By Dr. Carolee Duckworth, NABBW’s Independent Travel Associate

“Someday I want to travel!” How often have you heard a friend or family member say that? How many times have you said it yourself? And why is travel such a common dream?

Boboli Hedge Garden, Florence, Italy

There are two levels of answers to the question of why people travel. The first is the obvious one, and probably the reason we give ourselves and quote to others. We travel so that we can see sights, experience other cultures, attend events and learn more about the world.

These are exciting reasons. But there are deeper reasons for traveling that have less to do with what we do when we travel, and more to do with what travel does to us.

These four sets of changes to ourselves are at the heart of what makes travel so compelling.

Travel Enriches You, Before, During and After

San Giminiano Lunch in Church Piazza

The anticipation of a trip is almost as stimulating as the trip itself. Knowing what you have ahead, and imagining it in detail, lends excitement to life, and relieves the tendency to fall into a workaday rut. The more detailed your image of your trip ahead, the more excitement it will bring you in advance.

While your trip is in progress, you will experience life intensified, living in the moment and fully taking in everything around you.

This kind of heightened experience is a particular quality of an independent style of travel that takes you beyond the bus and out into the streets and squares, landscapes and waterways. Independent travel is amplified living…a world apart from the “constrained” travel of group tours.

And then there are the memories afterwards. Travel fully experienced offers a treasure chest of unforgettable moments.

  • Do you remember when we were sitting in the sun in the piazza in front of the little church in San Gimignano, and we were served that wonderful lunch?
  • Do you remember when we were sitting on the wall next to the harbor in Cassis, eating ice cream cones and watching the children on the merry-go-round while we waited to take the boat out to see the limestone cliffs?
  • Do you remember when we were looking down from our flower-bedecked balcony watching the artists gather in the morning in Piazza Navona in Rome? And then we walked down to take a closer look, and I bought a lovely watercolor from an artist standing there painting the fountain with the sculpture of Neptune? And then, when I pointed out to him where we were staying, he gave me as a gift that small print that captured the exact view from our balcony?
  • Do you remember the gondola ride we took in Zermatt, up past the Matterhorn and into Italy? And we ate that very satisfying pasta when we got out at the station up top, and then walked around in the ice cave looking at the sparkling ice sculptures?

Travel Broadens Your View of the World

Duomo, Florence, Italy

Through travel you gain a framework for the history and significant touchstones that brought you to your current life and point in time.

  • Now you are studying the marble façade of the Duomo in Siena and marveling at the craftsmanship, as well as the gargantuan expense in wealth as well as time.
  • Now you are looking down at the stairs that lead to a tunnel connecting the home of Leonardo da Vinci with the royal palace across street. It was through this tunnel that King Françoise traveled to visit with his genius friend, and at the end, to hold him in his arms as he died.
  • And now you are in Bayeux, where the French William the Conqueror built his naval vessels to cross the English Channel and claim the throne of England. And you are marveling at the 11thcentury, 224-foot tapestry stretched along the wall, depicting the full account of William’s rise from soldier to King. And you are smiling at the startled look on his horses’ faces as they peer over the side of the boat while they are being transported across.

Each of these experiences broadens your view of the world and your firsthand sense of time and place.

Travel Re-Energizes You and Makes You More Vibrant and Interesting

Travel, and the anticipation of travel, recaptures your enthusiasm. It gives you something to look forward to as you look ahead with excitement instead of the dulled-over feeling that comes from repetition and routine. Travel gives you something to prepare for. To study for. And later to share. You will bring home travel stories and observations that will broaden your conversation beyond your latest doctor visits, work problems, and frustrations with the weeds in your lawn.

Leather Market, Florence, Italy

Travel challenges you to be at your most effective and focused level. Staying within your comfort zone may be easier, but it is also a trap.

It is good for you to be taken out of your comfort zones regularly, challenging and engaging your social skills and your ability to think on your feet and solve problems.

Travel abroad also opens opportunities to engage with the locals and absorb some of their delight with life and eagerness to connect. When you find a “treasure” to bring home, every time you use it your mind will return to the moment of your discovery, and the people who shared that moment.

Travel Improves Your Health and Well-Being

Travel gives you a reason to stay healthy. And it keeps you sharp longer! The challenges of travel test your acuity on a daily basis. Travel can be demanding, especially if you are not being “led around on a leash” on a group trip. You know you will need to be on your toes – to be situationally aware – to pay close attention.

There will be lots of walking, including up and down hills and stairs. You may find yourself eating a healthier diet, with more fresh seafood, vegetables and fruits.

Lovely Lunch in Monterosso, Italy

Generally, by the time you return home from a trip, you will be in better physical shape than you have been for months, or even years. You even may decide to incorporate into your routine back home some of the lifestyle changes you learned during your trip. And, if you begin immediately to anticipate another trip ahead, you will have a genuine incentive to keep up these improvements and be ready for the next time.

These changes and benefits to you from travel can become permanent ones. Your life will become punctuated with enrichment and you will think more broadly. You will be more vibrant and interesting as you are periodically reenergized. And you will experience enhanced health and well-being.

All things considered, this makes travel a bargain.

Carolee Duckworth is an avid traveler, an experienced trip designer, and co-author (with Brian Lane) of the books Your Great Trip to France, Your Great 5-Day Trip to Paris, and Your Great 5-Day Trip to the Loire Chateaux, available on amazon.com. Your Great Trip to Italy is coming soon. Ignite your passion for travel, while preserving your independence, with a Great Trip Guide by your side. Visit YourGreatTrip.com for a free copy of our definitive guide to packing: "How to Pack Like a Pro," and to receive periodic emails with new trip itineraries and travel tips.