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Am I Addicted to Travel?
Travel, I can't quit you. But even if travel addiction is an actual medical diagnosis, maybe that's okay.
Whenever Brent and I arrive in a new city, I can’t wait to get out and explore. And once we’ve seen most of whatever there is to see — usually within a month or so — I begin anticipating our next destination. In fact, I usually can’t wait to get going again.
Sometimes I wonder if this is entirely healthy. And what happens if the day ever comes when Brent wants to stop nomading and settle down permanently again? Because I have a feeling I won’t want to stop. Dare I wonder, would I even be able to stop?
In other words, like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, this topic has been causing me to ask myself a Very Deep Question.
Have I become addicted to travel?
Don’t laugh! It’s a real question.
Scientists have even explored the topic.
Way back in 1886, a Frenchman named Albert Dadas traveled so relentlessly across Europe for five years he eventually ended up hospitalized with no memories of what he’d done, because he was so exhausted. Psychiatrists dubbed his condition “dromomania,” which is Greek for “running manic.”
These days, Dadas would probably be diagnosed as suffering from some kind of dissociative and/or impulse control disorder.
As for “travel addiction,” that’s not currently a technical diagnosis. Or, rather, it’s considered a psychological compulsion, like a gambling addiction, not necessarily a biological condition, like schizophrenia.
According to Condé Naste, there are currently 30,000 people competing for the title of “Most Traveled Person in the World.” Many keep lists, trying to visit every country on Earth. Does that mean they’re addicted to travel?
Plenty of other people take cruise after cruise, or drive around the country in their RVs. Are these travel addictions — or merely lifestyle choices?
At this point, it’s important to point out that travel addiction, like most addictions, is only a problem if you think it is — or if it interferes with the healthy functioning of your life.
What about me?
While it’s fun to keep track of the number of countries Brent and I have visited — my current personal tally is fifty-four — I have zero compulsion to try and see them all. And I think most of the folks chasing travel records are more addicted to competition than they are to travel per se.
That said, there is absolutely a biochemical component to the desire to travel. Merely thinking about travel can release dopamine in the brain — which creates feelings of pleasure and well-being. So just like shopping or any other enjoyable activity, travel can affect the brain in pleasurable — and possibly “addictive” — ways.
Oh, yeah, hit me with another shot of that Bali sunshine!
In fact, making travel plans or even just thinking about travel can make people happy.
Please, New Zealand, just give me one more stunning vista!
A 2002 study by the UK’s University of Surrey showed that people with an upcoming trip were much happier than those without holiday plans.
Oooh, baby, show me another European Christmas market! You know I want it!
Traveling isn’t only good for a person’s mental well-being; it’s also good for the brain itself. The challenges of navigating a new location, learning a bit of a foreign language, or simply having new experiences is wonderful exercise for a brain’s “neuroplasticity.”
In short, travel literally strengthens the brain. It creates new neural networks, keeping the brain healthy and more nimble. As with physical exercise — and the whole concept of “use it or lose it” — the mental stimulation of travel keeps a person healthier longer, even into older age.
If I’m not yet addicted to travel, maybe I should be.
Dopamine and neuroplasticity aside, I think what most avid travelers are “addicted” to is the excitement of the new: seeing new things, tasting unfamiliar foods, exploring different cultures, and meeting new people.
That’s certainly true for me. Whenever I arrive in a new city, I love absorbing the history, walking the streets, and exploring the parks.
And taking loads of pics, in case you’ve missed that about me.
Meanwhile, Brent enjoys trying the food and introducing himself to all the local cats.
Are there downsides to a life of constant travel like the ones he and I lead?
It is harder to make deeper connections. Yes, we’re always meeting fascinating new people — and having lots of great conversations — but do we ever get beyond the “honeymoon” stage of friendship with them? After I move on, sure, I might stay in touch on social media with some folks, but I’m obviously no longer part of their daily lives.
Plus, the planning part of travel, especially in the age of Covid, can get pretty taxing.
And I will admit that I am sometimes so determined to see the things I’ve read about in advance — famous and not-so-famous — that I can miss the chance to make completely unexpected discoveries.
It’s also true that my desire to constantly be on the move has caused some conflict with Brent, who prefers to travel more slowly. Typically, after a month, I start to grow bored. By two months, I can get restless.
Like seriously, drive-my-husband-crazy restless.
But probably the most serious drawback is that I can get a little obsessive about wherever we are, about seeing everything.
Brent has a more lackadaisical attitude. Once we’ve seen the “big” attractions, his attitude is: “If we see it, we see it. We can’t do everything.”
But I often think, Well, maybe we can!
The problem was especially acute in Prague, Czechia, where we spent a month last fall.
Prague is a gorgeous, amazing city, and there is so much to do. A month didn’t feel nearly long enough to see and do everything.
Keep in mind, Brent and I aren’t on holiday in places like Prague. We’re living there and doing our jobs (including producing this newsletter — work that is partly about the travel itself but is also a fair amount of butt-in-chair online work).
But if I was truly going to see everything in Prague, that meant getting up almost every morning before sunrise. And since it was late fall and the air was getting chilly, I felt especially determined to get some amazing pictures of the Charles Bridge covered in fog — which meant returning there again and again.
I already suffer from insomnia, and there were nights I was so keen on making sure I was up in time that I really struggled to fall asleep.
Then there were the other things I could’ve spent my time doing rather than racing around Prague. Reading, for instance.
Almost every morning, Brent wakes up and reads for at least a half hour. I used to do the same. But since I’m usually now out exploring, that means I’m reading a lot less than I used to. And I love reading.
But the fear of missing out on seeing something amazing in Prague was really powerful. So out went the reading. And sometimes I feel pretty crappy about that.
I also have to wonder if this desire to see as many places as possible keeps me from actually experiencing them. Is looking at the world through my phone the same as just being there?
I honestly don’t know. Most of the time I think I am getting a good sense of where I’m at — especially since I often visit favorite places multiple times. And I can honestly say I feel like I now know Prague inside and out now.
Then again, doesn’t every addict swear they don’t have a problem?
Which brings us back to the original question — am I addicted to travel? Am I a modern day Albert Dadas?
Let’s look at the evidence.
Insomnia and reading aside, travel hasn’t impacted my life too negatively. Unlike Albert, I still have a memory of most of the things I’ve seen.
And most importantly, when Brent expressed a desire to slow the pace we’d once been keeping, I happily compromised for the sake of his happiness.
Honestly, though? I’m not sure I can actually answer whether I’m addicted or not. What addict not in recovery thinks they’re an addict? Maybe Brent is best-suited to answer that question.
But let’s not ask him, okay?
I will admit the idea of stopping our lives as digital nomads causes me considerable stress.
Fortunately, that’s not happening any time soon, and in the meantime, I’ve got to start planning our upcoming visit to Spain.
I’m thinking six weeks in Valencia and six weeks in Seville. On the other hand, if we kept it to four weeks in each, we could squeeze in a quick stop in Madrid. And maybe Barcelona too!