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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cons: Hell is other people, Jean-Paul Sartre said. I’m pretty sure he was talking about New York cabbies. Or Parisian waiters.
Why go anyway? The kindness of strangers is a remarkable thing. It can change the way you feel about a country, its people, its culture. Just watch your wallet, especially in Madrid.
Pros: “The soul cannot think without a picture,” Aristotle said. I don’t think he was talking specifically about digital photography or that goofy shot of you pretending to be Bullwinkle on a bus tour of Denali. But maybe.
Cons: Your friends may hate you. Watch as they examine the shots from your latest cruise or safari. Bubbles of envy will form as spittle at the corners of their mouths. It will gunk up their throats till they can barely breathe.
Why go anyway? See above.
A change of scenery
Pros: Travel offers new textures, fresh smells, a change in weather. In Seattle, sunlight trickles through a bistro window differently from the way it filters in London. All the escapism found in a good novel can be found first-hand in travel.
Cons: Yeah, at 400 times the price of the novel. By the way, ever awakened while traveling and not known where you were? I once called a front desk and asked: “Essentially, where am I?” The clerk said Room 511. “Thank you,” I said and hung up.
Why go anyway? Because you can go home again. Returning to your own bed, your own easy chair is a pretty good feeling all by itself. Just make sure you’re in the right house. In my ‘hood, they all look the same. At least that’s what I tell the cops.
Pros: Is there a better icon of family life than an SUV loaded with tents, beach balls and canoe paddles? Many of our fondest memories are made while on vacation, as children or as parents.
Cons: Happy Meals. Potty breaks. Car sickness. Vomit. Sartre got it wrong: Sometimes, hell is your own family.
Why go anyway? Your kids are going to wipe you out no matter what, physically and fiscally. May as well be some place where a waiter will bring you a margarita big enough to launch a cruise ship. Salud!
Pros: Sampling new cuisines is one of the most pleasurable parts of travel. Meals tend to be longer and more leisurely. Food is a portal to understanding a new culture.
Cons: In China, they eat sparrows, bones and all. In other parts of the world, silkworms, grasshoppers and nutria (rats the size of cats) are popular. Gator is eaten in parts of the U.S. South. Tastes like ... nutria.
Why go anyway? Remember all those flaccid meals they used to serve on airplanes? Now, they serve them in midpriced U.S. restaurants. Honestly, how many times can you eat a skinless chicken breast with a side of mixed veggies?
Pros: Travel is incandescent. It’s the clink of a cocktail glass in a romantic restaurant, the chirp of a calliope atop a riverboat, the sound of your footsteps in Westminster Abbey.
Cons: Travel can be exhausting. As they say, nobody needs a vacation as much as the person who just returned from one.
Why go anyway? On your deathbed, do you really expect to say: “You know, I really wish I’d stayed home more”?