In February 2022, Adam Sawyer lost his entire world. A catastrophic fire destroyed his home near Mount Rainier, Oregon, and claimed the life of his partner. In the year since, Sawyer has often stepped out into nature, often retracing the steps and journeys he took with his late partner.
“I went with purpose to places she and I had been together before. It seemed like a way of self-flagellation, but it was also a way of really being part of the grieving process,” said Sawyer, who writes about travel and the outdoors. “I would try to go somewhere on the trail as long as I could and I would cry whenever I needed to. Going to those places, it was a way of acknowledging the pain and acknowledging what I was going through and a way of bridging the gap, Those hopeful and happy memories can be reached more quickly.”
For Sawyer, in addition to other “nowhere road trips” or hikes into nature, traveling to places that are meaningful to him and his late partner (for example, he spent a lot of time on the Oregon coast Driving up and down, admiring the “scenery and zen of driving through beautiful countryside”), has always been an integral part of the healing journey.
“Traveling to those places and trying to process those memories — when I do that, when I cry, when I process the guilt of those places, it ends up like throwing up. I cry it out, I process it , I understand what that memory means to me now, and why I’m here, and I actually feel better,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer isn’t alone in finding hope or a sense of relief when traveling through the aftermath of trauma or tragedy. In July 2022, Hara Maderich was widowed after 40 years of marriage to “the love of her life.”
“Looking ahead to a lonely Christmas and a lost New Year in the months ahead, I’ve decided to return to my solace, the ocean,” said Madrichi, an AFAR reader living in Costa Rica.She and her best friend booked the Southern Caribbean celebrity equinox Cruising on vacation.
“New Year’s Eve is both spectacular and heart-wrenching,” said Madric. But, she added, “realizing that I’m on a boat in the middle of the ocean, listening to live music, drinking champagne, watching lasers and fireworks, and crying is so much better than sitting at home crying alone.”
Literally, Madrigi started 2023 with a fresh outlook — seeing a rainbow over Martinique over breakfast, “and a glimmer of hope that life going solo might be a new adventure, exploring An unexplored port.”
For many people, including Sawyer and Madrich, travel — escape to new or familiar places — can and does play a role in how they cope with grief, loss, tragedy, trauma, mental health challenges, or physical health setbacks. plays a key role.
We all go through a lot – travel can help
During a pandemic, when many are experiencing collective trauma and isolation amid a deadly global public health crisis, travel is one of the tools in our traditional coping toolbox that is temporarily out of reach.
“Research has shown a link between social isolation and loneliness and poor physical and mental health, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Terry Randolph, a licensed professional counselor and chief program officer. Pyx health, a female and LGBTQ+-led telehealth service dedicated to helping those suffering from loneliness and isolation. “The pandemic removed the ability to [people] Physically avoiding their daily routine and responsibilities leaves people feeling trapped and isolated. This ultimately affects their mental health. “
For some, they are able to get an emotional lift by thinking about ways they might escape in the future. According to an August 2020 survey of 263 U.S. adults commissioned by the Alliance of Travel Companies, 97% are happier simply planning future travel.
A small but growing body of research has shown that travel has some very real physical and mental health benefits, and we can finally take full advantage of them again. A 2018 study by a group of researchers in Austria analyzed a group of 40 “middle managers” and found that within 15 to 45 days of taking a vacation or vacation, stress decreased and overall well-being improved.A year later, a study published in the journal mental health They concluded that higher vacation frequency reduced the odds of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
“Travel helps to live happier and more fulfilling lives, and it does more for our minds than just giving us a break,” Randolph said.
Health Benefits of Travel
According to Randolph, “travel can have many lasting benefits for your state of mind.” They include:
- Reduce stress and anxiety: Travel can refresh you, which can lower your overall stress and anxiety levels.
- Better Relationships and Connections: If you’re feeling lonely, traveling is a great way to bond more closely and form stronger bonds with your travel buddies and with the new people you meet along the way.
- More ideas: Experiencing new cultures, cuisines and arts can broaden your horizons and open your mind to new ideas and ways of thinking that can be applied to your work and home life.
- Improve physical health: When people travel and walk around and explore new places, they often spend more time outdoors, which can improve their overall physical health.
In fact, the benefits are so dramatic that in January 2022, Parks Canada, Canada’s national park service, developed a program called PaRx, which allows physicians to actually treat patients who could benefit from the time spent through a free annual pass. Prescribing a trip to Canada’s national parks is in nature.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault of Canada, who oversees Parks Canada, said in a news release about the Nature’s Prescription program that it “is a breakthrough in our response to physical and mental health challenges.” “Medical research now clearly demonstrates the health benefits of contact with nature.”
Learn from new people and new situations
As Randolph mentioned, it’s not just the beautiful places we visit on our travels that calm and inspire us, but the meaningful connections we make while traveling also contribute to our overall well-being. Michael Brein, a social psychologist who specializes in travel, has interviewed thousands of people about their travels and how it affects them. He has observed several important takeaways when it comes to the social connections we form when we travel.
When you travel, “you free yourself from sick or sick circumstances [where] You’re completely absorbed in your own problems,” said Brein, who added, “Let’s face it, when we’re at home going about our daily lives. . . It’s not that satisfying, and it doesn’t offer us new ideas. “
According to Brein, one of the main benefits of travel is that it provides valuable learning opportunities. When you travel, “you’re more curious, you’re more open to new experiences…you learn to be better with people because you need to interact with new people. So you get an influx of new ways of seeing things.”
A January 2023 study published in Journal of Transportation and Health confirms the important role of travel in gaining ‘social engagement’ and the link between social engagement and our overall health. The study found that when people did not have the opportunity to travel more than 15 miles from home, they were more likely to self-report poorer personal health.
For Oregon-based Sawyer, he admits that while he often goes on missions alone, travel also provides him with an important outlet to meet and interact with new people who can serve as a distraction from grief or Gain a new perspective on life.
Sometimes “I absolutely need other people too. Wherever I am, I’ll go to some local dive bar and hang out with the locals and get lost in them and their stories and what’s going on with them. It’s kind of A wonderful pastime,” Sawyer said. He added, “I felt a little bit guilty about it at first, but being able to compartmentalize a little bit to get through it, to have a normal day, to laugh with people, to enjoy dinner. You travel for fun. tone. I can take the time to go out and really enjoy a place with other people.”
Last fall, when a good friend of mine was going through the stress and trauma of losing her mother to fast-onset dementia, we decided to escape to southern Utah for a few days. We enjoyed a canyon-filled hike that gave her a small but meaningful respite from the daily worries that consumed her life. But even though we were able to find joy, awe, relief, and laughter in the stunning desert landscape, we also knew that this retreat was temporary, and that whatever problems she had were waiting for her at home.
While some may think travel is just a way to escape from problems, experts believe there is a significant difference between escapism and adopting a healthy attitude toward any escape.
“Escapism is defined as ‘a desire or behavior to ignore or avoid reality.’ When experiencing trauma, many people will mentally ‘escape’ the situation to avoid further stress,” explains Randolph of Pyx Health .
Travel alone doesn’t solve our problems, and for many, travel can create additional stress, fear and anxiety. But, depending on how we apply the knowledge and experience we gain on our healing journey, there is evidence that it can have longer-lasting effects. There are also ways we can incorporate escape thinking into our daily lives—for example, by taking home vacations to parks and cultural landmarks near our homes, or by seeking out new ways to take mental breaks from our work lives similar to those we take when we travel. Activities and experiences (for example, learning how to play tennis or joining a local hiking group)—help recreate these benefits even when we can’t or don’t want to travel.
“To transform travel from an ad hoc solution to a more impactful one, you have to be really willing to incorporate lifestyle changes to reduce stress and anxiety,” says Randolph. “Daily use of activities that replicate the escapist effects of travel can help to improve long-lasting improvements in physical and mental health.”