Most people with an adventurous streak would agree that they are their happiest, best selves when travelling. And based on this claim alone, one might be led to think that the reason people travel is pretty simple, right? Simply put, people must travel to attain happiness. But what does that actually mean?

We, humans, are pretty complex creatures and so are the motivations that lie at the root of our many dreams, desires, and choices. Exploring the “why” behind travel reveals a lot about what attracts us to these types of experiences and can also help explain why so many of us just can’t get enough.

The Obvious Reasons

While someone’s idea of the perfect travel experience can vary greatly, there are a few obvious reasons why most people enjoy time spent travelling. Travel allows us a sense of control and autonomy that most of our everyday lives just don’t afford. While travelling, we get to paint our days exactly how we want them and are largely relieved of the day-to-day responsibilities that fill our busy schedules back at home. Time off work, new experiences, and spending quality time with ourselves or the ones we love are all key players that top the list of the obvious reasons to travel.

Penguin Watching
Penguin Watching

But What About the Not-So-Obvious Reasons?

When you peel back the layers beneath the why of travel, you’ll likely find there is a whole lot more going on than you think! Travel doesn’t just boil down to the experience itself. Travel initiates a host of ripple effects that make their way through our physical bodies, our minds and our souls.

Planning a Trip is Good for Your Mental Health

Many people see travel as an opportunity to escape from everyday life, or at the very least, enhance it in a big way. So what exactly happens to us when we decide to plan a trip and anticipate living out that experience?

In 2014, Cornell University conducted a study on how planning travel can increase a person’s happiness. According to the National Geographic, the study found that the positive impacts of travel begin long before we set out on the trip itself. The study looked into how the novelty and uncertainty of a perceived trip keeps our brains interested and promotes an optimistic outlook. It suggests that in a sense, we start to live travel experiences out in our minds long before we go on the trip itself. The very thought of an upcoming trip triggers the release of dopamine in the brain and as a result, makes us happy. Anticipating travel and adventures can change the way we see our life and can literally change the way we feel about it too.

Busy crossroad in Tokyo
Busy crossroad in Tokyo

Brain Health and The Quest For Novelty

Did you know that travel can literally change your brain? In the telling book titled, “Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain and Plasticity Can Change Your Life,” respected brain plasticity specialist Dr. Michael Merzenich details how getting outside of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in the unknown (aka travel) can prevent cognitive decay. In essence, travelling jolts us awake, plucks us up out of life in autopilot mode, and drops us in the present.

Studies also show that our brains actually crave novel experiences. A study conducted by neuroscientists at UCLA determined that novel images actually trigger the part of our brains that are the base of memory and learning. Some of the most important things we take away from travel are memories and those things that we’ve learned. In short, the quest for novelty is a big part of the why behind travel and the effects travel has on our brain explains why we are often left craving more.

Enjoying the stunning views of The Towers in Patagonia
Enjoying the stunning views of The Towers in Patagonia

The Travel Afterglow

Have you ever noticed that people who have just returned from a trip seem to have a glow about them? Beyond the sunkissed skin, studies also show that travel has lasting effects on our overall well-being and happiness. One study in South Korea found that people continue to experience the positive effects of travel for about one month after returning. If we lump that one month in with the planning phase, and the actual trip itself, you can see that travel has the ability to make a significant impact on our lives far beyond the number of days we spend in any given destination. To add to this, travel also gives us something to talk about. It inspires us to connect with others as we share tales of our experiences. It can also help us to relate to others on the basis of having travelled to the same place, providing us with a common ground.

Boating in Southeast Asia
Boating in Southeast Asia

So Why Travel?

If you need more reasons than the ones listed above, perhaps consider your own last travel experience. How did you feel in the months and weeks leading up to your trip? Did you notice the excitement rising and the impulse to share your dreams for the trip with your family and friends? Do you still find your mind drifting back to a special moment you experienced on that trip and the emotions that came with it? If the answer to any of the above is yes, then this is your why behind travel. Perhaps this quote from an anonymous source sums it up the best,

“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.”