As a species, we’re born explorers. We’ve roamed the globe for all manner of reasons, or sometimes no reason at all—other than that the world is beautiful and interesting. The power of travel lies in the ways it opens us up to become our best selves, as well as the ways in the far-reaching benefits it has on our daily lives.
The short version is this: Travel makes everything better. Money spent on experiences creates more lasting happiness than money spent on buying stuff. In fact, the things you do (and not the things you own) play a central role in how you form your own self-image and sense of confidence!
At Austin Adventures, we live for adventure travel, and we want to take you through a primer in not only why travel’s such an important part of life, but also how adventure travel, in particular, can transform your status quo, shake up your routines, push you out of your comfort zone, and change everything for the better.
Why Travel is Important:
Let’s talk about self-care and self-discovery. If you ask us, one of the most unfortunate modern ideas is the tendency to see travel as something that’s “just for fun,” a luxury, as opposed to a real investment in our own growth and health (not to mention that of our loved ones.)
We have to eat. We have to sleep. Not doing those things inhibits our ability to do anything else well. But beyond that, there are other things we can do for ourselves: exercise, socialize, feed our minds with reading and learning, and yes—traveling. There’s a tendency to see these sorts of self-development activities as irresponsible or indulgent, since we may see them as taking ourselves away from our all-important responsibilities. But something magical happens when we decide that personal growth and care are responsibilities, every bit as vital as eating or sleeping—we make room for them. And not only do our lives not fall apart, but they become richer and deeper, and we become happier, stronger, and more productive. Everything gets better.
In fact, there are whole areas of psychological study devoted to the ways we use personal growth opportunities (“mastery events”) to form our own sense of confidence, and how that in turn impacts our own sense of fulfillment. In short: when you take care of yourself, grow, and push yourself out of your comfort zone in healthy ways, every area of your life benefits.
From your desk or staring at your phone right now, it’s harder to picture, but when you’re with loved ones backpacking through the wilds of Yellowstone, watching the sun dip below a mountain range that’s thousands of years in the making, it’s hard to imagine you had previously considered the experience to be something you didn’t have time for, and much easier to realize: Yes, I’m exactly where I should be right now.
After all, you work hard to provide yourself and/or your loved ones with a good life. But what does that look like? Our two cents: it looks like springtime in one of America’s breathtaking national parks or sipping a glass of wine in the French countryside, or glamping on Peru’s Inca Trail.
The world’s out there for us to explore, and we should seize the opportunity while we can.
The Top 10 Benefits of Traveling:
1. Travel Strengthens Family Bonds
The nature of our digitally super-connected world can, ironically, result in feelings of isolation and anxiety. Sure, we may know what each of our friends had for lunch, and we may be able to read every thought that pours out of our relatives’ heads, but there’s no true replacement for sitting across from someone or directly experiencing the world, rather than watching it on a screen. For families, digital devices can provide a constant distraction from sharing quality time. We’ve all seen families at restaurants eating in silence, with a table full of children staring into iPads, right?
That’s where the power of travel comes in—especially adventure travel. Our phones and laptops enable a constant stream of stimulation, and they keep us clicking and scrolling impulsively. That’s what makes adventure travel the perfect option for full families—it keeps kids’ hands and brains busy in a healthy way that the entire group participates in together. When you’re sitting beside a hotel pool for a week straight, it’s easy for kids to mentally check out or to dive back into YouTube and video games, but it’s not so easy when they’re ziplining across the Gallatin River or kayaking Alaska’s Resurrection Bay alongside sea otters and porpoises.
We can’t speak for other travel companies, but on our family trips, kids are not grumpy or bored. They’re not glued to their devices, but they don’t mind—every day is something new and awesome. Whatever happens, the family’s status quo gets shaken up, and that ends up being a special experience. What’s more, it teaches kids that the really exciting stuff in life doesn’t happen behind a screen.
2. Travel Strengthens marriages and relationships.
We’re not marriage counselors or love-life gurus over here, but decades of psychological research (and a little common sense) make it clear: Strong relationships take effort. Unfortunately, many of us don’t put the same kind of care and dedication into our marriages or romantic relationships that we do in other areas of our lives. Too often the things that we most take for granted are the most important things, the things we should cherish the most. So, let us inject a little adventure into those love lives.
This probably won’t surprise you, but a whole slew of studies suggest that couples that travel together experience greater relationship satisfaction, are more intimate, communicate better, and are more likely to stay together.
Here’s another fun fact: there’s a growing body of research that demonstrates that if you really want to keep your relationship thriving, you should skip those lazy beach-side vacations in favor of more adventure.1 Familiar experiences result in familiar results—new, different, and exciting experiences spice things up. We’ve got a long list of adults-only trips perfect for couples, whether you’re celebrating a milestone anniversary, surprising someone for Valentine’s Day, or simply trying to get away and live a little. Most importantly, couples’ travel experiences create shared memories that help you grow closer than ever.
Adventure trips for couples don’t have to require globe-hopping to get romantic, either. Take one of our popular Montana adventure trips, for example: Imagine a leisurely backcountry hike to a pleasant picnic, followed by a scenic horseback ride through the wildflower-dappled Abaroska mountains. After the sun goes down, couples enjoy a gourmet dinner and a long soak at the Chico Hot Springs Resort. What other vacation for couples could top that?
3. Travel increases your productivity and satisfaction at work.
Even short weekend getaways can have a real impact on a person’s stress level and job satisfaction, though longer trips have greater effects.2
This is another area that has been studied time and again, but a report from the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off beautifully traces the steady decline of the American vacation from the years 2000 to 2015, and the results are pretty depressing.
In 2000, the average American took roughly 3 weeks of vacation, and these days that’s down to around 2. So, on average, we take about a week less off of work. Surely we’re getting more done if we’re putting in those extra days, right? Nope! The numbers are very clear: taking more vacation time results in lower job stress, higher job satisfaction, and better performance. In fact, if you take at least 11 vacation days, you’re more than 30% more likely to receive a raise. In other words, when you travel, you end up making more money doing something you already want to do anyway. It’s an obvious win-win.
4. When we don’t use paid vacation, we’re essentially volunteering our time.
Allow us to build on #3 a bit. Overwhelmingly, people know they should be using their vacation days. We’re talking about individuals who receive paid vacation here—while 95% of them reported that they consider using that time very important, most don’t use it! A full 55% left vacation days unused. That adds up to 658 million unused vacation days in 2015. (And in 2018, that number was up to 768 million days.) And those are paid as part of those individuals’ compensation packages. By letting those days go to waste, we’re essentially volunteering our time. The original study from the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off lays it out plainly: “By giving up this time off, Americans are effectively volunteering hundreds of millions of days of free work for their employers, which results in $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits.” In 2018, that represented a lost potential $151.5 billion in travel income pumped into the American economy, which would have supported an additional 2.2 million jobs.
In their own write-up, Harvard Business Review further pointed out the potential that time could have for the travel industry, towns that rely on tourism, and the workforce in general: “Take a moment for that number to set in. Imagine the impact those vacations could have on the U.S. economy — on airlines, hotels, restaurants, attractions, and towns — not to mention the impact it would have on individuals’ stress levels.”
Again and again, the conclusion is the same: the more we travel, the better everything is.
5. Travel improves physical health.
Regular travel helps us unplug and manage stress, and active travel (especially adventure travel) helps our physical fitness and provides even greater stress relief. A 2000 study from Psychosomatic Medicine put the physical benefits of travel (or the potential consequences of not traveling, if you want to look at it that way) in the starkest terms: men who do not take a vacation for several years are 30% more likely to have a heart attack. Traveling is associated with a 21% increase in surviving an attack if it does occur. Women who travel only once every six years are 8 times more likely to have a heart attack.
More important than all of these stats is just the way that adventure travel plays into a larger lifestyle. Being the kind of person that seeks out adventure travel experiences translates to a more active, adventurous lifestyle in everyday life.
6. Travel improves your mental health.
Here’s yet another one for you: people who travel are less likely to develop depression or other mood or mental disorders. Traveling abroad, in particular, is associated with greater creativity and emotional stability. This isn’t surprising—we’ve already dug into how travel reduces stress in huge ways and being able to completely unplug for your daily routine works wonders.
But did you know this effect can last much, much longer than just while you’re on vacation? You see, people feel happier and more fulfilled when they’re planning or anticipating an upcoming trip, too. Now, that’s huge. That’s a way of stretching out the lasting benefits of travel all year-round. Frequent travelers know this already. When you’ve got a trip coming up, knowing it’s around the corner gives you something to look forward to, and it’s endlessly fun to prepare. Perhaps, like us, you geek out over travel gear. Perhaps—also like us—you love researching every little detail about the places you’re going to travel to so that you’ve got a working sense of the history and context as you’re living out those experiences. Either way, having a little something to look forward to has wonderful benefits.
7. Travel improves your children’s educational achievement and future success.
A survey from the U.S. Travel Association is just one of many studies that links travel to children and teens’ educational success (and, ultimately, their adult career achievement.) Of course, that’s not just any travel. Sitting in a hotel room for a week won’t teach children much, but taking them places in which they experience new things—especially when they’re getting information about the history of those places—makes a measurable impact. The majority make better grades. A whopping 86% felt it made them want to learn more both in and out of the classroom. For 52% of those surveyed, travel influenced their career choices. Ultimately, 9 out of 10 of those who traveled said their experiences furthered their education or career. At the end of the day, that translates to greater adult career success. In fact, kids and teens who traveled went on to earn 12% more than the average income of their peer group, yet another testament to the power of travel.
Travel for teens is important because it opens their minds and encourages them to have a bigger picture of the world at large. Whether it’s summer travel for teens or a spring break adventure trip, get those kids out into the world and watch the effects yourself. You’ll see the power of travel at work firsthand.
8. Travel helps you make lifelong friends.
There’s nothing quite like the friendships you make while on the road. Group travel tours, in particular, are a great way to share new travel experiences with a diverse group of new people. It’s one of the easiest ways to meet people in a substantive way, actually. Everyone’s in a good mood since they’re on an awesome adventure vacation, and everyone’s sharing in exciting experiences. We’ve said it time and again now: shared travel experiences bring people together, and it doesn’t matter if they’re your old college buddies, your family, or total strangers.
Solo travelers in particular tend to love small group travel tours because you strike the perfect balance between solitude and social engagement, but you still get safety in numbers as well as group perks when it comes to dining and lodging.
Our Austin Adventures travel family is called The Adventurer’s Club, and it’s just one of the ways veterans of our adventure trips connect with each other and keep in touch. Adventurer’s Club members get discounts and special deals on future trips, and they also get access to an alumni-only Facebook group.
9. Travel promotes self-discovery and personal growth.
When you’re traveling, you leave behind the trappings of your everyday life and cease to be anything other than yourself. With active travel, there’s also an added element of testing yourself in new situations. If you’ve never rafted down a rushing river, rising to the occasion and doing it well is exhilarating. Or if you’ve never done a long bike ride or a strenuous hike, you might wonder if you’ve got it in you. You do. We all do. And when you do it, and when you find it’s really, really fun, your own idea about who you are gets just a little bit bigger.
Travel also gives us time to be with ourselves, and many of us could use it. When we’re forced to unplug and live in the present moment, we can reconnect with our authentic selves, think a little more clearly, and come home feeling refreshed.
10. Travel helps us appreciate the world around us more.
A real testament to the power of travel is how much it helps us appreciate the world we live in. Our planet is full of absolutely incredible places, and oftentimes many of them are in our own backyard. Travel gives us the opportunity to drink in the beauty of our surroundings, and adventurers carry that back with them into their daily lives. It leaves us a little more mindful and a little more grateful. When you’re deep in the trenches of your everyday life, and you’re just having one of those days, you can think back to the gorgeous experiences you’ve had. When we’re able to remind ourselves that, actually, the world can be a profoundly beautiful place, the hardship we’re experiencing in the moment becomes a little lighter. Our load becomes a little easier to carry.
Go forth and adventure!
Travel is transformative. You’ve probably heard this saying: “If you do the same things you always have, you’ll get the same results you’ve always gotten.” If you change what you do, you’ll change what you get—and travel is the best way of breaking out of our routines. Outside of our comfort zones, we’re stripped down to us and our experiences, and we need that.
You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to leave things behind. The world will go on. Your company won’t disintegrate without your all-important presence for a week. The only real difference when you return to your everyday life is you’ll feel refreshed, recharged, and excited to tackle life. You’ll feel closer to your loved ones, and you’ll have a bunch of new experiences to look back on.
Our advice? Pick a place you’ve always wanted to go, and start reading. Check out itineraries and pictures. Allow yourself to dream a little. There’s a voice in the back of your mind—it’s there for all of us—inviting you out onto the frontier of life, calling you towards adventure, telling you to live bigger. Try listening to it and see where it takes you.
1 Carter, T. J., Gilovich, T. (2012). I am what I do, not what I have: The centrality of experiential purchases to the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 1304–1317.
2 Chen, Chun-Chu & Petrick, James & Shahvali, Moji. (2014). Tourism Experiences as a Stress Reliever. Journal of Travel Research. 10.1177/0047287514546223.
3 Parker-Pope, Tara. For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed. Plume/Penguin Group, 2011.