Have you ever gone on holiday, returned home and felt strangely unfulfilled by your travels? You might have escaped your daily grind for a couple of weeks, chilled on a beach, seen the sights or tried a couple of dishes from a foreign cuisine but somehow feel that you have barely scraped the surface.
If you are lucky and privileged enough, you get paid vacation days and the chance to travel once or twice a year. You know these weeks are precious and might even have a vague awareness of how beneficial a change of scenery and pace can be. Expectations tend to run high. However, you might feel sobered after the initial post-holiday bliss evaporates within a few days or mere weeks and be left with a yearning for travels that nourish you on a deeper level and have a longer-lasting impact on your life. If so, then this blog post is for you.
What is intentional travelling?
Intentional travelling is not so much about the length of your holiday. Few people can afford a sabbatical or taking months off work at a time due to personal or financial commitments. It is much more about a mindful approach to your travels that allows you to improve their quality. Intentional travelling means travelling with a purpose. It starts with becoming aware of and being honest about your needs and wants – they might very much differ from those of your friends or colleagues. Ask yourself: Why are you travelling? Why do you want to visit a certain city or go to a particular country? What matters most to you right now?
Be true to yourself and where you’re at when you plan your travels
Your journey will become more inspiring, fulfilling and potentially even life-changing if you are clear on your intentions and go beyond unconsciously consuming. If you are a foodie, plan your travels around that. You are not obliged to see Rome when you are travelling to Italy just because everyone tells you that you won’t regret it. Maybe you’re more interested in exploring the Sicilian cuisine and get much more out of including cooking classes or touring markets to source local ingredients that would be hard to come by at home than trying to tick different locations off a bucket list you don’t even identify with. If chasing sunsets or capturing breathtaking views or wildlife with your camera fills you with joy, make it your priority. That might mean spending your money on a new tripod prior to your trip rather than that expensive meal at the restaurant everyone is raving about at your holiday destination.
You might generally be someone who enjoys art, history or sailing but your needs at a particular time might differ – allow for that. Maybe you have been feeling burnt out or struggled with depression lately and would benefit more from a wellness retreat than a culture trip or the annual sailing trip in the mediterranean sea.
Keep it simple and resist the temptation to plan everything
Most of us live on autopilot. This is the result of a survey among 3,000 Brits – 96% of whom admitted to more or less sleep-walking through their lives. Don’t extend this modus operandi to your travels. It is understandable that you want to get the most out of those precious vacation days. However, by choosing not to plan every last detail of your holidays you leave room for spontaneity and open up to opportunities you couldn’t possibly plan in advance, like unexpectedly getting invited to a wedding in India or deciding to explore an island that you heard about from a fellow traveller at a coffee shop. Intentional travelling also means being as present in the moment as you can and allowing yourself to explore whatever comes up with flexibility. You might be surprised by what you discover about yourself along the way.
It’s more about the people you meet than the places you visit
Deep connection is a core human need. And experienced travellers will tell you that the people you meet along the way tend to impact you more than the places you visit. If you are lucky, they may introduce you to things or experiences you might have missed otherwise, broaden your horizon and teach you invaluable life lessons. Travelling solo usually helps to get in touch with locals more easily as you are less focused on the bubble you have with your travel partner (speaking of which: choose them wisely!). Either way, making at least an effort to speak the language as well as having genuine interest, general curiosity, a non-judgemental attitude and being open-minded towards different ways of thinking or doing life help tremendously when trying to form meaningful connections. Travelling more slowly allows for more opportunities to connect on a deeper level with the people you meet. Intentional travelling shouldn’t only be self-centred, though. Think about ways you can give back as well. This might be through spending your money on locally produced products and in family-owned shops or restaurants, helping someone out with one of your skills or talents, or deciding to spend some of your vacation days as a volunteer. Yet another opportunity for meaningful connection could be to join an international community of like-minded people with similar struggles and goals.
Health Benefits of Intentional Travel
Science has proven that travelling has numerous health benefits:
Travelling relieves stress & anxiety
A randomised controlled trial among German-speaking middle managers has found that travelling – even a vacation as short as 3 days – has “large, positive and immediate effects” on perceived stress levels and relieves anxiety. The benefits are still felt 30 days post-vacation.
Travelling decreases risk of heart attacks
Travelling not only makes you more resilient and your brain healthier, but it also decreases your risk of a heart attack. These are the findings of a study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association. Especially men seem to benefit from travelling – one vacation per year decreases their risk of heart disease by 30%.
Travelling can improve your sleep quality
Most people tend to move a lot more when they travel than in their increasingly sedentary lives back home. Being on holiday and escaping the usual day-to-day commitments also significantly cuts down on stress and the relating hormones that our bodies are normally flooded with. Many people also allow themselves to adjust to their bodies’ natural rhythm (e.g. forgoing the alarm in the morning). All these things combined lead to overall better sleep quality.
Travelling can boost your immune system
When you travel, your immune system will unavoidably be exposed to new germs and bacteria – and that’s a good thing! If we are reasonably healthy to begin with – meaning that our immune system isn’t compromised – our body will simply create antibodies and expand our immune system’s databank. This way we are becoming better equipped to fight a broader variety of illnesses. Science has furthermore shown that travelling increases your overall sense of well-being.
Psychological Benefits of Intentional Travel
Maybe the psychological benefits of, especially, intentional travelling even outweigh the physical ones:
Intentional travelling can boost your creativity
Travelling broadens your horizon and expands your mind. Your brain gets exposed to new impressions and foreign stimuli that come in through all your senses. It forms new neural connections which boost cognitive flexibility. Life being unpredictable, not everything might go smoothly during your travels and you might have to get creative when faced with a problem you didn’t see coming (e.g. missed flight, bus or ferry; lost or delayed luggage, etc.). You will very likely get challenged in one way or another by the experiences on your journey and encounter different perspectives as well as ways of doing life. If you keep an open heart and mind, all of this can massively boost your creativity and have a long-lasting, positive impact on you.
Intentional travelling can help you become more independent and boost your confidence
Intentional travelling takes us outside our comfort zone. When navigating a new city or foreign country it is likely you will – at one point or another – rely on the help or at least assistance of someone who has better knowledge of the local area than you. In that way, travelling will undoubtedly improve your social and communication skills. It may also expand your network as you make new connections with people you wouldn’t have met if you had stayed at home. Your experiences and adventures along the road will also boost your confidence as you become more resourceful, learn to adapt to difficulties or unfamiliar environments, and maybe pick up new skills.
Intentional travelling can help you reconnect with what you find meaningful & interesting
When you break free from your daily grind you carve out breathing space to reflect on personal goals and interests and re-connect with what you find meaningful. Intentional travelling can also lead you to re-evaluate your principles and values based on new impressions. If you are actively seeking experiences that would support exploring the above-mentioned things, you might want to enquire about the contemplative living path program at New Life Portugal.
Intentional travelling can help you become more self-aware
The famous mythologist Joseph Campbell said: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” If you dare to leave your comfort zone, you expose yourself to uncertainty and change. The rewards are real-life education and the opportunity to get to know and understand yourself on a deeper level. If you allow it, your travels will change
you. If you feel called to embark on a journey of profound inner growth and would like support along at least a stretch of the way, the resilience path program at New Life Portugal might be worth looking into. It offers daily guided meditations, one-on-one counselling, support and process groups, a carefully designed curriculum of therapeutic workshops, and mindfulness-based group excursions and yoga lessons – all within a supportive community setting.
Intentional travelling can help you break unhealthy patterns
Sometimes travelling can help you to break free of unhealthy patterns or even addictions by momentarily removing yourself from a situation, certain people and/or influences. This will only be sustainable, though, if you then invest the time and energy to acquire the knowledge and tools to replace unhealthy behaviours and patterns with healthy ones.
Intentional travelling can help you develop empathy
Exposing yourself to different people, cultures, religions, perspectives, etc. can help you gain a better understanding of not only others but also yourself in relation to the world you live in (beyond your comfort bubble at home). It can increase your tolerance, help you develop empathy, lead to a newfound appreciation of the little things in life and you seeing your own culture and country with new eyes. This will require active immersion and multicultural engagement on your part, though.
Intentional travelling can leave you with a longer-lasting sense of happiness
A study has found that spending money on experiences (e.g. travelling) rather than material purchases leaves you with a longer-lasting sense of happiness. The results stayed the same irrespective of when the participants were asked about their happiness – before, during or after the consumption. Whereas new clothes, a camera or a car lose value every time they are worn or used, experiences create powerful positive memories that can last a lifetime.