The Travel and Happiness Link

In recent years, I’ve become minimalist.

I’ve reduced the material possessions I bring into my home, and I consciously eliminate clutter. I do enjoy clothes, home decorations, books, and souvenirs, but I don’t get much satisfaction from them for very long. In short, I get bored with my stuff easily.

But one place I get great happiness returns for my money is through travel.

For every $1 real dollar I sink into travel, I feel like I get $10 happiness dollars back (and often even more).

This isn’t really any surprising news. Research on happiness and spending for a number of years has revealed that we derive more enjoyment from experiences, rather than material things. Acquiring the latest designer purse or gadget may feel good for a little while, but the feeling fades and soon we’re looking for the next fix.

Truthfully, I am always looking for the next travel fix too, but it’s not out of disappointment or any boredom. I know from experience that the joy and education I get from travel is money well spent.

I’ve been traveling for years, but I often consider one of my very first travel experiences to Mexico as a 14 year old. I remember the thrill of getting off the airplane and the altitude sickness I felt given the high elevation. I remember meeting my host family and what their house looked like. I remember my impressions about their gated community and live in servants and my very young realization that different places in the world operate on a different social contracts and economic systems. I recently reunited with them on Facebook! I still taste the food they served at dinner and my introduction to a whole range of new tastes like te de jamaica, cajeta, and sopes with real crema. The Spanish language I learned in that time has continued to serve me in my adult life.

Looking back, that short international experience taught me basics of geography, culture, and language that I still utilize today. That same year, I begged my parents for a pair of GUESS jeans and I’m pretty sure I stopped wearing them after a year.

If experiences in general demonstrate a link to happiness, then I believe that travel experiences show an even greater one.

In fact, travel experiences go further than just our general well-being. Recent research suggests that traveling can actually boost us when we’re feeling down. A recent study of Australians revealed that travel experiences are closely linked to 3 main factors of general happiness:

1)Positive emotions- Sure, bad travel can make us stressed out and angry at times, but good travel gives us feelings of joy, contentment, and even love

2) Meaning- Travel can give our lives a sense of meaning and personal growth

3) Engagement- Travel makes us feel involved in the world and our surroundings

It’s true that sometimes our travel can be disappointing. It certainly isn’t fun getting swindled by a street hawker or coming down with an intestinal bug.

But in my own case returning from a trip- even a frustrating one-  I always feel a tremendous boost in energy. I possess renewed perspective, interest in the world, and better awareness of my place in it.

So, where are you going to sink that next $1 dollar?  What’s your next happy travel destination?


32 thoughts on “The Travel and Happiness Link

  1. Excellent post! I know for a FACT that travel always boosts my level of happiness. No secrets there!! My next happy travel destination…..well, I think I am going back to my roots, where I was bitten by the travel bug in the first place. Central America! Details to follow sometime before summer on my blog 😉

  2. winxrocker

    I always feel that when something goes wrong, it’s nice to get away from where it went wrong for a while. My greatest traveling experiences have always been after a fight in my house, ironic as it sounds. Sometimes they’re also after stressful times for me. There’s nothing like losing yourself in a different place and forgetting about everything else for some time.
    I think I’ve always had that minimalist streak in me, but it’s never too strong. It comes from the fact that I need order in my life, and everything needs to be organized. I can’t bear a mess in my room, it’s always neat!

    • maryrichardson

      Traveling always helps me gain perspective again too after a stressful time… I usually come back more relaxed and focused and not taking things too seriously.

  3. Sigh, truer words were never spoken. I also adore beautiful things, but treasure immaterial experiences far more – the latter enriches my life in a deeper sense. 🙂 And with a recent, nomadic life, the less material things, the lighter and freer my days feel!(I’m still not quite at the point where I go between cities on a worktrip with just a teeny bag, but hoping to be that person soon!) I love your description of that very first travel experience…captures everything special about it 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Jude,
      It’s taken me a while to become more streamlined in my life, but on my most recent trip, I got away with only a small bag and resisted all the souvenirs and fun things to buy. I still like to look at stuff and contemplate it, but I know it doesn’t make me happy for long.

  4. OMG, it’s like I wrote this post myself!!! I couldn’t agree more. And I’m in LOVE with this sentence:

    For every $1 real dollar I sink into travel, I feel like I get $10 happiness dollars back (and often even more).

  5. That is the cutest photo! I realized a long time ago what experiences make me happy and they have been the focus of my life and career ever since. Travel, along with art, music and books, is where most of my money and experieces flow. And Te de Jamaica, is my fave wherever I visit, whether it’s called hibiscus tea in the U.S., sorrel in Jamica or bissap in Senegal.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Fly Girl,
      I can tell from reading your travels that we have similar views on the whole experience. I love te de jamaica hot and cold! Delicious… they drink it in OKinawa too!

  6. I love to travel! And thankfully, so does my husband. Despite the stress that sometimes comes with planning or unforeseen obstacles, traveling always fills us with happiness. We just got back from an 8 day Mediterranean cruise, but I am already planning our next trip! =)

  7. If traveling didn’t make my husband happy, or if it didn’t take him to his zen place, he would not be so willing to drop his career and go backpacking with me in Central/south America. I LOVE spending money on travel. It is so good for the soul.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Erica,
      I’m still working on my husband… he’ll travel with me on short trips, but getting him away for longer periods is tough. Good for you!

  8. I have never regretted the money I’ve spent on travel. I have on a few physical items though. In fact, I consider my first trip to Asia one of the best things I ever did for myself. My next trip will likely be Israel/Jordan. Oh, and I’d like to say that I don’t think travel can really ever be bad. Travel is like sex and pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still good.

  9. As soon as I return from a trip, I’m looking for the next fix. Unfortunately that feeling you bring back home after travel doesn’t last long, no matter how much you make an effort.

    For me it’s about a balance between the experience and material possessions but I’m far from being a minimalist 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      I do struggle with how to maintain that good feeling… it’s hard when you immediately have to face work, laundry, etc… but planning the next trip helps, and I love going through all the photos and memories!

  10. I totally agree! Tim and I are always looking forward to our next travel fix too. And like you mentioned, it’s not out of boredom or anything like that. It’s simply for the joy and energy and feeling of connection to the world that traveling brings us. And that is all happy stuff indeed! 🙂

  11. I like happiness dollars the best. They never lose their value unlike real dollars. My next travel destination is going to be either Cambodia or Indonesia. Well ultimately Indonesia but hopefully a few stops inbetween to stock up on happiness dollars.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Matt,
      I’d love to make it back to Cambodia! Have a great trip there! I really hope I can get to Indonesia before leaving Oki next summer…

  12. I love your positivity. So many people are complaining about the airport and TSA whoas but there’s gotta be an awesome reason you’re traveling and usually it’s totally worth the frisk :). Great photos!

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