Why Less Travel Might Actually Make You Happier

Exploring three unconventional books on happiness that actually point to LESS travel, not more!

Using my travel blog to discuss why we should all travel less might be a heresy, if not downright hypocritical. Chalk it up to depravity. However, there might be support for my radicalism. I’ve recruited three of my favorite books to make the case for why we may actually get more happiness out of less travel. Think I’m completely wrong? Tell me why in the comment section.

1.) The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho

Required reading for world travelers, desk-chained pencil pushers, other forms of caged birds, and dreamers of any kind. “The Alchemist” is the quintessential book about following your dreams (and sometimes, why we shouldn’t). It’s a short read, but the kind of book that will have you folding every other page with dog ears because every chapter is a revelation.

This book makes the case for why people seek their own personal “treasure” and why others hold back. Many interpret this book as a call to travel. Yet I believe the message is about making our own decisions. At every point that Santiago decides to go forward, there are others that would’ve stayed, or even turned back. Not everyone’s paths are the same, and that’s OK.

2.) Moonwalking with Einstein

by Jonathan Safran Foer

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next–and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

I’ve used this quote before in a post about why traveling alone doesn’t take bravery. Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it can make it feel longer. Yet, what if we spent every moment of our lives on the road, looking for something exciting to anchor our lives with?

Those memories could blend together, just as pushing papers would. The moments we spend with our families back home – watching TV, having a home-cooked meal, sleeping in our childhood bed – would then become the rare experiences we cherish. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know light. And we can’t appreciate the joy of breaking away from our day-to-day if we never have one to begin with.

3.) Stumbling on Happiness

by Daniel Gilbert

“Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage.”

Unlike most literature on happiness, this is not a self-help book. Instead, it’s a simultaneously depressing and hopeful review of all the ways our brain deceives us into thinking we’re happy (or unhappy).

One of them is a phenomenon called habituation. Essentially, the more we do something we like, the less pleasure we get out of it. Gilbert points out that “human beings have discovered two devices that allow them to combat this tendency: variety and time” but we often combine the two to our demise. If we wait long enough to have the experience again, the pleasure we’d get is the same as the first time. We don’t need a variety if we have time.

As travelers, we often get caught up in our ‘buckets lists’ or how many countries we can say we’ve been to. We sometimes forget that the point of travel is not to pad our passports, but have fun. What right does a binge traveler have to judge someone who spends their two precious weeks of vacation a year going somewhere they’ve been before (and know they enjoy) if they’re going to get the most pleasure out of it?

Why Less Travel May Mean More Happiness

(Bonus) The Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster

I’m including this as a bonus because it doesn’t have anything to do with happiness or even travel. However, it does have everything to do with the way we look at our lives.

Before you brush this one off, “The Phantom Tollbooth” is more profound than your average children’s book. The moral of the story is in the last 2 paragraphs. If you own the book, you can flip to the back and read it yourself.

If you can’t be bothered to go dig it up, I’ve also included the text here. SKIP TO THE NEXT BOLDED PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT A SPOILER!

And, in the very room in which he sat, there were books that could take you anywhere, and things to invent, and make, and build, and break, and all the puzzle and excitement of everything he didn’t know—music to play, songs to sing, and worlds to imagine and then someday make real. His thoughts darted eagerly about as everything looked new—and worth trying.

“Well, I would like to make another trip,” he said, jumping to his feet; “but I really don’t know when I’ll have the time. There’s just so much to do right here.”

Disagree with my interpretation of these books? Think I’m wrong about the relationship between less travel and more happiness? Let me have it in the comment section!

24 thoughts on “Why Less Travel Might Actually Make You Happier

    • Steph says:

      Haha, and that’s totally OK! Like I said, it’s to each their own. While I’m a long-term traveler, I think it makes just as much sense for people to be happier traveling less, and there’s science to back that up. I think many people who are long-term travelers scoff at those who only take shorter trips, but it doesn’t mean those people are necessarily unhappier or less satisfied with their life than we are. 🙂

  1. Nathan says:

    I’ve only ever read ‘The Alchemist’- I’ll have to check the others out. I know the dread of going home though. I guess maybe that’s why I haven’t yet. I started a six-month trip more than two and half years ago and I’m still going!

    • Steph says:

      Haha that’s incredible! I think it’s all perspective. 2 years might seem a long time to be away from home for one person, and not long enough for someone else. The point is to stick to what makes each of us happy!

  2. kayla says:

    Ive read a ccouple of those! Great books! Interested in ‘Stumbling on Happiness!’ .
    Im re-reading Shantaram at the moment but will put it on the list!

    • Steph says:

      I just read the synopsis for Shantaram and I think that one’s going on MY to-read list! I really liked ‘Stumbling on Happiness’. It’s not at all like those pseudo-scientific self-help books, this one actually explains the science of how your brain works in a fun, interesting, and easy-to-understand way. Let me know if you like it!

  3. Kerri says:

    Haven’t read any of these but my inspiration and happiness comes from within and usually not from following what others say or think. I agree completely with alternative views and that we shouldn’t follow one person’s thoughts which is why I usually leave it up to me to work through how I want to move through life.

    • Steph says:

      Sorry for the delayed response! No idea why this little gem was sent to the spam folder. I think you put it just marvelously. It’s up to you and you alone what you do with your life and what makes you happy! Thanks so much for reading Kerri!

    • Steph says:

      Woohoo! There’s nothing I love more than being able to pass on a great book recommendation. Would love to know what you think of them when you get around to it! 🙂

  4. Llamateurs says:

    Unfortuantely I didn’t read any of the books and heard only about Alchemist.I like the point of view about variety and time. That encouraged me to think more about it and I think I agree. Even if my motto is ‘The only constant is change’… 🙂 In my opinion if you change too much (for example travel to different places) in short periods of time you just get tired. So you need to rest. When you rest (everybody’s rest is different as well) too much you become tired. A circle. And everybody needs to find its own time when to change it. And there is no point of judging anybody for their choices. We are all different. Even if sometimes in the same way. Good post, made me think, thanks!

    • Steph says:

      I’m so glad to hear that! You’re absolutely right that the rate and variety of change and rest we need is different for everybody. No need to judge, we’re all just people trying to find happiness in this crazy world we live in 🙂

  5. eBaulaTravels says:

    Although I haven’t read any of these books yet, I agree that happiness comes from within and not from external conditions. I also wrote a blog about “happiness” and it’s not related to a geographical expedition. However, I do admire people who continuously explore the world and appreciate our magnificent planet. In the process, they also get to know about themselves more from their experiences.

    “Happy for No Reason” by Marci Shimoff is also a good read 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • Steph says:

      I’d love to see this blog! Could you send me a link? I love the idea of setting our happiness thermostat to a higher level like turning up the dial on a real thermostat. Thanks for recommending that book, I’ll definitely look into it!

  6. Heather Cole says:

    You’re right, travel isn’t about country bagging, it’s all about doing what makes you happy. Haven’t read these books yet but they sound like great reads for my next trip!

    • Steph says:

      Hahaha, I actually laughed out loud at “country bagging”—what a great term! I really enjoyed these books because they prompt you to think about what you’re doing and see the world in a whole new light. I’d love to know what you think about them when you get around to it!

  7. Juliette @ Snorkels To Snow says:

    I’m sorry to say I haven’t read any of these books! But have been looking for some inspiration so these might help 🙂 But there’s something to it – I agree less travel can make you happier. The more you travel the more unhappy you are when you end up either back home, or staying in one place for a long time.

    • Steph says:

      That’s an interesting point! I’ve definitely experienced some letdown getting home after months of traveling. I think the feeling depends on how long I’ve been gone, because I don’t have some the same comforts on the road as I do at home 🙂

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