The Psychology of Traveling by Corinna Olson
Traveling can be an enjoyable, inspiring, and teaching moment. Many people have come back from their travels claiming it changed their life and can’t wait to go back. Seeing different cultures, eating delicious food, and spending one or two weeks doing fun activities; could it be too good to be true? Turns out traveling can have some pretty significant psychological impacts on a person.
Emily Smith, a professor at UPenn, created the concept of the “Mid-trip Crisis”- an “unexplained and slow-moving feeling of crumminess” that comes after a 1-2 week trip. She states that this feeling comes from the undeniable fact that the average trip abroad does not support two of the most important factors for a human’s meaningful life: a sense of belonging or a sense of purpose. As humans, we need to feel understood, like we belong, and experience close relationships. When traveling, people stay in new places and make friendships that last for no more than a dinner or a day until their next planned activity. Traveling almost guarantees a vacation to be full of surface level relationships, if any at all. On top of this, keeping in touch with friends back home can be tricky with time zones and busy schedules.
Purpose is harder to find while traveling, Frawley states. Purpose is a person’s sense of determination; it answers the question of “Why are you alive right now?” Traveling is, in the best way, just a long period without any sort of work and lots of time spent as a super-consumer. Human beings do not get any sense of true satisfaction from being putting others aside to live for ourselves. We tend to feel purposeful when others count on us, and when we live only for ourselves, it’s hard to feel purposeful.
Our sense of belonging and sense of purpose are super important for our well being. Though, we’re not going to give up traveling forever. So, how can we keep this in mind and avoid the “mid-trip crisis”? There are a few simple things you can do to make sure a trip supports your wellbeing and still meet expectations:
Volunteer. Volunteering can help turn a trip into a week of self-indulgence into a rewarding vacation that helps the community you're living in.
Make time for people back home. Make sure you can maintain the deep connections you have already established.
Travel on a budget. Cutting down on what costs the most money (expensive meals, luxurious hotels, etc) and making use of the cheap or even free experiences you can find will help you feel less like a consumer and more like a traveller with purpose
Stay in one place for a while. Spending a lot of time in one city allows you to create new connection with the people you may meet and gives enough time to overcome “mid-trip crisis”.