by Dr. Alya Al Midfa
  • 3 minute read
  • May 30, 2022
Psychiatrist Dr. Alya Al Midfa Shares How Travelling Contributes To Mental Wellbeing

For some, travel is much more than escaping the blazing summer heat for cooler weather and navigating crowded souvenir shops. It’s an insatiable feeling of wanderlust, and a call to leave behind the monotony of daily life and explore the world differently.

One of my favourite descriptions of the word is by writer Pico Iyer: “Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we’re mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity, and ready to be transformed.” Along with the obvious benefits of taking a break to recharge and reduce burnout, travelling contributes invaluably to our journey of wellness, self-exploration, and growth.

To travel is to cultivate the ‘openness’ trait of our personalities, which helps us become more receptive to other people and new perspectives. We learn to appreciate how they live, and their unique customs and traditions. This piques our imagination and curiosity and fine-tunes our world views.

Immersing ourselves in different cultures and experiences also helps us confront preconceived notions about the world, broadening our intellectual horizons. No matter how much we plan, we’re bound to face unexpected events when travelling, whether it’s missing a flight, losing personal items, or getting lost. Travel helps us become more resilient and adaptable when things deviate from our usual routine.

It paves the way for us to slow down so we can reflect more on our lives, and re-examine our priorities, personal goals, and interests. When we’re accustomed to a certain place and always surrounded by familiar people, we fulfil certain roles both personally and professionally. We start to identify ourselves with defined roles and often allow them to be our only identity—‘I’m a mother’, ‘I’m a lawyer’, or ‘I’m an athlete’, for instance.

The truth is that we’re multifaceted individuals who are constantly evolving and have multiple dimensions and layers within us. Travelling and stepping out of our comfort zone allow us to move beyond these restrictive roles and see ourselves in a new light.

“To travel is to cultivate the ‘openness’ trait of our personalities, which helps us become more receptive to other people and new perspectives.”

Remembering memorable moments where we felt most present during travel helps us identify our values and hold onto aspects of an adventure long after we experienced it. For example, if our favourite visit was a meditation retreat in the Alps, we can find ways to recreate that feeling of calm in our daily lives. If we enjoyed a humanitarian trip in Africa, perhaps we can channel our learnings into valuing the role of community in our place of residence.

Lucky for us, travel doesn’t necessarily have to involve getting on a plane to a far-flung, bucket-list destination. Emily Thomas offers a fresh perspective in her book The Meaning of Travel. “Travel is the experience of otherness,” she says. It’s a curiosity for the foreign and longing for a different state of being, and it’s as much psychological as it’s geographical.

With this in mind, it’s possible to recreate this sense of unfamiliarity and novelty without physically hopping on a plane. It can be achieved by discovering a different part of our city, visiting local museums, exploring a new cuisine or genre of music, getting lost in a book about a subject we’re unfamiliar with, or reading memoirs of avid travellers.

Other ways to experience the essence of travel from our homes includes taking virtual tours to cultural spaces like the Louvre in Paris or The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, booking a virtual live guided tour of a city we’ve never been to, and listening to one of the many travel podcasts available. This way, we can incorporate ‘otherness’ into our lives, so that we can feel replenished, renewed, and inspired every day.

Dr. Alya Al Midfa is a specialist psychiatrist from Abu Dhabi and a new mom to a beautiful baby girl. Currently, she’s studying at King’s College London to specialise in Clinical Neuropsychiatry. She’s passionate about raising mental health awareness and has been a speaker at a number of events for this cause. In her free time, she enjoys travelling, going on road trips, and listening to podcasts. Follow @Alya.almidfa on Instagram

Image courtesy of Dr. Alya Al Midfa

Next In