Why go on vacation?

May this Waikiki sunset motivate you to get out of town -- before you turn into a Dilbert cartoon. (Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times)

Gulliver traveled. Look where it got him: lashed to the land by little people. Columbus, big traveler, right? Underestimated the circumference of the Earth and died thinking he'd found India. Sure, you can come up with justifications for never leaving the splendid safety of your office chair. Truth is, travel makes us better in many ways: better employees, better buddies, better mates. So, no, in these tough times, you probably don't feel the need to spend the money. But here's why we all should escape somewhere anyway:

The anticipation

Pros: A vacation begins the second you start to plan it. A study last year found that travelers' moods improved eight weeks before the actual vacation started.

Cons: Running out of toner the second you try to print your boarding pass. Trying to remember where you put the digital luggage scale. Rushing out to buy batteries for the digital luggage scale.

Why go anyway? Because the pleasure of pre-trip anticipation is almost sexual. It's why December is better than January. It's why puppies are more joyful than dogs.

The romance

Pros: Lonely? Get your booty to St. Lucie. There's nothing like a big, beachy drink to jump-start your love life. Studies show we have more sex on vacation. Whose study? Mine.

Cons: Heartbreak. Disease. Liver failure. Excessive drinking while on vacation can lead to inadvisable hook-ups. Or even marriage.

Why go anyway? Sun. Surf. Wet skin. Diving in. Good snow. Moon glow. Fresh faces. Love in strange places.

Mental health benefits

Pros: Look at your coworkers sleepwalking through their day. Know exactly what time they dine or head to the loo? Look, Dilbert, escape before you do something crazy. Escape now — before you become a cartoon.

Cons: Finding your way around a congested new city can make you nuts. A lousy hotel room can be a sinkhole of the human spirit. I once ordered a martini in Paris that tasted like dog spit. (This has nothing to do with mental health — I just like saying dog spit.)

Why go anyway? You know that moment your fanny hits the plane seat? Or you pull out of the driveway with a full tank of gas? It's freedom. It's conquest. It's you, Steve McQueen, on your great escape. You, the cooler king.

The adventures

Pros: What if Hemingway had never left Oak Park, Ill.? The physical challenges of travel give us fodder for our own stories about the world, some of them epic.

Cons: Death is such a drag sometimes. Imagine the crystalline splendor of being frozen to death atop a mountain, your body missing till the bears find it come spring. In 100 years, Cub Scouts could be camping on you.

Why go anyway? I once saved a man's life on a raft trip on the Upper Kern. Later, he bought me a beer.

The conversations

Pros: Sometimes the lilt of a new language can distance you from the worries back home. Then there are the stories, the humor, the handshakes. Travel is an education, and it all starts with chatting up the locals.