True confession: I’ve never really had the “travel bug.” My bucket list has always been ridiculously short — in fact, almost non-existent. I love my routine and the flow of my life, which give me both structure and freedom, fulfillment from my work, and opportunities to experience other forms of good times, with enough unpredictability (unfortunately, not always the good kind) to keep it interesting, challenging, and life-affirming.
So when my sister Rachayle asked me if I wanted to be her companion on a trip offered by Kosher Travelers to Northern Italy, I wasn’t exactly breaking down doors to get to the nearest travel agent. But knowing that it was important to her and really unable to think of a good reason not to go, I remembered what a fabulous time Rachayle and I always manage to have when we spend serious time together, and the ultimate decision was obvious — sign me up!
So, taking a step out of my comfort zone and rearranging my life a bit, I got on board (literally). I’m telling you all of this because I tend to look for takeaways from my life experiences. Good or bad, there is usually something to learn from any experience, and this one was no exception. We had a phenomenal time, and I decided to do a little research and self-reflection in order to understand why.
I know many of you are seasoned travelers and don’t need me to encourage you to take your next trip, but for those of you who tend to put it off, believe that it’s not necessary, or are so set in your daily grind that you can’t be bothered to shake things up a bit, I’d like to review some of the perks one gets from taking a break, even a very short one. And I’m going to leave the best for last.
Practically speaking, taking a vacation has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, and it improves blood pressure and blood sugar levels. That sounds almost too good to be true. The reason is due to the very strong body–mind connection that exists within all of us. When we change up our routine and experience something new, it usually helps us change our outlooks on life for the better. We allow ourselves to step away from our routine long enough to see life a little differently, through a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective. As we think differently — more creatively — the neuroplasticity of our brains (how the brain is wired) is affected, since it is sensitive to change and influenced by new environments and experiences.
Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to adapt to different atmospheres and adventures. It can strengthen or bring out interesting abilities that you didn’t even know you had, and can potentially create a dimension of your personality that is more open, tolerant, and curious.
New people, sights, and experiences enable the mind to “reset,” thereby releasing pent-up stress. The very anticipation of your trip, even before you’ve put your first pair of shoes in your suitcase, can be a wonderful mood-lifter. Thinking about it, talking about it, or envisioning what is in store for you is sometimes almost as exciting as the trip itself.
As our minds are being recharged, we are hopefully becoming more open, more agreeable, and even more emotionally stable. And if we are self-aware, we feel gratitude. Gratitude that we were able to get away and enjoy new experiences, and also gratitude upon returning home, knowing that our cozy bed and pillow are waiting for us, that we can once again watch a TV show in English, and use a normal-looking toilet! And of course, there’s so much more.
But for me, the most important and best part of travel is the opportunity to connect with others, often in meaningful ways. Any shared experience is absolutely bonding, and my sister and I were most fortunate to be spending our weeklong trip with an amazing group of people. Our inner circle of ten people, with whom we sat at meals and connected to the most, as well as the extended group, composed an amazing crew. Everyone was kind and interesting, fun and funny, and really just the best company with whom to explore our way around some lesser-known but also some very well-known spots in Italy. We further bonded over amazing visuals, fun boat rides, laughter and zemiros, incredible meals provided by our hosts, the brave sharing of personal past experiences by some, and a wonderful feeling of togetherness! Does it get any better than that?
So for those of you who can’t get away — even to visit friends or relatives who live out of town — I encourage you to give it your best effort, if only for a brief weekend. A little bit of change can do a lot of good, and though you may not have realized that you could use it, be prepared to be surprised!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.