We need to rediscover the joy and art of travel
“Magique” was the word that came to mind when we arrived at the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. I vividly remember that as the train swirled into this mystical landscape, it felt like I was passing into a timeless realm from a fairytale. It was a misty day, but as far as my eyes could see there were rows of majestic mountains covered with verdant evergreens, cozy wooden chalets adorned with cascading blooms, and dainty wildflowers scattered across lush alpine meadows. Glacial waterfalls gushed from steep mountaintops, etching swirling rivers. My body and soul were awash with peacefulness. To this day, I still long to experience that feeling again.
Ludovico Einaudi, a world-class pianist and composer, has explained how following the same alpine path on seven different days inspired him to compose his latest album “Seven Days Walking.” Each day followed the same wintry route, yet the experience was kaleidoscopic, unfolding each time with unique stirrings and reflections, and revealing new details — the reflection of the full moon on snow, tracks left behind by foxes, the view from the summit, getting lost in the mist, and dancing golden butterflies. Such dreamy moments are captured in his gentle, sublime music.
Traveling, in short, can be a transformative, healing, and amusing experience. Not only that, but there is abundant research that shows it can also improve our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. A 2018 study concluded that even a four-day holiday left travelers well-rested, less anxious, and in a better mood for weeks afterward. Additionally, a good vacation allows us to expand our minds and horizons, leading us to reconnect with ourselves and making us more creative and productive at work. Holidays are also a great way to strengthen relationships with loved ones.
I find the best way to maximize the enjoyment of vacations is to be mindful of the “art of travel.” This understanding allows us to design joyful vacations that will have lasting, positive effects on our lives. First, it is a good idea to have a vision board for dream vacations. Peruse the gorgeous pictures on Pinterest, magazines, travel sites and blogs as your imagination slowly creates a vibrant collage. Studies have found that we enjoy an experience more when we wait for it, because we create detailed mental simulations that tickle our fancies and tantalize us with exciting possibilities.
The most important decision to make regarding a vacation is picking the destination. Where that will be depends entirely on the kind of experiences you want to have. In his recently published book, “Time And How To Spend It,” author James Wallman encourages readers to choose experiences that spark stories, which will put you in an animated, connective mood. Such experiences could be based on a host of fascinating personal interests, such as adventure, culture, history, food, fitness, literature, or nature.
Spending time in nature can alleviate stress, boost our immunity, accelerate recovery from illness, and improve our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Additionally, holidays are most memorable when they help us reconnect with our inner selves. Transformative experiences expand our sense of self and push us to the edges of what we are capable of doing, ultimately making us feel good about ourselves. Think of volunteering trips, hiking challenges, or even wellbeing retreats.
Spending time in nature can also alleviate stress, boost our immunity, accelerate recovery from illness, and improve our mental and emotional wellbeing. Some awe-inspiring nature experiences that I can think of include going on a cruise on the majestic Norwegian fjords, witnessing the dancing Northern Lights from your own glass igloo in Lapland, forest bathing in Japan, or entering the astonishing blue glacial caves in Iceland. Experiencing the universe’s expansiveness diminishes our egos and frivolity, leading us to a more transcendental existence.
One of the best ways to enjoy your vacations is to savor the daily pleasures. Since we are so often exposed to FOMO (fear of missing out), I urge you to embrace JOMO, or the joy of missing out. Free yourself from the pressures of checking off a bucket list and racing around common tourist attractions. Instead, carve small bundles of joy throughout your holiday stay and take time to savor what you’re seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, and tasting. How does a morning at an art gallery or an afternoon tea whilst reading a book sound to you?
Designing these unique experiences while traveling can prolong our joy and help us keep vivid memories of them. When we do new things, our brain creates new pathways to store these memories, as opposed to repeatedly experiencing similar events, says time and productivity expert Laura Vanderkam. Though I love spending time by the beach, my recent trip to the Maldives was spellbinding. Even before we reached the airport, the breathtaking views of the scattered powdery islands amidst the glittering turquoise ocean was enough to get me excited about my upcoming stay. And I was not disappointed. Over three days, our tropical paradise captivated us with its endless azure waters and sugary white sands, the peachy yellow sunset that looked like a spilled watercolor painting, and the countless diamond stars that dotted the midnight sky.
Holidays are gifts to yourself that keep giving back in every beautifully possible way. So keep them frequent and unique.
• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.