In my early 20s, I went through one of those life-altering breakups. The kind that shakes you to your bones makes you question everything and leaves you feeling lost. I was afraid of starting over, nervous about letting go, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get out of my head. So when an email landed in my inbox offering a significant discount on a trip to Puerto Rico… I took the bait.
While nursing my broken heart, I spent a long weekend exploring the rainforest, sleeping in, lying on the beach in the sunshine, meeting strangers and having meaningful conversations. Gradually, I felt more like myself, and those wounds began to heal. This experience ignited my ongoing pursuit of new cultures and destinations, including an 18-month trip around the world.
Today, I’m married to a wonderful Danish man and expecting my first baby, but travel is still a way to get out of my head into reality and improve my confidence.
Meet the Experts
Susan Zinn is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of Westside Counseling Center.
Dr. Yvonne Thomas is a psychologist.
Dr. Bethany Cook is a clinical psychologist and author.
Ivan Smirnov is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Elude.
If you’re going through a difficult period following the end of a relationship, a trip could be the medicine you need to move forward. Here, we spoke with mental health experts and folks who have traveled post-breakup on the benefits of jet-setting.
It builds your self-esteem.
When someone says ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ or ‘you’re just not the right person for me’ — or something else hurtful, it’s tough not to feel the blow to your confidence. Most of us are guilty of taking all comments personally, particularly from those we care about. However, to meet someone new or to just feel better, we need to spend time working on our sense of self.
Travel can make you feel empowered amidst a post-breakup, building your self-esteem to know that you do not need someone else to fill up your life, says Susan Zinn, a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of Westside Counseling Center. “Travel allows you to explore new parts of yourself, so consider excursions or group trips that may have been on your bucket list,” she continues. “Taking yourself on vacation and dating yourself can help remind you how amazing you are. Relationships are choices, not necessities, to define you or fill you up.”
It gives you time away to process the loss.
Regardless of whether your relationship fell apart gradually or seemingly overnight, it’s a loss like any other. And it requires grieving. Unfortunately, that can be difficult to do when you keep the same routine and stick to the same environment. Traveling, however, allows you to get away from it all, providing physical and mental space to process how you’re feeling, says psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas. “Having the chance to get away from chronic reminders of the breakup or of the ex-significant other can help you see the situation from an outside perspective, increasing your objectivity and clarity,” she continues. “This can also help decrease tunnel-vision views that are overly negative or involve ‘all-or-nothing.’”
It gets you out of your usual routine.
Similarly, hopping on a flight pushes you to step away from what’s familiar to seek what’s different. Why is this important? Often when we’re going through a break-up, we romanticize the relationship, believing it was better or happier than it truly was in reality. This is because our brains are wired to notice and be attracted to the ‘familiar’ for survival reasons, explains clinical psychologist and author Dr. Bethany Cook. “After you break up with someone, life can feel ‘off’ as you notice all the ‘empty’ spaces this individual used to fill,” she continues. “It’s hard to move on — even from toxic relationships — because your brain is fighting its own DNA, which yearns for familiar and predictable.”
When we take ourselves out of our status quo, it forces our brains to shift cognitive lanes from ‘daily routines’ to ‘vacation mode.’ “The shift in behavior forces your brain to “wake up” and pay attention to daily changes since life’s no longer predictable,” says Dr. Cook. “Once home, the mind will have an easier time moving on.”
It makes you feel connected to something bigger.
In August 2020, Ivan Smirnov, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Elude, went through a difficult breakup. This was following several months of lockdown in his tiny studio apartment in San Francisco, which contained so many memories of his relationship. He knew he needed an escape, but air travel was completely locked down due to the pandemic. So, he ended up taking an 800-mile road trip to Portland, Oregon, and back for a week. It not only helped him grow his company but also bounce back emotionally, too.
Part of that was getting out of his head — and realizing there is so much more to the world than our immediate surroundings and communities. “By experiencing different cultures, you learn more about other people and what connects us all. These experiences help to engage the mind, which is a crucial step in swimming out from the depths of heartbreak as we remember to enjoy the good parts of life,” he shares.
It jumpstarts communication.
Dr. Cook says, whether journeying to a remote hut in the woods or going to a hot spot in the sun, travel forces us to talk to strangers. And though this might not seem like such a big deal, having conversations with other people, mainly those you don’t know, is beneficial for your healing. As Dr. Cook explains, it’s human nature to fall into specific communication styles with a partner. And regardless of whether the communication style was toxic or not, travel offers many opportunities to brush up on new conversation skills. “It’s also a great place to practice skills like setting boundaries or saying no/yes,” she adds.
It forces you out of your comfort zone.
Nicole Cueto from The Cuban Carrie was supposed to go to Paris with her boyfriend. He told her it was his favorite place, and he wanted to share that special experience with her. But he broke up with her just a few weeks before they were supposed to go. However, she decided to go anyway… alone. “It was sad, but it was incredible at the same time,” she continues. “I did things on my time. Absorbed. Observed. Met people. Experienced it in such a different way and realized I didn’t need him to go and have a special time.”
By pushing it out of your comfort zone, it helps you forget your pain — or even reevaluating whether or not that pain is even worth suffering for.
“It breaks you from your regular routine, it removes you from your everyday world, allowing you to experience life from a different perspective, ultimately helping you find yourself again, that person you may have lost during your relationship,” she adds.
It teaches you that endings don’t always have to be sad.
Remember, traveling won’t magically make your heartbreak go away, Zinn says. No matter where you go or what you do, you will still have to heal from the pain of ending your relationship.
However, traveling post-breakup can teach you that endings do not have to be only sad — and that’s an important lesson to learn when you’re in over your head.
“We are complex humans, and we can hold more than one emotion at a time. There can also be joy, adventure, fun, and, most importantly, life again,” she says. “It is an ending, but it is also an opportunity for a new beginning. While heartbreaks are painful, they are also an invitation to learn more about ourselves and deepen our most important relationship — with ourselves.”
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