Last weekend, I had the fortunate opportunity of traveling ALONE to the wonderful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since this was my first time in a big city by myself, I took advantage of every unique opportunity to explore all the offerings of this city. So what does this have to do with health and wellness? A lot! When I started thinking about how amazing I felt after my trip, I realized that the reasons aligned with the 8 Dimensions of Wellness that we try to promote here at Student Wellness.
When you travel—even to other places in the U.S.–you have the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in a new culture. While I was in Minneapolis, I looked at some wonderful local, national, global, and historic art at 3 different museums! I was so amazed at this city’s dedication and appreciation for the arts, especially their emphasis on spreading it to younger people. I stumbled across so many art programs and theatres specifically targeted to children, and I myself, participated in a program to get discounted tickets to watch “Othello” at the Guthrie Theatre. The cultural exploration didn’t stop there. I wandered over to Eat Street for an authentic ethnic food experience, learned about the large Somali community, and talked to several locals who taught me about their local culture and appreciation for the cold weather which manifests as massive winter festivals, dog sled races, and ice sculpting!
Traveling is truly an escape. You get to set aside your daily responsibilities and have some “me time.” This could involve relaxation or exploration or both (relaxploration!). Regardless, you only have to deal with one schedule – your own. You get to do whatever you want, in your own time. This is a great stress relief! In addition to stress relief, some studies show that anticipating upcoming travel correlates to happiness and that time spent alone can “ward off depression in young people.”
I did a great deal of relaxploration. I had to accept that I was in a new city surrounded by people who call it home. I became very comfortable asking for help and suggestions of things to do. I found the perfect spot on a bridge over the Mississippi River and watched the river peacefully float beneath me. I walked around Lake Calhoun and the Lake of the Isles and sipped some coffee at JJ’s Coffee and Wine Bistro while gazing out at Lake Calhoun. During all of this relaxploration, I took some time to clear my head, people-watch, and relax. When I returned to North Carolina, I noticed that I felt less overwhelmed. In fact, one study found that “after only a day or two [from returning from vacation], 89% of respondents saw significant drops in stress.”
I immersed myself in a completely new environment! I was so pleased at the built environment of Minneapolis. They’ve got a great understanding of how to integrate urbanism with nature. In fact, urban parks are sprinkled throughout the city! Their transportation network is efficient, affordable, and very connected. I was able to travel across large spaces for a very small price. I also learned that environmental racism exists in Minneapolis, as it does in Chapel Hill, and affects the Somali neighborhoods disproportionately.
I set myself a financial goal and monetary limit before I left; I told myself that I was going to try to spend the LEAST amount of money to do most everything I wanted to do. I succeeded! It’s very easy to be responsible and frugal while traveling as long as you set your own limits and stick to them. However, I want to acknowledge that the actual act of getting to your destination can be costly. Fortunately, our campus offers several means of funding transportation to our destinations such as:
Graduate and Professional Student Federation
The Office of Scholarships and Student Aid
The Center for Global Initiatives *added* (Thanks Priyanka!)
I made a “to-do” list before I left and constantly added and crossed off items as I was relaxploring. Others have noted that “having a ‘to-do’ list and crossing things off that list keeps you motivated and positive.” I definitely felt feelings of accomplishment and success! As a goal oriented person, this was a great way to work on my intellectual wellness while traveling. I also had the opportunity to visit the University of Minnesota and see if their graduate program was good fit for me.
I walked around….a lot. Although the public transportation was very efficient, I wanted to explore the city on foot too. While traveling, you can easily walk 7-10 miles in a day and not even realize it! These physical benefits last even after travel. According to one study, “travelers experience a 25% increase in performance on vigilance tests after returning from vacation.” (Vigilance tests refer to responding quickly to visual stimuli.) Traveling has great physical benefits before and after, but make sure you stay hydrated!
I connected with some people – prospective students, locals, and other travelers. Traveling is great way to meet new people. Especially if you’re alone—traveling forces you to come out of your shell. So if you go to a coffee shop, a local bar/restaurant, or take a bus or train ride, chat with your neighbors. Social interaction is incredibly important. In fact, it is linked to improved cognitive function and decreased levels of stress hormones! Just like physical wellness, social wellness benefits last long after you return from travels. In fact, 53% of employed Americans reported that they feel more reconnected with family members after a vacation.
My spiritual wellness and emotional wellness are intertwined: if I feel emotionally well, then I feel spiritually well, and vice versa. My exploration in these two areas often involve nature, and I got my fill of nature while laying out in the sun and walking around Lake Calhoun. However, looking back, there are other elements of spirituality that I practiced during my travels. One of them is patience. Traveling involves a lot of waiting, and I had to practice staying calm if I was waiting for a bus and had no clue when it was arriving. I also had to be one with my ‘Go with the Flow’ self. The unexpected will happen, and you have to keep an open mind and be flexible to have room for changing plans. This may involve not being able to cross-off all of those items on your ‘to-do’ list…and being okay with that! Traveling allows you to “cultivate mindfulness,” especially whilst traveling alone. You have the opportunity to be present in the moment and focus your attention on taking in your new surroundings. Finally, traveling gives you the “time for reflection and introspection,” and I did a great bit of thinking about what I wanted the next three years of my life to look like.
All of this to say…. I had a wonderful trip. I knew I was having a great time, but it wasn’t until I went back and really thought about everything that I did that I saw how perfectly in tune they were with the wellness dimensions. I hope this encourages you to make some plans for Summer Vacation…get out there and travel!
Los Angeles Times
North Carolina Environmental Justice Network