From ‘vagabond neurosis’ to brain hacking: why travel is addictively good for you
Sometimes, travel is just going from one place to another. What makes traveling a trip is how you engage with your environment as you’re moving through it: how you feel, think, and interact along the way. Sometimes, travel is just going from one place to another. What makes traveling a trip is how you engage with your environment as you’re moving through it: how you feel, think, and interact along the way.
It was once thought that the desire to travel for the fun of it was unnatural or even pathological. What we now call wanderlust was once called dromomania: the uncontrollable urge to wander. Since around 2010, travel addiction has been reframed as “vagabond neurosis” by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the psychiatry bible), defined as “an abnormal impulse to travel” for which some people are “prepared to spend beyond their means, sacrifice jobs, lovers, and security in their lust for new experiences.”
How does lust differ from an uncontrollable urge? Desire renders us active, but dromomania was a passive, fugue-like state, almost like sleepwalking through the world. It’s an excess of escapism to the extent that one could run out of money and lose touch with the stability in their lives. It’s kind of like what Cat Marnell described doing for the past several years after her bestselling memoir came out, in a recent interview with The Cut: trying to replace her drug addiction with the elated state of being constantly in motion.
Indeed, the impulse to travel is stronger than ever. Millennials travel more than any other generation. We’re all working more than ever, and as a result, we’ve come to value experiences over material possessions. Vagabond neurosis takes this to an extreme, where one impulsively gives up everything and gives in to their desire for escapism. Travel can give such a natural high, it makes sense that one could become addicted to the elation and novelty of the adventure.
But for most of us, traveling is more than just escapism, more than just a fleeting break from the daily grind. It turns out traveling truly is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Seriously — it’s science.
Brain hack: engage with your environment more
Contrary to old-world thinking, modern-day science says travel is actually good for your brain. Specifically, the parts of travel that can seem the most challenging are great for your brain: problem-solving and getting out of your comfort zone. The elation and fascination that comes from immersing in a foreign environment strengthens your creativity, critical thinking, and even helps to prevent problems such as Alzheimer's later on (according to Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh).
But your brain won’t just reap these benefits passively. You’ve got to be engaged with your environment. Engage with the local culture when/where you can. The more new things—cultures and customs of people and places unlike your own—that you experience, the more you’ll grow. It’s much more fulfilling to come home with learnings and memories besides shopping bags and selfies.
In addition to travel, we’ve become obsessed with wellness to counter our culture of workaholism; now we know that travel and wellness have something in common. As per our workaholic society, our first impulse may be to focus on how to benefit productively from our downtime. Resist it. Travel, like any other wellness practice, can be enjoyed for its own sake—even though it will also, gladly, provide greater benefits for our mental health. Beyond how rejuvenated, inspired, and motivated we feel when we return to our lives after a great trip, we return changed.
That’s why the freedom and privilege to travel is the greatest gift one can give. It’s something everybody can benefit from, everybody needs at some point—the one gift that won’t be returned or exchanged. It’s literally the gift of time. That’s what Skyhour is all about: gifting precious time in the air, whether to simply get you from point A to point B or to blow your mind wide open.