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The psychology of travel

September 15, 2010
by budgettravelsac

The psychology of travel? (Credit: Flickr)

Luxury travel.  Budget travel.  Adventure travel.  Travel tours.  Solo travel.  Backpacking. Round the world (or RTW if you are hip) trips.   Cruises, beach vacations, the mountains, or rivers and lakes – there are places to see for every type of travel and geography on earth.   From Antarctica to Iceland and everywhere in between, people love to travel.

However, if you think this is a feel good motivational post about how wonderful traveling is and how people love to travel, forget it.  I know that.  I am one of those people who love to travel.  However, I am not interested in the knowledge that people love to travel.  I am not even interested in why people like some of the places they do.  Part of that is our personality and experiences which draw us to some places over others.

So let’s get this part out of the way.  Disclaimer – I am not a psychologist but I will play one on here.  Why do people travel?  I am not looking for your casaul “I just love the beach and go as often as I can” type answers.  I want to dig deeper.  And yes – disclaimer #2 – I might offend some people.

The psychology of travel

Recently, Andrew from Grounded Traveler, explored his fear of flying with Freak Yourself Out.  Amanda at Dangerous Business addressed her desires to travel and her conflicted feelings on staying at home on Adventurous Kate’s When a Travel Blogger is Stuck at Home.  Even for those who travel all the time, Brendan van Son struggled with the adjustment to going home after traveling around the world.

So what is the theme of these travel blog posts?  There is a deep-rooted psychological element to travel.  For Andrew, it’s conquering some of the fears he has when it comes to traveling.  For Amanda, it’s a conflict of desire as she deals with her desire to travel, the ways she doesn’t want to travel, and what travel means to her right now where she is.  For Brendan, he had been traveling for so long that preparation for his trip home was the same as every other trip he had taken but he also knew that his adjustment to home was going to be quite different.

The good and the bad reasons

There are definitely some deeply rooted reasons as to why we travel – some good, some bad.  Some desires come from a healthy attitude while others don’t.  Here are a few reasons, real reasons, why people travel – beyond just a love for the beach.

  • Bonding and memories - Traveling is a wonderful bonding experience for families, friends, and loved ones as shared memories are created and people are connected through a common goal, fun experiences, quality time, and emotional bonding.  For many people, some of their fondest memories are family vacations, camping trips, and just fun times with families.  It’s hard to place a value on these experiences but bonding and relationships happen when we get away from our routines.
  • Relieve stress - Another common reason for traveling is just to escape our routines and let our minds and bodies relax.  Whatever your choice of destination, everyone can find a place that is right for them to clear the mind and get rid of some of the tension in their lives.  Our bodies, minds, and spirits need a break and need to be restored and renewed.  Traveling is good for that.
  • Learning - As we get older, our brains are less active.  As children, connections in our brain (known as synapses) are being built and wired all over the brain as we are learning.  As adults, things slow down, we don’t engage our minds as much, and some of those synapses don’t fire any more.  However, travel can engage the mind.  Learning a new language, studying history, taking a class, or reading about new and exciting places – all of these can stimulate the mind.  Travel includes all of those things and more.  Engaging with new people and cultures, experiencing new places, and learning about history when traveling can help our brains.  And believe it or not, creating new synapses and learning as we get older keeps us healthier in our later years.

    Leisure and relieving stress is good

  • Leisure/Exercise - For many people, travel is the chance to do something physical -climb a mountain, hike along trails, conquer the rapids, or just walk in nature or in a big city.  Quite honestly, some of best times of exercise come when we are traveling because we are sitting less and exercising more than when we are at home.  And that’s a good thing.
  • Maturity and a proper perspective - One thing is true of traveling – it will change you.  Once you leave the comforts of home, you will see a world that is different from your own and you can no longer live in your bubble any more.  You don’t have to leave the country to see this.  Meeting people from a different part of the country can teach you that we aren’t all the same and don’t value the same things.  Even more, traveling overseas can really open your eyes to people of various social classes, different values, beliefs, color, and interests.  You don’t have to agree with everything you see and some of the things you discover may shake you to the core.  Traveling to grow up or get a proper perspective on life may not be intentional but there is definitely a psychological effect.    What a great thing to teach kids!
  • Charity - As noted above, travel definitely changes our perspective and can touch our hearts.  Whether you are moved by an endangered species of animal or human, travel can open our eyes to the needs around us.  Charyn Pfeuffer is one of those people who has been challenged to help others around the world as she has embarked on a mission – 12 projects in 12 countries in 12 months.  Seeing those in Darfur and Sudan, those caught in the sex trafficking industry , or even those in your own town can lead us to take action because of the things we have seen.
  • Immaturity - In a recent article in the New York Times, What is it about 20-somethings seeks to discover the answers as to why many 20 year olds are still living at home, marrying later, or delaying a full-time career until later in life.  While the article is a fascinating study in the sociological culture of this generation, it implies that 20-somethings are maturing later than those in previous generations.  While many may consider the reasons legitimate, others may view this as the younger generation being irresponsible or lazy.  One thing is clear – the mindset of the younger generation is much different than those of their parents or even those in their 30s.  However, travel could be one of the excuses people may use to refuse to grow up.  Traveling the world is an education in itself but it may also mean an unwillingness to settle down, mature, and take on new responsibilities.
  • Fear - Much like the slower route to maturity for 20-somethings, fear may be the reason many people travel.  It may be easier to travel and avoid confrontation, finding a job, dealing with tough issues, and handling family dynamics and relationships.  For many, travel may be an opportunity to overcome fears (like Andrew) and allow us to push through and fight against our weaknesses.  Fear can be good or bad when it comes to travel.  It just depends on whether you are running towards it or away from it.
  • Addiction - Can travel be an addiction like drugs or alcohol?  Absolutely!  For some people, adventure and extreme travel can be a high in which they move from one high to the next disguised in the form of travel.  There is something to be appreciated in the routine so if you can’t have a mix of comfort and familiarity with adventure, then maybe life is out of balance and traveling isn’t always healthy.
  • ADD/ADHD - Much like an addiction, travel can be great for those with attention deficit disorders.  You can move from one city or country to the next with something new and exciting around every corner.  Much like an addiction, it’s a high you can experience to prevent you from dealing with the ordinary.  While traveling is fun, it may hinder our growth as individuals if we avoid the challenges we must face in our personalities, situations, and lives.
  • Selfishness - When traveling, there can be so much that goes into a trip with planning and researching.  Psychologically, we can become too consumed in our own worlds.  Hopefully, travel opens our eyes to the world around us.  However, if we become so consumed with where we are going that we forget those around us, then we have lost the plot.  As I have stated before, travel is about relationships.  Whether it’s your family or people you meet, connecting with and helping others is what travel is all about.  If  you are so consumed with your next destination or frustrations with travel that you forget this, it’s time to take a step back and remember all of the people in our lives.

My reasons and why this matters

So what is the psychology of travel for me?  Bonding, learning, leisure/exercise, proper perspective, and selfishness are my motivations if I am honest.  Charity also plays a factor but I don’t think about nearly as much as other people do.  That’s going to change this year.  I am choosing to live a purpose driven travel life with my new blog.

Overall, I think my reasons for traveling are genuine and good.  However, I can become very self-absorbed about my travels.  While everyone can give an easy answer to this question, it takes some reflection and honest evaluation to know why you travel.  For most of us, I would think our reasons are pure and fall on the good side.  However, I am sure all of us are guilty of at least one or more of the negative psychological reasons for traveling.

Why do I ask this question?  While it’s fun to discuss and talk about travel,life is much more than fulfilling our desires or planning that next trip or destination.  It’s important to understand what drives and motivates us.  If we do things (including travel) for the wrong reasons, then we must evaluate our lives and figure out whether we are on the right path for what we want out of life.

I don’t have all of the answers.  I’m just asking the questions.  I enjoy traveling for many reasons – some good, some bad.  Remember I am not a psychologist.  I just play one on here.

Are there any other deeply rooted psychological reasons behind your travels?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 6:19 pm

    Great post! And thanks for the inclusion I really appreciate it!

  2. JennaFrancisco permalink
    September 15, 2010 7:16 pm

    Good question.
    I constantly struggle with this because I naturally love to travel and always have but know that there are more important things in my life and the world that need tending to.

    One person whose journey has inspired me is Raam Dev. I don’t think he will ever travel just for the sake of traveling again (and he really just started traveling recently). If you haven’t, check out his site for some serious introspection and look at why he travels and what he gets out of it.

    • September 15, 2010 11:39 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts Jenna. I will have to check his stuff out. At times I do struggle with being more “unselfish” when I travel but I admit that travel has really opened my eyes. For that, I am thankful. This post was definitely an introspective and analytical approach to travel. In the end, I think travel is meant to change us and teach us about other people. Those are the lessons I hope to take with me, carry forward, and share with those closest to me.

  3. September 15, 2010 10:22 pm

    I really enjoyed this post! You made some good points with your reasons we travel — I liked that you included both the good and the bad. And I also liked the “My reasons and why this matters” conclusion at the end. You’ve definitely got me thinking!

    Thanks for the mention of my guest post, too! So glad people liked it.

    • September 17, 2010 1:09 am

      Amanda, I’ve never thought much about this until I started writing. I just traveled because I enjoyed it. However, my bad reasons for traveling started to show up when I began writing. When we are traveling all the time, there is no time to sit back, analyze, and take it in. Writing is a chance to do that. So is staying at home or traveling locally.

      Neither traveling or not traveling is bad. It’s what you do with your experiences and what you learn from both that can make a huge impact on the rest of your life.

  4. September 16, 2010 10:55 pm

    Thanks for the inclusion. Great list.
    Definitely working on using travel to overcome fear, it may be highly selfish to want to better myself, but when I do I am a nicer person to be around for others.
    Ok, off to stuff myself into a flying aluminum tube.

    • September 17, 2010 1:07 am

      Thanks Andrew! Facing your fears is a good reason to travel! Best of luck on your trip!

  5. January 14, 2011 8:34 am

    I enjoyed this post very much. Cannot agree more on your last comment: it’s about what you with what you learn from your experience. That makes you grow and opens up new horizonts in your life :-)


  1. A purpose driven (travel) life « Budget Travel Intentions

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