — and recently did a wish list in the form of “things I would do if I didn’t think they were silly.” One of the things that came up was “go away for a weekend by myself.” I’ve been wanting to do something like that ever since you posted about your weekend on your own in a hotel by the beach. My fiance doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go away by themselves (and I don’t blame him, because at one time I didn’t understand, either), so it’s been hard to justify something like this.

    I’m definitely going to do it someday — right now money is an issue — but how can I explain to the people in my life that I need to get away for me, not because I don’t want to be around them?
    Liz’s most recent post: My Crazy One-Year Plan

    • Megan says:

      Liz, I highly recommend it, especially if you are blocked (although I understand the money thing). Not having to consider anyone’s needs but your own is so relaxing, and learning to be OK by yourself not matter what is the best gift you can give yourself. Put it on your to-do list when your finances improve.
      Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week Four: Lazy

      • Liz says:

        That’s exactly why I want to do it. It seems like the exact kind of R&R I need!

        Did you have anyone who didn’t understand when you set out to go away by yourself?
        Liz’s most recent post: “I never pray, but tonight I’m on my knees”

        • Megan says:

          I’m sure my husband was puzzled, but I really didn’t get any flak from anyone (If I had it wouldn’t have stopped me – I needed it very badly). My son was a baby, and my husband took the opportunity to let grandma and grandpa spend time with their grandson so he got a break as well (which may account for his willingness to let me go).
          Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week Four: Lazy

          • Liz says:

            Smart lady, hahaha.

            I guess I’m just worried about hurting the man creature’s feelings. I know it’s something I need to do for myself — especially since I have a hard time even going to renew my license without company — but I don’t want him to feel like he’s being excluded.
            Liz’s most recent post: Things Iā€™m Afraid to Tell You

    • Miss Britt says:

      So, here’s the thing about taking a solo getaway – part of it is giving yourself permission to do what you want or need. People who love you support you taking care of yourself. Even if their feelings seem hurt at first; trust them to get the eff over it.

      Bottom line: don’t allow concern for others to become an excuse to neglect yourself. It’s not as noble as the commercials would have you believe. ;-)

  7. Megan says:

    And this is why we are friends – because we have the same outlook. I love every one of these, especially number six.
    Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week Four: Lazy

  8. Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl says:

    Love this post. I am a huge advocate for travel! I think that it is partly because my family could never really afford to travel places (even locally) when I was a kid. Plus, I’m naturally curious about people and places.

    • Miss Britt says:

      We were SO poor when I was growing up, but somehow my mom found a way to infect me with her wanderlust. It helped that my parents were divorced and living in different states, so I was guaranteed to travel at least once a year – even if it was just to Kansas. :-) Also, my mom took us with her on business trips whenever possible, which was pretty damn awesome now that I think about it.

  9. Joey says:

    I love this post because A.) I love to travel for many of the same reasons and B.) I love the Packers. Great jacket! :)

  10. pocket_queen says:

    I fully agree with your points, I believe traveling is so great because it opens the door to (infinite) possibility. I think a degree of uncertainty is always there, once you walk out your door lots of things may happen. Which is probably why it’s scary for some people, and addictive for others. I for one try to always stay positive and believe that great things are possible and more likely to happen, and if not so great things happen, it will be alright in the end.. which leads directly to your point about learning about yourself, about your strengths.
    What really does it for me is to find myself in a state of awe. Which may come about for any of the reasons you explained. Awe of beauty (whether natural or man made), greatness, kindness or cultural richness.
    However I have come to realise that it does indeed make me appreciate home a LOT more. I think this is probably more marked when you are far away from home and family for a long time.

  11. the muskrat says:

    I’d rather travel than do just about anything. That’s why I can’t wait to hop on a plane in a few hours!
    the muskrat’s most recent post: new beginnings

  12. Audra says:

    Your last reason “travel helps us avoid dying” gave me some insight into my mother and why she LOVES to travel so much. She is 70 years old and has been just about EVERYWHERE–and still wants to keep going. On her last trip she had a sprained ankle and had to wear one of those awkward plastic boots all over The Holy Lands–but she didn’t let it bust up her good time.
    Audra’s most recent post: Etsy Craft Party At Stitch Cleveland

  13. [...] BlogWorld and buying his book (which I am currently reading) I am thoroughly enjoying his work.GrowIn Pursuit of Happiness – Why Travel Makes Us HappyLoving travel myself, I couldn’t go past this great post by Britt Reints over at In Pursuit of [...]

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