Why vacations are important?
Vacations are more than an investment of money and time. They can change the world, your personal world.
Just a vacation?
Several years ago I was working with a client, Herb, who was leaving for a cruise in a few weeks and I was trying to get him an upgrade. This is something the line offered occasionally, contacting agents when there was an opportunity to upgrade for a price much less than the room/suite was selling for. Instead of waiting to be called, I usually contacted them first when I saw availability in the higher level suites. This meant I was ahead of their calls usually so my clients received first choice, but the department was difficult to reach. Eventually I heard back from my contact there but I was on my way to a doctors appointment.
I left Herb a message and gave my daughter, who was with me, the information in case he called while I was in with the doctor.
My daughter’s comment was something like, Mom, you’re not a brain surgeon, it’s a vacation and I’m sure waiting an hour isn’t going to be a big deal. She was being sarcastic of course and waiting an hour wasn’t life or death but it was important and an hour could make a difference, someone else could have taken the upgrade.
As far as I was concerned, Herb’s vacation and every client I had was important and never just a “vacation”.
Our vacations aren’t only an investment of our time and money but they have the potential to impact our lives, physically, mentally, and emotionally in a positive way.
The funny thing is, my daughter was being sarcastic with the brain surgeon comment but the truth is, when we travel, the potential to change the brain in a positive way is real.
Vacations and brain health
Ever since high school, when I first began to learn about the power of our mind, it’s been something that has fascinated me. I am not talking about positive thinking only, I mean the power our minds have over things outside of us, specifically the idea of mind over matter.
Neuroplasticity, the ability to change our brain, teaches us that we can change our brains on purpose. When we learn something new and practice it, we are literally changing our brains by creating new connections. We can also do this through new experiences, especially ones that have an emotional impact.
Our minds work and operate in the most efficient way so we are able to do several things at once. Once we’ve learned something or we experience the same thing over and over, we have connections in our brains that remember and replay on automatic.
We’ve all experienced what this feels like when we have done something and didn’t notice time passing. Or we do something so often that we don’t think about it as if it’s an automatic process.
The more we repeat the same acts, the deeper the connection and the less likely we’ll make new connections. Therefore up until recently, it was believed that once we reach a certain age, we lose brain capacity and it’s all downhill from there.
What does this have to do with vacations and travel?
By experiencing something different we are changing our brains and creating new connections. There is an important component to this and it’s our emotions.
When we are on vacation and travel someplace away from home, we are removed from our day to day routine and the environment that we are familiar with. This is creating the perfect opportunity to creates experiences that will not only change our brain but will create memories that bring the emotion of the event back year after year.
Think about when you hear a song that takes you back to a memory and how easy it is to feel or relive that emotion. Or a scent that reminds you of something in the past that was an emotional experience. Taste can do the same thing which is why we use the term comfort food.
Involving as many senses in an experience as possible provides more opportunity to have the emotion of the experience be triggered. That’s why experiences that are engaging, active and involve as many senses as possible when we are traveling is important.
I have been on over 100 cruises, yet most have blended together and it’s hard to remember each one individually. Even though I went to different places and each cruise was different, I would do similar things and spend my time the same way. My first cruise, so long ago, is different. I remember everything as if it was yesterday because it was new.
Travelling is an experience
We don’t need science to tell us that we remember things that have an emotional impact on us. All we need to do is think about different times in our lives and how we feel about them. The ones that matter most and we remember the best are through the emotion we felt.
In my senior year of high school I went to Spain for about a month. It was my first time on a plane, my first trip to Europe and first trip without family. We went to museums, art galleries and churches, all the traditional sites yet I can’t remember any of those details.
I remember the excitement of getting on the plane and having paella while musicians played. I remember buying lunch at a market and eating outside and cooking with a family we visited.
Seeing the sites where you are is important, why else go, but adding new experiences that are engaging and involve more senses will not only be more memorable but the traditional site seeing will be easier to remember as well.
It’s finding a mix and balance and adding something different that changes our minds and creates the memories we travel for.
Travel and your health:
An L.A. Times article, Travel is the best medicine, cites a study that shows travel can reduce the risk of heart attacks for both men and women plus improve cognitive function. In a world where we are busier than ever, more stressed, and overwhelmed, our physical health is affected. Stress produces cortisol, which is healthy when we are in danger or injured. It’s our bodies response to protect us and/or heal us but too much of this response or hormone and we aren’t recovering, going back to our natural state. The problem we have today is the stress most of us experience isn’t caused by an immediate life and death situation. Instead, stress has become part of our everyday world.
When it comes to our health, the impact of our stressful lives and the hormones and chemicals that are released, is huge. When too much cortisol is released in our bodies over an extended period, we become desensitized to it and we experience inflammation. It’s inflammation that has been linked to most of the major diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune diseases and chronic pain condition.
In an article written by Kara E. Hannibal and Mark D. Bishop, posted by NCBI/NIH, said the following about prolonged stress and the effect:
Ultimately, a prolonged or exaggerated stress response may perpetuate cortisol dysfunction, widespread inflammation, and pain.
Taking time away and removing yourself from the stress of day to day life can bring you back to a homeostasis state. It’s like balancing the scales, your body is operating in an optimum way.
A vacation is the perfect time to reset and repair our health although looking forward to the vacation and anticipation has health benefits as well. Studies have shown that thinking of something in the future that engages our emotions creates a change in our bodies as if we were doing the thing we were thinking of. Worry is a perfect example. Who hasn't thought of something in the future that we dread and by thinking of it we feel the anxiety, stress and/or fear? We have the same ability to imagine something good in our future and we get those benefits, the feel-good hormones, and chemicals.
Vacations aren’t only helping while we are away but before we go, the anticipation provides these benefits.
Once we are home, by reflecting on the experience, we can conjure up the emotions we felt and while we are remembering, those same feel-good hormones and chemicals are released.
This isn’t farfetched and we don ‘t need studies to know that thinking about an emotionally charged event or situation brings up the same emotions that we felt while we were during the event. It’s easy to relate to all the unpleasant thoughts and emotions and recognize the physical and emotional reactions we have by thinking about it but we seem to forget about using this same ability for good.
This goes back to the brain and why it’s so important to create experiences that involve our emotions. Think of these as a bank account, each experience we feel emotionally happy about is like a deposit. We can pull from our account all the experiences we have deposited, use them, re-experience them and when we’re done, “redeposit” them.
How planning impacts the over-all vacation and benefits.
Since stress has an impact on our physical health and we feel stressed based on our thoughts and emotions, the physical benefits of travel are a result of what we think and feel. Since we are reacting to our world and day to day routine, how we plan our trips has an impact on the value we receive.
As mentioned above, how we benefit from imagining our vacation in the future, when planning becomes overwhelming or stressful, we are cutting out most of those benefits. How you plan your trip is an important part of the overall experience.
The internet has created so many opportunities in our lives but like anything else, there is a good side and bad side and booking travel online or using the internet to plan isn’t an exception.
The internet has opened a wider scope of options for travelers and in order to compete, tour companies, hotels and resorts, and cruise lines have expanded on what they offered in the past.
The internet has also made traveling easier and more affordable, so more people are taking the type of vacations that in the past seemed too extravagant. Growing up, it was common for families to spend their vacation at the beach or someplace within driving distance but these days it’s as likely to take a cruise or go to the islands.
The downside is the nature of a computer. When we look online for something, we need to focus on “black and white” but experiences are about the rainbow or entire spectrum of colors. The one way a company can compete or advertise to differentiate themselves from another company offering a similar product or experience is price but who wants the cheapest when it means getting less value or the process is adding more stress?
The other downside is the scope of options that are available and how our usage on the computer impacts what we can see. I have access to sites that are not available to the public. These sites offer different options and often lower prices yet booking on your own eliminates these options and therefore limits the search possibilities.
As our technology gets better, the ability to target customers increases and becomes more focused, good for the advertisers but not so good for the traveler or person searching. Companies can target zip codes, devices and utilize someone’s past searches to advertise and to display information.
Of course, there is another downside and that's the lack of experience, connections and personal attention booking with a travel agent offers.
Because we can do something doesn't mean we should.
The stuff of dreams
Forget the science and health benefits because most people are planning a vacation because they want to have fun. A vacation is the one time we can focus on what we want and indulge in a lifestyle that, for a little while, is one we only dream about.
When people are asked and surveyed what they dream of doing or wish they could do, travel is right up there leading the list
What if you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
Anyone who has played probably already has a list of things they would do with the money and chances are traveling the world or do more traveling is on the list.
Forbes wrote a list of the 25 most common regrets people have and number 11 was wishing they took more trips with friends and family.
Travel is good for your health, your brain and fun! It makes people happier, more productive, opens our minds to new ideas, connects us to other cultures and people!
I may not be a brain surgeon but when you look at all the possibilities a vacation can offer, it’s never “just a vacation”!