Travel as Therapy – an Introduction

Paris Plage 2012 Official Launch
© Getty

Nowadays we’re used to thinking of travel as the ‘fun’ bit of life, but enjoyment isn’t a reason why it shouldn’t also do some very serious things for us. At its deepest level, travel can assist us with our psychological education. It can – when approached the right way – play a critical role in helping us to grow into better versions of our normal selves. When it corrects the imbalances and immaturities of our natures, travel reveals its full potential to function as a form of therapy in our lives.

But in order to work a therapeutic effect, we need to change how we go about choosing our destinations. We should recognise that we’re badly served here by the travel industry, which cuts the world up into material categories almost entirely unattuned to the needs of our souls. It will lay before us options like ‘outdoor fun,’ ‘family adventure’ ‘culture weekends’ or ‘island hideaways’ – but leave it unexplored quite what the point of these destinations might be when considered from the point of view of our psyches.

The Parente family of Fort Lauderdale, Florida at La Paz Wat
© MCT/Getty

Without anything mystical being meant by it, all of us are involved in one way or another on what could be termed ‘an inner journey’: that is, we’re trying to develop in particular ways. We might be searching for how to be calmer or how to find a way to rethink our goals, we might long for a greater sense of confidence or an escape from debilitating feelings of envy.

Ideally, where we go should help us with our attempts at these longed-for pieces of psychological evolution. The outer journey should assist us with the inner one. But for this to happen, we need to be clearer in our minds both what we’re searching for inside and what the outer world could conceivably deliver for us.

In part, this requires us to look at the globe in a new way. Every destination we might alight upon contains within it qualities, virtues one might say, that could conceivably support some move or other on a person’s inner journey. There are places that could help with shyness and others with anxiety. Some places might be good at reducing egoism and others might be good for helping us think more clearly about the future.

General Views of Arena Pantanal & Surrounding Areas - FIFA World Cup Venues Brazil 2014
© Getty

No one has yet written a psychological atlas of the world, outlining the so-called psychological virtues of places, but it’s a project that urgently needs to be undertaken. Such an atlas would align destinations with their inner potential. For example, we’d see that the Utah desert is both a physical destination – made up of 200 million-year-old stones that stretch out as far as the eye can see in a soothing pink hue – and a psychological one: capable of functioning as a goad to perspective, an aide to shift away from preoccupations with the petty and the small-minded towards a terrain of greater calm and resilience.

In the future, we would ideally be more conscious travellers – aware that we were on a search for places that could deliver psychological virtues like ‘calm’ or ‘perspective,’ ‘sensuality’ or ‘rigour’. A visitor to Monument Valley wouldn’t just be in it for a bit of undefined ‘adventure’, something to enjoy and then gradually forget about two weeks later; travelling to the place would be an occasion fundamentally to reorient one’s personality. It would be the call-to-arms to become a different person; an 8,000 mile, £3,000 secular pilgrimage that would be properly anchored around a piece of profound character development.

Utah, Church Rock at junction of US Route 191 and Utah Route 211 the entrance to the Needles section of Canyon lands National Park
© UIG/Getty

Travel should not be allowed to escape the underlying seriousness of the area of life with which it deals. We need always to aim for locations in the outer world that can push us towards where we need to go within.

Over the coming two weeks, we are leaving the office to send you ‘postcards’ from a variety of locations around the world that will demonstrate the theory of ‘travel as therapy’ in action – and hopefully inspire you on therapeutic journeys of your own.

1. Monument Valley, USA – for Calm 

2. Corner shop, Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama – for Shyness 

3. Café de Zaak, Utrecht – for Sex Education 

4. Capri Hotel, Changi Airport, Singapore – for Thinking

5. Pefkos Beach, Rhodes – for Anxiety

6. Eastown Theatre, Detroit – for Perspective 

7. Pumping Station, Isla Mayor, Seville – for Snobbery

8. Comuna 13, San Javier, Medellín, Colombia – for Dissatisfaction

9. Glenpark Road, Birmingham – for Boredom