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Travelling & Escapism: The Psychology


I’ve caught the travel bug. 


I recently returned from a Spiritual Retreat in India. It was the adventure that I longed for while I healed from the death of my grandmother last year. Thankfully, remote working allowed this retreat to happen – experience and healing by day, editing and writing by night. 


But since returning, I’ve been thinking about my next trip. I don’t know when or where it may be, but the idea of escaping from the usual life scenes seems to pull me under constantly. Naturally, I did some research. Let’s explore the psychology behind the travel bug and the need for escape. 


According to an article on Medium, ‘escapism’ is defined as “a desire or behavior to ignore, evade, or avoid reality. During traumatic experiences, people naturally mentally ‘escape’ the situation to avoid further distress or psychological problems.”


Similarly, blogger Sam Woolfe writes, “While everyone understands the need to take a holiday from work, not everyone gets the urge to leave everything and everyone behind … Travel can be an easy but ultimately short-term fix for a deeper problem. Escapism can be good, but not all the time.”


Now, my trip was just under three weeks, and I had a clear distinction between work and relaxation. I knew that although I had changed my scenery, I still wanted to remain as present as possible in my skin, with my responsibilities at the forefront. Therefore, as much as I began reading up on the topic, I realized that the word ‘escapism’ offered solace, but I was unsure whether it described me. All I knew was that I’d instead be reading, writing, and editing from a completely different place, breathing in new smells, hearing new sounds, and eating other food. I wanted to take a breather, to immerse myself in a new world, while my brain slowly comprehended and healed from a combination of loss and grief. And yet, while I loved every moment, I wondered whether I’d be in a different mindset when I returned home. 


Seneca, the Roman philosopher, once wrote, “Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene, you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? It will help if you add a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil remarks, lands and cities are left astern, your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.”


To explain, Seneca appeared to have believed that travel would not be the solution to the dissatisfaction faced. Sam Woolfe further explores Seneca’s words saying, “Perhaps this also explains part of why post-travel blues can be so intense for some people. When you come home, you are not just ending a way of living but becoming separated from what you considered the best version of yourself. But in a sense, the travel experience does not end when you come home. You have the opportunity to bring back positive characteristics with you.”


 Furthermore, a sociologist focusing on culture and travel, Karen Stein, states, “Travel and vacations area means to re-shift and re-organize identities. We can use travel as a way to re-examine our priorities and devote our time and attention to identities and commitments that we, unwillingly, have to put in the background in our daily lives.” Personally, this approach has a more significant impact on me – I use travel for these reasons too; it’s not so much to escape, but rather to uncover myself in a different setting. 


However, clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly says that “In psychology, escapism is generally defined as a desire or behavior to ignore or avoid reality. During traumatic experiences, many individuals naturally ‘escape’ the situation mentally to avoid further distress and psychological harm.” She further states, “When travel is motivated by a desire to escape reality, to embrace a nearly fictional experience free of the burdens of life, the experience becomes escapist in quality.”


Are you an escapist? 


To help us narrow it down, let’s look at a list of “12 Common Personality Traits of People who Love Traveling”:


1.| These individuals are curious and willing to learn. 

2.| They appear to have a heightened sense of cultural awareness.

3.| They have a higher sense of self-esteem and self-awareness.

4.| These individuals are more empathetic and observant.

5.| The craving for adventures and embracing change is very prominent to them.

6.| They are highly adaptable and flexible, ready to ‘go with the flow.’

7.| These individuals are highly creative and imaginative. 

8.| They also have a strong sense of good intuition in situations.

9.| They can be assertive yet not aggressive.

10.| They are confident. 

11.| They are independent and comfortable in their solitude.

12.| They appreciate the little things that life has to offer. 


To sum it up, it appears that the personality or character traits of these individuals are rooted in being true to oneself and taking charge of life as it happens. There are quite a few of these traits that I would tick off on my personality trait list. And yet, I am still convinced that only a small percentage of myself travels to escape my reality. 


Dr. Michael Brein, a psychologist specializing in travel, states, “Travel escapism that invites you to increase your self-esteem and self-confidence tends to ground you in the present and requires you to deal with virtually everything that is normally mindless back home. The net result is that you are, in effect, a problem-solver, dealing successfully with virtually everything you normally take for granted.” 


Therefore, we can understand that there are significant mental health advantages and benefits to traveling and ‘escaping’ for a while. I returned from my trip feeling more refreshed than I had over the past year; mentally, I felt alive again. The world seemed brighter and friendlier than it had been in a long time. I’ve always loved working and writing – this has always been the case, but the trip brought even more joy into that as well. Next time, I’ll tell you all about the spirituality of writing – something I learned about on the trip as well. 


So, could you do it? Use your Pinterest or Vision Boards to plan that trip where you can re-set and return to yourself. You may not be ‘escaping’ from anything, but even if you are, use that time to focus on what is important to you, focus on your mental health, and take a moment to reflect on the life that is waiting for you back home. 


Are you an escapist? I think, in theory, I am, and I’m not. This is one of those questions where the answers interchange within themselves and open to reveal a world of stories. 



The real question is: Where are you going next?

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