Wanderlust?: Travel therapy: Psychologist reveals how vacation can help us

For weeks we have been observing a real rush to airports and travel destinations.

Wanderlust?: Travel therapy: Psychologist reveals how vacation can help us

For weeks we have been observing a real rush to airports and travel destinations. Ms. Horvatits-Ebner, why is traveling so important to us?

Germany is a travel destination, just like Austria. On the one hand, this is simply because, despite the crises, we have a very high level of prosperity in the countries. So you can say we travel because we can. In addition, traveling is almost in our blood these days. My fascination with other countries began after the First World War, and many emigrated. So, traveling has been passed down from generation to generation as a passion.

That sounds like a very comfortable starting position. However, we are currently observing that fewer and fewer people can afford summer vacations, keyword inflation. What does it do to us when we have wanderlust but can't satisfy it?

This is a question that will certainly concern us more and more in the years to come. Analyzes show that 80 percent of Germans currently travel at least once a year. During the peak phase of the coronavirus pandemic, however, we realized for the first time in a long time that travel is not as natural as we thought for a long time.

How we ultimately deal with travel deprivation is closely related to our personality structure. If I'm the type of person who books a package holiday, if at all, then I'll probably be able to keep my head above water without travelling. However, if I am someone who travels a lot and is always looking for the next adventure, then the risk of cabin fever is greater.

And as a travel junkie, what can I do to avoid cabin fever?

What travel can give us, we can only compensate to a certain extent with other activities. In Austria, for example, during the lockdown there were a lot of people who suddenly flocked to the mountains. They then sought their adventure in mountaineering. And that was a good idea too. Excursions in nature are a great way to curb the urge to travel.

The relatively young discipline of travel therapy is about combining vacation with a therapeutic approach. How exactly can you imagine that?

Travel isn't a panacea, but it can be therapeutic. For example, it boosts our self-esteem enormously. In this way we can prevent many mental illnesses, which are often about devaluing ourselves. We also get in touch with ourselves on the way and get to know our limits and needs better. Often suppressed problem areas come up.

Of course travelling is also a good distraction and can help us to stop our thoughts from circling. Traveling often creates in a natural way what we therapists struggle to create: a place to feel good and let go.

Speaking of problem areas: There is this thesis that couples separate noticeably often after traveling together...

I think that's mostly the case with couples who don't travel together that often. We know from research that a happy partnership is primarily based on common interests. So when couples regularly travel together, it tends to bond them. But: If there were already problems in the relationship beforehand, then it may well be that they get worse again on vacation. But then it's not the travel, it's the partnership itself.

You said traveling increases our self-worth. How can we imagine that exactly?

When we are on the road, sooner or later we are usually confronted with big and small challenges. By regulating these situations and solving the problems, we automatically increase our self-esteem. It's like this: We grow from problems and not when everything is going smoothly anyway. It is through these success stories that we continue to develop. And of course they are greatest when we experience them in an environment that is completely unknown to us.

To be honest, a hotel holiday by the pool doesn't sound like a big challenge at first. So is individual vacation the means of choice for personality development?

Here, too, I can say unequivocally: it depends. We know from memory studies that an adventure holiday feels like it flies by. But we remember it much longer and more intensively than a pure beach holiday, which can seem like an eternity to us. This means that an active trip shapes us much more. Nevertheless, of course, the relaxing holiday has its justification.

Do we need travel for personal growth or are there other ways to achieve this effect?

Of course, that depends a lot on the personality structure. If I'm very curious and tend to belong to the group of sensation-seekers, then I actually need travel to live. These people are always looking for a new adventure and therefore only experience real freedom and moments of joy on the way. At home they tend to be unhappy in the long run. It's different with people, who tend to be creatures of habit. For them, a visit to the coffee house around the corner or a trip to the lake can trigger the kick that sensation-seekers only get when travelling.

But is everyone who travels a lot really a sensation-seeker – or doesn't that also have something to do with social pressure?

Traveling has definitely become a status symbol as well. Especially among young people, years abroad and adventure trips are considered good manners. This is also due to the many spectacular travel pictures on Instagram. When young people see what their fellow students are experiencing, they naturally want to follow suit – that can also put pressure on them.

But even if that is the reason for one or the other vacationer to go on a trip, they will quickly realize whether it is something for them. If you don't like traveling, you won't do it for a good image in the long run.

What advice do you have for patients who suffer from a mental illness but still don't want to cancel their summer vacation?

I would advise my client to only embark on the journey if they feel ready for it themselves. Then it is also important to either travel with a companion or to have an emergency contact that you can always reach. The most important question in this case is: What do I expect from the trip? Too high expectations can quickly frustrate us. This also applies to people without mental illness.

If I go on holiday with the expectation that the sun will shine every day and that everyone will be in a good mood, then the likelihood of disappointment is quite high. It is better to approach the journey with an open mind and make the best of the situation we are experiencing on the ground. Negative feelings also have their place on vacation.

How far and how long do I actually have to drive away to really recover from everyday life?

Where we travel is actually of secondary importance. But it is also clear that the further away we are from home, the further away the mental stress of everyday life is. If you are looking for relaxation, you will usually find it where as few other people as possible are out and about - and that after just two days. Proper relaxation, i.e. that the body really slows down, is only achieved after 14 days.

You are constantly traveling yourself and take your readers and clients with you on your adventures on your travel blog "Reisepsycho". What did you learn about yourself along the way?

I used to be a perfectionist and planned every single step. It's just useless when traveling because something unexpected happens all the time. That's why I've become much more relaxed. I was also able to test my limits more and more, especially on trips that I made alone. As a result, I now know very well when a limit has been reached - and when it is worth going a step beyond this limit.

Source: Psychologist Barbara Horvatits-Ebner from Reisepsycho.com

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