Travel is like a drug that permeates the mind with an indefinite but unusual tinge, stimulating and releasing, imparting a greater significance than they possess to the things that interest and amuse it. – OSBERT SITWELL, Discursions on Travel, Art, and Life
The travel bug is infectious, right? Once you’ve been bitten you want to explore further away, to every corner of the world.
People refer to travel as giving them a ‘high’, much like the effects of a drug. But slightly less taboo. You might be surprised (or not) to find out that travel does in fact release some of the same feelings that drugs do; a semi-altered state of consciousness aroused by the sheer joy of discovering something new.
You see, as humans we are constantly searching for things that make us feel alive. Feeling alive cements our place in this world – we are meant to be here; there is a reason.
Monotony is something that we all try to avoid. It’s difficult, though, not falling into a half-conscious state of routine, day in day out. So we use and do things that make us feel like we aren’t sleepwalking through life, if not just to give us a heightened sense of ‘being’ for a moment.
It’s common for people to use chemical enhancements for this. I’m talking alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and, of course, drugs. All of these allow us to step away from monotony and look out at the world with a rose-tinted view.
How many times have you had one too many drinks and had a soaring realisation that the world is a beautiful place and life is amazing? Yeah. Too many. Thanks, tequila.
Travel may not be a chemical, but it releases endorphins inside us just like the above mentioned methods. It opens our eyes to the world; it gives us clarity – one of the things that we as humans strive to discover every day. Clarity, meaning, understanding. And it’s not illegal. Yay.
Travel is intensified living–maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it. – RICK STEVES, Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door
Spontaneity, a notion that goes hand in hand with travel, is another important factor. Without spontaneity and the novelty of experiencing new things, we are just another cog in the corporate wheel: “life is reduced to a conventional set of exclusive symbols that transcribe their fate.”
We feel insignificant amongst a sea of other beings. And no one likes to feel insignificant.
Discovering new things – new places – reaffirms our existence on this planet which in turn releases a sense of euphoria; we are at one with the planet, but we are working together. Nature needs us and we need nature.
It’s possible to arouse this sense of euphoria in everyday life, but by golly is it harder than when you travel. It’s handed to us on a plate when we are in search of hidden destinations, but we have to work hard to dig it out amongst the monotony of routine. And everyone has a routine. Almost everyone.
To release this ‘high’ when at home we need to engage with life; to take note of everything around us; to be aware of our place in the universe.
The sense of euphoria released from travelling has often been described as a peak experience. With it comes a sense of empowerment, freedom, clarification, and understanding. It’s that soaring feeling you get in your heart when everything feels just right.
I had a peak experience at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. Standing amongst centuries of history and geological mystery was overwhelming. But in a good way. I felt insignificant, but it didn’t quite matter because I was standing next to something that was so significant. It was like its presence was penetrating the surrounding area, including me and it was extremely humbling.
Now I sound bat-shit crazy.
But is travel an addiction?
It’s difficult to talk about travel under the same umbrella as drugs without tapping into addiction. Unfortunately, the two are inseparable.
It’s also difficult to think of travel in the same spectrum as drugs. It feels naïve, I guess. But it’s necessary; if we put travel in the same sentence as the word ‘high’ with its societal connotations, it’s going to be associated with drugs. Like it or not.
But, like I said, travel is not a chemical. We cannot get physically addicted to it like we can with drugs. For that reason, it must be a psychological addiction. An addiction that has to start somewhere.
Most people’s first travel experience was a family holiday. The location doesn’t matter. What matters is that it opens your eyes to a whole new world, a whole new way of thinking, and a whole new way of understanding your place in the world.
Then we get greedy. We want more; bigger and better than family holidays to the coast of Cornwall. We want to go to places that grace the pages of glossy magazines; to places that are so alien to us we shiver in anticipation.
With each trip, we want more. The high you get from the first experience (be it drugs or travel) is the best high you will ever have. After that you are playing catch up, requiring a bigger hit each time to reach the same level as that first euphoric experience.
But you’ll probably never reach it. That’s why drug addicts spiral out of control, taking more and more hits but getting further and further away from that first high.
Instead of seeking that big high, we might start to seek out a series of smaller highs to make up for it as if it will culminate into a life-changing moment, or maybe just to keep on functioning. Much like a heroin addict who takes a bump every so often to maintain a sense of normalcy.
Does that mean you can get numb to travel?
I’m not qualified to answer this. I haven’t travelled for an extended period of time; I prefer to take shorter trips. But I have spoken to a few nomads who revealed that they no longer get excited when they visit a new place. I find that sad, but it makes sense. It has become the norm – it is no longer spontaneous or a novelty, the two things we need to keep us feeling alive. They no longer get highs from experiencing new places because they are so small they don’t even register.
It seems that the need to travel rockets at first with our initial encounter with new places, then we spend the next phases chasing that high before it plateaus out and we’re back to square one.
This sentence from this article struck a chord with me:
“[Travel] is the least fulfilling path to happiness, though it can give a temporary feeling of being high.”
I’m not sure I agree with the first part (each to their own an’ all that), but the fleeting highs are definitely something that I have come to be aware of.
“When you travel often, you will be addicted to it forever. Our destination is not the place, but new way to see things.” – Henry Miller
If you’re worried you might be addicted to travel (har har), check out the articles below. First, though, I would love you to leave your opinion in the comments: is travel an addiction? Have you had a peak experience? Do you think I’m bat-shit crazy?
- 21 Signs You’re a Travel Addict (Tripbase)
- A Different Kind of Addiction (D Travels Round)
- 20 Signs That You’re Addicted to Travelling (WildJunket)