For the past several years, I have been writing about adventure topics for the Good Nature Travel blog, on everything from the merits of bumpy roads to tracking devices on narwhals. From my own thoughts on adventure to the latest scientific research, we’ve covered a lot of ground together.
Looking over all of these articles since my first appeared here on February 9, 2010, I realize that one theme keeps showing up: adventure travel is simply good for you. So I’ve compiled a Top 10 list of the reasons why.
While there are several physical health benefits to adventure travel (see nos. 1, 2 and 3, below), the advantages for your mental wellness are just as impressive (nos. 4, 5 and 6). Too, adventure travel can enlighten your soul (nos. 7 and 8 ) and even help save the world (nos. 9 and 10).
Can you think of anything else that can do all that?
1) When you get dirty, you improve your physical health.
Scientists have recently reported that our modern obsession with cleanliness might be leading to a rise in allergies, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. Getting dirty could just be the best path to developing a strong immune system. Going on adventures means getting dirty—and healthier.
2) Outdoor activities can prevent (or treat) a wide range of health problems.
Doctors around the country are now handing out “park prescriptions” for conditions ranging from heart disease to obesity to attention deficit disorder. Adventure travel takes park prescriptions to the next level.
3) There are no age limits on adventure.
Anyone can make nature a playground. Adventure travel is an activity you can stick with for life.
4) Take a hike, get a bigger brain.
Research indicates that hiking or walking grows brains. Typically, your hippocampus gets smaller once you hit your mid 50s, leading to memory loss. But a group of middle-aged adults that took three, 40-minute walks a week for a year grew their hippocampi, on average, by 2 percent, which could improve their retention for years. Hiking adventures will keep you mentally sharp.
5) Going on adventures raises your tolerance for uncertainty.
Placing yourself in situations where things don’t always go as planned—such as on an adventure trip—helps you learn to cope with the uncertainties in life. And there is no shortage of those.
6) Adventure travel lets you safely “try on” alternate lives.
One of the best things about embarking on an adventure is that you can shed your familiar skin for a while and pretend to be anything you want to be—before you take a drastic and permanent step. Who would you be if you lived there?
7) Going on adventures fosters reflectiveness, a mental skill often in short supply today.
Adventures give us pleasant memories, which we often bring back to the forefront of our minds for reminiscing. This means that our journeys “marinate” awhile, an especially valuable exercise these days when we’re all so perpetually busy that most of what we do passes by in a flash and is gone forever—without having any real meaning attached to it. But reliving our adventures again and again allows us the time—and capability—to learn something from them.
8 ) Adventure travel feeds your dreams and builds your confidence.
The editor of National Geographic Traveler Magazine once suggested that the “Cycle of Travel” went like this: 1) dream, 2) plan, 3) go, 4) share. But no matter how many steps it takes to get there, the one thing that’s certain about traveling to spectacular nature spots is that it soon becomes addictive. Experiencing one wilderness just doesn’t seem to be enough; your soul quickly calls for more. And each time you go, you find yourself changing. Adventures build your confidence; and with each successive one, you challenge yourself just a little bit more. I would add a fifth step to the Travel Cycle: dream bigger.
9) Adventure experiences remedy a societal ill: loss of adventurous children and the extinguishing of wanderlust.
Today, the United States is facing what some have described as an epidemic: the loss of the adventurous childhood. The Outdoor Foundation reports that youth participation in outside activities has declined for three straight years. And when parents overschedule kids and insist on being involved in every one of their activities—when they become “helicopter parents”—they kill a child’s desire to explore. The spark for wanderlust goes out, permanently.
10) Adventure travelers may be more important than ever for saving the world.
Some scientists warn that in nine years’ time (or less), global warming will become impossible to reverse, triggering accelerated climate change. If they’re right, a group of individuals within the general public is going to have to come forward and upgrade their environmental efforts, if the world is to survive. That select group of people just may turn out to be adventure travelers: those who typically venture beyond the envelope in the outdoors.
As Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,