The Real Reason You’re Happier When You Travel
It’s not about where you go, but what you leave behind
It is a truism that travel broadens your horizons. Like most truisms, it is only partly true. Yes, travel expands your world, but it does so by shrinking it.
I was reminded of this delicious paradox recently when I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time: checked into a hotel. A DoubleTree, it wasn’t especially luxurious, and definitely not exotic, located less than a mile from my house near Washington, D.C. But as I swiped my key card and entered the room, sanitized for my convenience, I exhaled. I could think again.
It wasn’t what the hotel offered that explained my elation but what it lacked — namely a houseful of crap, literal as well as figurative, thanks to a sewage “situation” that, trust me, you don’t want to know about. This, I thought, is why I travel — not to expand my life but to shrink it. Contain it. At home, clutter — both the physical and mental variety — threatens to suffocate me. Not so in hotel rooms like this. Travel liberates me from…. well, from myself. Unencumbered, I can breathe again.
The traveler jettisons excess stuff for the same reason a hot-air balloonist jettisons ballast: to soar higher.
Travel’s magical disappearing act begins before we leave home. Rule number one: pack light. Don’t do so because it’s virtuous or ecologically sound but because you’ll enjoy yourself more. Pack light and you feel light.
The ideal luggage is big enough to hold nearly as much stuff as I need, but not quite. It forces me to curate my crap. Do I really need to bring the complete works of Tolstoy in the original Russian? Do I really need that complete set of Alpaca sweaters, or will one suffice? The traveler jettisons excess stuff for the same reason a hot-air balloonist jettisons ballast: to soar higher.
Packing light has nothing to do with overhead bins and everything to do with psychology. Less stuff means fewer choices. Don’t get me wrong. Choice is good, up to a point, but too many choices confuse us, and robs us of happiness, as research shows. Travel is about corralling those choices, subduing them. Life on…