How Travel Experiences Enhance Your Life

How Travel Experiences Enhance Your Life
by Robert Wright, Jr., Ph.D., COFT

As we enter a New Year, did you know that according to a recent consumer survey almost 75% of Americans cite traveling to a dream destination as their top New Year’s resolution? Did you know that Hawaii was the most sought after dream destination but that visiting Florida took top honors for the place most people actually visited? What is it about travel that captures your imagination? How often have you fantasized about being on a dream beach or hiking off the beaten path or viewing a unique sunset with time to enjoy it? What about right now: can you imagine yourself on vacation at your dream destination having the time of your life?

For many of us, travel satisfies a deep need to know “what’s out there.” By nature, humans are a curious bunch and our brain rewards us with good feelings when we experience novelty. Feel good neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins and nitric oxide are secreted when we have experiences that make us feel good. Fantasies about travel and actual travel experiences have the ability to make us feel good—travel gets our emotional juices flowing as we imagine “What ifs?”

Besides the good feelings we can experience, travel broadens our horizons because it forces us to step out of our every day routines. By doing so, we must take the risk of being outside of our individual “comfort zones” which can sometimes cause fear or anxiety but this is part of the price we must pay to have new experiences. Travel exposes us to other cultures—different foods, different styles of dress, different languages—and makes us more aware that the way we live, is not the way everyone else lives. This can be an eye-opening experience especially when visiting countries outside of the USA or while visiting culturally different regions of America.

It’s one thing to read a book about a destination, it’s “different” to actually experience that destination. Why? Unexpected changes in the weather, traffic detours, flight or construction delays can all wreak havoc on your travel experience. Also, fast moving news events can change the landscape drastically since what was previously deemed a safe destination may no longer be safe.

A little talked about feature of travel is how it tends to change you from the inside out. Each time you return from a trip, you’re a little bit “different.” Sometimes the change is minor: after experiencing bumper to bumper traffic in Bangkok, India, Los Angeles, Mexico City or New York, you may conclude that your daily 15 minute commute is “not so bad” after all. Sometimes the change is moderate sized: after witnessing the lack of hot or potable water or an environmentally polluted waterway as a tourist, you may be more grateful for the waterworks infrastructure you take for granted. Or, seeing a severely polluted river may alter your view on the importance of recycling and the need to pay attention to ways to keep our environment safe and clean.

Occasionally, a travel experience can affect you deeply and cause you to reflect deeply on the meaning of your life—seeing a triple rainbow. For instance, you may save someone from drowning in the ocean, or swimming pool. Or, someone may save your life by preventing you from being hit by a truck or going off a cliff because you could not read the foreign language sign that said “Road Closed…Warning: 400 foot drop.”

Regardless of what form of novelty we experience while traveling, it’s important to remember that any change is two-way: you come back changed and the people you interact with are changed too! This is an often forgotten aspect of travel. So, if you’d like to experience creative growth, there’s no better way to do that than by traveling. Remember, it’s a two-way process that has the potential to enhance your life as well as the lives of the people you meet!

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