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.
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