A plane ticket in front of a window overlooking an airport runway at sunset

Is Change Really as Good as a Holiday?

Another dinner for another dear friend who is leaving this city. This one has booked a one-way ticket and is leaving indefinitely. Lately, I’ve been part of many discussions about European summers and six-month sabbaticals. Seated opposite the enthusiastic future-traveller, I nod and smile and tell them that I agree, it is about time. Inside though, I envy their sojourns, and my feet are the itchiest they’ve ever been. But the reality is that any break I take this year is financially and temporally bound to two weeks, max, and, I fear, may not involve an aeroplane. I recognise this itself is a luxury; some people might not have access to even two weeks. Regardless, I have learned there are ways you can satiate your travel itch without having to go too far or spend all that much.

It’s not just experiences overseas that can invigorate us

When my sister calls a third time, I decide I’d better answer. I am ill-prepared for a video call (in that I am lying in bed, trying to sleep off a flu-y bug), but even so I’m startled by the image that fills my screen. “Surprise!” she says. She is visibly glowing. Some might go as far as to say, elated. “I was sitting there looking at myself in the mirror and thought if not now, then when?” she says, beaming proudly. Her freshly cut hair bounces above her shoulders. “They must have taken off 10cm!”, I reply. She says she is going to take this brand-new feeling out to celebrate.

Two days later, I’m leaning against the deli’s bench, watching my sister roll a porchetta for lunch service. I can feel the cool edge of the metal through my jeans. (The past few weeks of 13-degree maximums has rendered every surface intolerable to touch. I have pleaded with our landlord to repair the heating system, but my attempts are met with a stubborn automated reply advising that, you guessed it, he is overseas right now.) I probe my sister about the first week of her new hairdo. She says that even though everyone she encounters is a stranger who didn’t know her hair before, she feels brand new to them all the same. She goes on to explain that this ‘brand new’ feeling has also shifted the way she experiences the mundane places she frequents, like the market, exercise class, her children’s kindergarten.

“It’s true what they say”, she says. I look up at her and cock my head. She has one piece of string in her mouth, the other wrapped around her finger which she pulls to tie off the pork. “Change is as good as a holiday.”

Holidays and travel are about bringing wonderment and curiosity into the every day

Reflecting on her words later, I recall an average Tuesday in May, when my partner dropped a pin and requested I meet him there at 6.15pm sharp. I was told to wear smart, comfortable footwear and a warm layer. I walked to this spot, a rotunda in a garden not far from where I live, excited and curious about what was to come. When I arrived, he told me that this evening we would be travelling to Japan.

What followed was a series of authentic Japanese activities, foods and drinks that teleported me back to my trip five years ago. I had no idea these restaurants, bars and bathhouses existed within the 5km radius of where I slept every night. Throughout the evening and in the week that followed, I experienced the sense of awe and enchantment I remember past trips arousing in me; a sense of wonderment about the glimpse I’d had into how others live their daily lives. In hindsight, this echoed my sister’s words about a change from our regular routine or status quo being as restorative as a trip far from home.

Change gives our brain a boost by offering new stimulation

According to Paul Nussbaum, a neurophysiologist and professor at the university of Pittsburgh, our brain thrives when we engage in something novel. Travel disrupts routines and rote behaviours by forcing us to respond to unfamiliar environments and situations. Humans preserve precious energy by doing tasks in the same or similar ways, so, naturally, we are programmed to be creatures of habit.

However, too much routine is not beneficial to brain health. If you do not unshackle yourself from your life’s structure occasionally, you become disillusioned with that life. Unshackling does not necessarily mean a trip to Tullamarine Airport, a period off work and dipping into one’s savings. Unshackling from your routine can happen this evening if you allow it. What is essential to the process is active and critical engagement, immersion and adaption in the environment. Bringing a curious, open attitude to the new area and situation you place yourself in.

Little individual changes to our weekly routine add up

So, if seemingly all your friends are, like mine, jetting off and are enthusiastic in telling you about it (as they ought to be), and you find yourself sick and tired of the same four walls, the same suburban street, the same lunch in the same Tupperware container, but can’t get away right now – then it’s worth inviting change. Just like a holiday, conscious change that we mindfully appreciate can offer us a break from our daily grind, and is also important in preventing burnout (which is discussed more in our previous blog post here).

Here are some ways you can enjoy the restorative benefits of a holiday via implementing small changes in your everyday:

  • Re-arrange your living/workspace
  • Try a recipe you’ve never tackled, or put together a picnic based on a particular cuisine
  • Go through with that hairstyle you’ve always flirted with
  • Visit a restaurant you’ve never been to (bonus points if it’s located in/centres around a different culture or language than you are familiar with)
  • Travel by public transport across town to an event, bar or restaurant, and really notice all the people, events, and small details that you pass along the way
  • Organise a meal out with someone you have only ever been in a group with, never one-on-one, someone like your brother-in-law or your best friend’s partner – this one is a challenge but enjoys many benefits!
  • Be spontaneous; be a tourist in your own city and take advantage of the free events offered, like visiting gardens or walking tours
  • Buy tickets to the theatre or a gig
  • Try out a new style of clothing, or dress up fancy just for the fun of it
  • Go for a long drive or walk somewhere beautiful with no strict itinerary and see where your curiosity leads you

You can read more about the benefits of changing your daily routine here, and more ideas to for what to change here.