Does Travel Have The Power To Heal Trauma?

Admittedly, trauma is a complicated and a vast subject. There are many forms of trauma, emotional and physical, and we cannot begin to say what works to heal one person will be impactful for another. However, there is a plethora of research on ways to heal trauma and I believe that travel in itself is a form of medicine and carries many of these modalities. Does travel have the power to heal trauma? Let’s discuss the ways…

First, what can cause trauma?

We often associate trauma with major life events – such as war, sexual misconduct, death of a loved one. The list goes on, and frankly – is extremely heart breaking to count the ways one will encounter acute trauma. However, we also experience trauma in our every day life, such as bullying, harassment, a car crash, birth of a child (and even much of parenthood, if you ask me!) as well as natural disasters, to name a few. Unfortunately, trauma is not rare. Studies show that 6 of every 10 men, and 5 of every 10 women experience at least one trauma in their lives.

Living and coping with trauma…

My work at Wild Hive is to utilize dance, music and a sense of adventure as a form of therapy. It has evolved into what is often referred to as somatic movement, where one experiences movement as a healing modality. Emphasizing our internal experience of the movement vs. the external appearance or the result. It can be extremely powerful and therapeutic.

I wholeheartedly believe that travel can be its own form of somatic experiencing. So, let’s unpack this.

Travel + Nature

I don’t know about you, when I travel I often find myself immersed in nature. Be it a national park, chasing waterfalls, hiking, visiting awe inspiring landmarks. Or, even spending time on water – the ocean, a river – via a kayak, paddle board, boat… There are numerous studies on the power of nature as a form of medicine. It’s undeniable that exposure to nature makes us feel better emotionally.

It’s not enough to simply see it – the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy has a motto: “the forest is the therapist”. And, this Yale study further explains the profound impact nature has on our wellbeing. It’s worth a read.

Nature promotes healing. Now, some might argue that you do not need to travel to spend time in the great outdoors. However, we do know that every day responsibilities make it more challenging to prioritize time outside. Carving out vacation days – whether it’s quick road trip or checking off a bucket list destination, is the perfect prescription for much-needed nature therapy.

Travel + Connection

Ooooh, what do I love more than travel and the shared human experience? Social support and connection is one of the ways we heal from trauma. Meeting strangers, while it may seem counterintuitive, oftentimes sparks safe space to share without feelings of being judged. And, even if you do not feel compelled to share your experiences, it takes you out of your head / ruminating thoughts, and every day environment. It shakes us up. You feel less isolated. There’s a renewed zest that often comes from travel and meeting people in other parts of the world, or simply outside of your bubble. It gives us perspective.

Part of my personal growth and healing has been practicing self-compassion when I experience a shame spiral. Kristin Neff is an incredible resource on this work and it’s so simple, yet profound. One of the three steps is understanding and reminding ourselves that we are not alone. This sensation is never amplified more than when I meet people during my travels.

Humans crave connection. And, while it might be unconventional – when we travel, we experience more meaningful bonds, even if short-lived. These can be life changing.

Travel + Physical Movement

The therapeutic benefits of physical movement are vast. Whether it’s physical or emotional health, to stress relief. Studies show that when we travel we are much more active than we tend to be in our daily lives. Walking, hiking, swimming. We hold the effects of trauma in our bodies, as mentioned earlier. Physical movement can improve neuroplasticity or brain health, restore our nervous system, and boost endorphins. All of these impact how we heal from trauma.

Not only is travel a stress reliever in itself, but rather than sitting in our office chair day in and day out – we are oftentimes much more physically active during travel giving us all of the catharsis as well as physical benefits, both invaluable for processing and healing trauma.

Travel + Non-Traditional Healing Modalities

Have you heard of stargazing therapy? Forest bathing, of course – as previously discussed. A yoga practice by the ocean, volunteering abroad is another form of healing therapy. There’s ocean and surf therapy. Thai massage. Pick your medicine.

You’ve heard me say it time and time again – travel is not a luxury, rather an essential part of our health and wellbeing.

While our trauma will always be a part of us, we can have the courage to work on our healing…and there is no better way than to travel, with intention and meaning. In my opinion, travel is a form of somatic therapy. It’s embodied, an internal journey, emphasizing the intangible rather than how something appears, touches every human sense, wakes up every cell in our bodies and has the power to change our lives, forever.

Mollie Krengel

Mollie Krengel