Psychology of Travel: 3 Reality Checks to Remember

Part 5 of the series ’16 Travel Tips for Your Next Big (or Little) Holiday’

  1. Before You Go
  2. Packing
  3. Border Crossings: Two Ways to Fail
  4. At Your Destination
  5. Psychology of Travel: 3 Reality Checks to Remember

Go here, do this, take that. To talk travel is to speak of the practical, the material. But just as important is the world inside your head.

If you’re not having fun, you’ve failed

Just like home, some days are better than others. Often for no good reason.

If it’s raining all the time and you want to go out and play, well that’s a downer wherever you are. Angkor Wat is spectacular, but if you have the runs then the real wonder of the world would be a clean toilet.

Maybe this town or country just doesn’t vibe with you. Maybe you’re tired, physically or mentally. Homesick? Stressed? Too much time with the same people?

It’s okay to feel that way.

Man with accordion
Some days you’re just not feeling it. [Riga, Latvia]

The travel culture and industry projects an image of endless amazement and fulfilment. This is as unrealistic as the image of physical perfection cultivated by the fashion and entertainment business. Some lucky people do look like models (albeit without the airbrushing). But most of us don’t. Similarly, some people can travel at 100% enthusiasm constantly. But most of us can’t. It’s just how we’re wired.

Even though it’s called a holiday, often travelling is hard work. Yes you’ll feel guilty that there’s so many people who aren’t able to travel at all. Try not to beat yourself up.

If the malaise lingers excessively though, consider if it’s a sign that you should be doing things differently. Particularly if you won’t get to travel again for a while.

Fortunately your mind helps with this point. In hindsight most things look better. So even if you can’t accept that every day won’t be super fantastiche, over time your brain will spin it so that most of your memories will be fond ones anyway. Thankyou sub-conscience, great to be on the same team for once.

Should I travel solo or with other people?

As you might imagine, whichever you choose will bring both pros and cons. Moreover, the best option for you might change over time too.

Groups aren’t for everyone [Gyeongju, South Korea]

There are compromises that come with group travel. You often get less done, as the group tends to travel at the speed of the slowest person. Which in the mornings is invariably me.

Group dynamics can sometimes lead to a sort of decision paralysis. No one can or wants to make a decision because it’ll mean at least one person isn’t getting what they want. So everyone does whatever is bland but universally unchallenging.

Group dynamics can work the other way though, giving you the push to see or do things that you wouldn’t normally be interested in or comfortable doing. As long as your companions are team players and have a similar budget, it can also mean sharing costs and organising.

Time on the road can bring friends closer
Time on the road can bring friends closer. [Kerala, India]

Personally I’ve been blessed with great travelling companions. Despite the inherent compromises and challenges, there hasn’t been a single attempted murder or marooning. And that includes travelling with girlfriends.

Solo travel is naturally more flexible. You do what you want, whenever you damn well want to. However, it can be lonely. Just having a friend with you can make hard times easier. I also find that things aren’t as fun on my own. Interesting yes, but not ‘fun’ per se. There’s only so much joking around you can do with yourself before you’re committed to an asylum.

Colosseum at Arles, France
Finally, an Ancient Roman stadium for introverts. [Arles, France]

Ultimately it depends on your personality. If you are introverted you might have trouble building relationships on the road, though the solitude may be manageable, or even refreshing. Out-going types will find it easier to meet people but could cope less well if circumstances force separation upon them.

Which leads back to one of the cons of group travel. You are bringing your own social environment with you. Unless you make an effort, like to scoop up orphans, you’re less likely to make relationships with those outside your group. By orphans, I mean solo travellers. Though actual orphans would work too. Plus, gathering orphans into your entourage is good practice for later life should you become a celebrity.

Travel will change you

Maybe it will.

Possibly in a tangible way. Plenty of countries offer affordable dental work and cleavage enhancement. Even more countries offer zero-cost parasitic hitchhikers for your gut.

Perhaps you’ll find your calling in life. Maybe you’ll realise how loathe you are to go back to your job or study. Or how much you loathe your partner.

Travel is a great crucible for stress-testing a relationship. Not just how you handle the hard parts together, but also whether you have a compatible sense of fun.

Sign in Srinagar, Kashmir
Hopefully this wouldn’t be a revelation to you. [Srinagar, Kashmir, India]

So maybe it will change you. But it probably won’t.

You’ll have a good time. Perhaps some extra-special experiences. You’ll have a greater appreciation for all the different ways in which we humans live our lives. Hopefully your own problems will seem smaller, as you realise in a global sense just how lucky you are. You’ll come home with fond memories (that grow fonder over time) and perhaps a little background feeling of pride for having done something different.

Ultimately though, you’ll still be you. Just in another place, doing different things.

If you desperately need an epiphany or path then you’ll likely find it. The angst will drive you to find something, somewhere.

But for the majority of us? As best you can, just go without expectations. Then anything else is a bonus.

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Read next: See the menu up top for any articles in the Travel Tips series you missed, or for more pretty pictures check out a photo essay.

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