Travel Is Fun, but Travel Addiction Could be a Form of Escapism

Learn the scientific reasons why you may not be able to stop taking vacations.

By Amiah Taylor
Feb 15, 2024 7:00 PM
Woman traveling and waiting at an airport
(Credit: Maridav/Shutterstock)


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Humans have loved exploration throughout history. Travel has endless opportunities for commerce, trade, culinary delights, cultural education, or even just a fresh start.

The jet set lifestyle that is paraded on social media seems like pure bliss, from summering in Thailand one season and skiing in Switzerland the next. For many, this type of travel-fueled glamor appeals to the intrinsic human need for change, but for others, it could be a marker for mental health issues. Too much travel could exist.

Traveling to Escape Could be a Sign of Avoidance

Traveling at a frenetic pace and leaning into the frenzy of visiting country after country could be a form of escapism disguised as exploring exotic vacations.

Escapism is when a person relies on an activity or routine to distract them from everyday discomforts.

The desire to be nomadic and incessantly travel could signal that a person is hightailing it away from underlying problems they don’t want to address. Escapism comes in many forms like overeating, doom scrolling, dancing, partying, and some studies have even labeled continuously watching television as narrative transportation and mental escapism. Studies have also connected escapism to excessive gaming, gambling, and poor mental health.

Michael Brein, a social psychologist who specializes in travel and intercultural communication, believes escapists are more prone to the dromomaniac lifestyle, which is the need to wander and could be a form of overactivity.

“Travel can certainly appeal to people who don't want to come face to face and deal with difficult situations,” Brein says. “I think that since you’re very independent when you’re traveling, and you’re not having to deal with the interpersonal difficulties or troubled relationships that you might have back home, that’s a part of the draw.”

Read More: How to Get Over Jet Lag

Travel can be Addicting

As a reward system, addiction impacts the brain. When the pleasure circuits in the brain get overwhelmed, addiction naturally follows.

Dopamine – the “feel good” neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and memory – can flood the reward pathways in your brain 10 times more than usual when you use addictive substances like opioids, benzodiazepines, and cocaine. With overuse of drugs or overexposure to pleasure-producing stimuli, the reward circuitry in the brain adapts and becomes less sensitive to dopamine. Because of this increased tolerance, more of the addictive substance or behavior is needed to achieve similar, pleasurable results.

While travel isn’t a controlled substance, it can expose jetsetters to intense levels of beauty, which light up the brain’s dopamine-fueled reward network. The limbic reward system processes beauty and contains the brain’s pleasure-regulating reward circuit. The system holds the same potential to produce highs and lows in the eye of the beholder and reinforce the need for more.

“I’m not looking at traveling, in particular dromomania, as it’s described: as a particularly pathological thing that a lot of people do,” Brein says. “But it certainly can be addictive from the standpoint of constantly facing more and more novelty and getting the reward and satisfaction of being in a new situation.”

Read More: 5 Essential Neurotransmitters for Everyday Life

The Positive Side of Travel

Travel addiction could be a way for people to avoid their problems, but travel is also a way to explore, expand world views, and increase an appreciation for nature. Travel is liberatory and can expose adventurers in cultural diversity and create educational experiences.

“Being a successful traveler, it's very rewarding from a learning theory point of view,” Brein says. “And the quickest way to feel good about yourself is by traveling and meeting other people and sharing experiences […]. So that's very addictive. But overall, it's a very satisfying and positive kind of thing.”

Read More: Eco-minded Travel Tips From an Environmental Anthropologist

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