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Travel as Therapy: Why Eating, Praying, & Loving Your Way to Happiness Requires a Passport

I’ve been thinking about how several of my favorite travel nonfiction books stem out of pain (Eat, Pray, Love and Wild being two popular examples, but there are others). The author bears an intolerable loss (divorce in both cases), and decides that the best way to move on is to move on…literally. So they traverse Italy, Bali, the PCT…whatever it takes to shed the skin of who they were and find out what they’re made of.

What’s not to like about that?

While I’d planned my trip to the Dolomites and  to a yoga retreat in Italy long before my marriage fell apart, I’m calling it my Eat, Pray, Love trip. Sure, it’s six months from now, and I hope to be more healed than I am now, but still, I’m looking forward to putting myself in an unfamiliar and challenging situation, to test my mettle (as well as test traveling alone).

So why do we (or at least, I) need to go so far to become one with the universe? I’ve got a few answers to that.

1. You Get to Break Out of the Familiar

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When you’re trying to move on, the familiar is a festering wound. Seeing the neighbor, who asks how your husband is, brings tears to your eyes. Saying “oh, we love that movie!” and then realizing there is no “we” anymore leaks a little more blood from the wound. If I could curl up in a random village somewhere in the world right now, I would. But life responsibilities keep me rooted where I am for the moment.

But travel, especially to another country, invites the unfamiliar, and teaches you that you can handle anything. Hell, I’m going to hike huge mountains for several days with nothing more than a backpack and a friend or two. I already feel empowered just making that plan.

When you’re somewhere else, maybe where you don’t speak the language, you have to find a new rhythm. You pay attention to what other people are doing, and you mimick them. You make the unfamiliar familiar, or at least passably doable.

2. You Soak Up Positive Energy


There are places all around the world that are ancient and magical and full of amazing healing energy. I’ve been to a few, and I always feel whole and happy after being there. Also I think just the act of traveling makes you more open and receptive to that energy, so you soak it up like a sponge.

3. Your Faith in Humanity is Renewed


If you’ve gone though an issue that shakes your ability to trust and love, there’s nothing better than to realign everything than travel. You meet other people who have no agenda with you, who simply want to make your experience a wonderful one. The bonus that you sometimes make lifelong friends as a result. Even something as mundane as asking for directions or for a restaurant recommendation can teach you that people — most of them, anyway — are inherently good and want to help.

My trip to Italy may not be for several months, but my recent weekend in Idyllwild did the trick nearly as well. Being surrounded by mountains and nature and having great company made me realize that this, too, shall pass.

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