Updated: Jul 20
When we travel for leisure, it’s an act of self-love. We are signaling to ourselves, the universe and anybody who will listen that we are open to new experiences, we are taking our needs and desires seriously, and that our personal time matters. But most of us get so few vacation days, we cram as much as possible into our trips so we can make the most of our time off. But you don’t need to add more things to do, you just need to add more meaning. If you're wondering why travel is important and how to it can add more meaning to your life, keep reading.
It’s important to point out that before the pandemic, the way many of us were living was completely unsustainable. As a society, especially in the U.S., we had become overly consumptive in most areas of our lives. We adopted a more-more-more and a go-go-go mentality. And unfortunately, that leaked over to the way we traveled. We became itinerary stuffers; the ‘ten cities in two weeks’ people. The “If I see the Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur, Notre Dame and the Seine today, I can see the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées tomorrow” people. That approach left us more exhausted than we were before we’d gone on vacation, and sometimes it left us feeling hollow or like the trip never even happened.
Listen up, guys: We’ve got to stop doing it for the ‘Gram and start doing it for our own mental health and sense of well-being. Here are five ways to add more meaning to your vacations.
This is why travel is important & how you can add more meaning to every trip you take.
1. Commune with nature
When most people think “I need a break,” they imagine sleeping in late, lounging around all day and watching tv or playing games on their phone to shut off parts of their brains. Unfortunately, that rarely works. Because what they really need is time spent in Mother Nature. Spending time outside is restorative in so many ways. It decreases stress and anxiety, increases happiness, positivity and short-term memory and makes us feel connected to something much bigger than ourselves. More and more scientific and academic organizations are studying the health benefits of nature immersion.
In fact, the mental health benefits are so vast, “ecopsychology” is a new interdisciplinary field of study that has been created to examine the correlation. But you didn’t need scientists and researchers to tell you that. Why do you think so many people take beach vacations or rent cabins in the mountains or forests? Nature is the catalyst for mind, body and spiritual alignment. A vacation in the great outdoors may not be your idea of a restful retreat, but luckily it doesn’t have to be. If you’re a city dweller or visiting a place like New York, head to Central Park and lay under the trees. The crazy thing is, it can be as little as 10 minutes and you will still feel the benefits.
2. Stay present
Here’s your friendly reminder to put your phone down. Say you’re in a beautiful Argentinian Steakhouse in Buenos Aires and you’re waiting for your perfectly seared steak, so you grab your phone to post photos you took earlier. No big deal, right? Wrong. You see it as killing time or making sure nothing needs your attention. But in reality, it’s the equivalent of digital quicksand. Your followers are going to start commenting on your awesome vacation photos, and you don’t want to be rude, so of course you respond. It’s just a way to get sucked back into the world you needed a break from in the first place. Your trip isn’t going to be any less post-worthy if you wait to share your photos when you get home, or at the very least, the end of each day.
Need help staying present? Take a travel notebook with you and write down what you see, what you hear, what you smell. Be an active witness to the subtle nuances of life that are unfolding right in front of you. Afraid you won't know what to say or draw a blank every time you pick up a pen? Try using a travel journal that includes questions and prompts, so you don't have to come up with something from scratch. Walk to the water’s edge and watch the sun set, and then stay put and watch the moon rise. Unplugging for a precious week or more is key to feeling travel experiences wholly and getting the most out of your vacation time.
3. Get moving
You can plan more physical vacations like surfing in Costa Rica, yoga in Bali, hiking glaciers in the Alps or hitting the trails in the Pacific Northwest if you choose to, but movement of any kind provides a ton of benefits. When you sightsee, you experience much more on foot than you would from behind the glass of public transportation. Walking is a treat for your senses. You hear the laughter in a nearby pub, you can smell fresh bread in the bakery across the street, you have the flexibility to taste street food along the way or feel the cool ocean breeze on your face. Not only will you work off the carbs from the endless linguini or those greasy cheeseburgers, but movement helps you quiet the noise in your mind and releases endorphins, instantly upping your mood and happiness levels.
4. Help out
Giving generously and selflessly are key factors to living more meaningful lives, and that translates to your vacation time too. So many people think you have to go on traditional mission-style trips where you build homes in remote countries or dig wells in drought-stricken villages. "Voluntourism" is incredible and extremely rewarding, but you don’t have to devote your entire vacation to a singular mission in order to make a difference. I get it, you have two weeks of vacation a year, you need to get as much bang for your buck as you can. In my "2021 Travel Trends Aren’t Quite What You Think” article, we cover a new trend where people are partnering with agencies to give back while they’re abroad. If you choose even one afternoon on your entire vacation to give back or help a community in need, imagine how every trip you take could have positive effects on people for years to come. You never know who you will inspire, or who will inspire you through the simple act of human kindness. So how do you find the opportunities? Start Googling.
5. Do something that scares you
We find out a lot about ourselves when we’re faced with fear and uncertainty. But what we often learn is that we’re made of much more than we realize. Doing something that scares you a little, like going on a boat for the first time if you can’t swim, exploring underground caverns in Cuba if you’re claustrophobic, or really pushing your fears to the limit with skydiving in Hawaii or swimming with sharks in South Africa will add meaning to your trip because it forces you to show up for yourself. It’s the ultimate declaration that you’re letting go of your fear and the need to control the situation, and you’re stepping into a higher vibration of trust and flow. There is strength in vulnerability, there is growth in facing your fear and proving to yourself that you can do what you thought you couldn’t.
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Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last nine years and is a regular contributor for Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.