Is Travel a Form of Therapy?


When I started college, I was fresh off a whirlwind tour with my AP European History class of the hotspots of Europe.

As I picked out several college history classes to take, I told my parents I wanted to be a tour guide and help others discover the power of travel.

Since we were at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, my parents encouraged me to consider more “sensible” alternatives, and I eventually became a mental health therapist.

While I pursued my clinical career, I spent all of my free time traveling and loved diving into “the why” when clients mentioned travel as a motivator for their recovery.

After years of conversations with clients, friends, and fellow travel enthusiasts, I had countless data points to prove that traveling can provide endless mental health benefits and began formally supporting others on how to experience travel therapy.

So what is travel therapy and how do you know if it’s right for you?

Travel therapy is rooted in the idea that travel offers both internal and external exploration.

Internal exploration can look like:

  • Taking time to relax and reflect on the beach for the first time in months
  • Overcoming your fear of heights while on a challenging hike
  • Navigating how to stay calm while missing the last train of the day,
  • Being present for your thoughts and emotions while traveling alone
  • And many more examples

External exploration is focused on your experience with your surroundings.

  • Do your creative juices start flowing as you explore the Louvre?
  • Do your taste buds go wild as you bite into fresh Japanese sushi?
  • Do you discover new hobbies like paddle boarding that you normally wouldn’t pursue at home?
  • What do you learn about other cultures and ways of life during conversations with new friends?

In addition to the benefits of internal and external exploration, travel encourages countless more mental and physical benefits:

  • Boosts your immune system thanks to being surrounded by new foods and environments
  • Increases your confidence as you navigate unexpected challenges and foreign cultures
  • Expands your interpersonal and communication skills as you surround yourself with unfamiliar faces
  • Creativity influx as you escape your day-to-day day routine and replace it with new adventures
  • Heightens appreciation for your home life while also reminding you that we’re all humans enduring the same highs and lows
  • Encourages you to break out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to uncertainty 
  • Decreases anxiety, depression, burnout, and other mental health symptoms, which in turn reduces the risk of conditions like heart disease

Whether you’re planning a trip to rejuvenate your energies, discover a new passion, or reconnect with your inner self, the internal and external growth opportunities and benefits during travel are endless.

So how do you start participating in travel therapy? Here are my top tips for getting started:

Determine your current state

Before you start planning a trip or leave home, look inward and ask yourself these questions:

  • How have you been feeling, both mentally and physically, lately?
  • What are you craving in your life right now?
    • Are you in need of a solo, couples, or group trip?
  • Do you want a transformational experience, to get out of your comfort zone, to rekindle the romance, or completely unplug from life?
  • Are you in a good place to tolerate and navigate the uncertainties that come with travel?

Plan a trip according to your intentions while still remaining open

Now that you know how you’re currently feeling and what you hope to gain out of your trip, where do you want to go? Is now the time for a day trip to a small town or spa, a two week adventure across Southeast Asia, or tasting wine in Tuscany?

As you narrow in on your options, always be sure to plan for downtime and in-the-moment experiences. For example, you might think you’re going to love stopping at every winery in Tuscany only to realize that you’re actually dreaming of taking a bike ride through the countryside or sleeping in till noon.

Identify and pack your support options ahead of time

  • Who can you speak with openly about your concerns or needs while traveling? Do you need to arrange a check in back home with your therapist or loved ones? Are the people you’re traveling with able to provide you support? Should you let the flight attendant know before you take off that you’re an anxious flyer?
  • Don’t forget to pack your grounding tools. From your favorite, cozy sweater to essential oils to your journal – what tools can you bring to use as resources as well as provide the comfort of home while away?

Want to learn more about the benefits of travel therapy, share your personal experiences, or connect to plan your next getaway?

Get in touch with Brie Shelly, a licensed therapist and travel therapy expert on a mission to encourage women to unlock their inner confidence and fully experience life’s adventures on and offline. 

As the holiday season hits its peak, do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, burnout, and extra ready for a trip?

Check out our member-exclusive webinar “How to De-Stress During Holiday Travel” with licensed therapist and travel therapy expert Brie Shelly!

She’ll equip you with strategies to keep your mental health in check, whether you are headed on vacation, to visit family, or staying home for the holidays.


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