Do you suspect you miss travelling more than your friends and family do? You could be suffering from a condition called dromomania – literally an uncontrollable urge to walk or wander, also used by psychologists to describe travel addiction.
As borders close and airlines pause operations, many of us will handle the coronavirus travel lockdown with simple shrug of the shoulders and a wistful comment about waiting until this has all blown over. But how are ‘travel addicts’ adjusting to life in one place? Surely, anyone who defines themselves as a travel addict ought to get some perspective. Who’s going to be sympathetic to the poor travel blogger or Instagram ‘influencer’ who can no longer go on free luxury trips?
“There is a tendency to resent travel addicts and the well-travelled – or over-travelled – for their attitudes and behaviours,” says Dr Michael Brein, a Washington-based psychologist who specialises in travel psychology.
“Sympathy seems to depend on how ‘legitimate' people think the work is,” says California-based Valerie Stimac, a travel journalist and author for Lonely Planet whose travel blog Valerie & Valise (valisemag.com) has dropped about 90 per cent in traffic – as many such blogs have since the pandemic began. Stimac, a confessed travel addict, has noticed a backlash against social media influencers complaining that their income streams have dried-up. “For people who are just personally addicted to travel as a habit, I think most people seem to say ‘suck it up’ – we have to stay home to save lives,” says Stimac.
Brein says that travel is how some people most easily develop self-esteem and self-confidence. “A travel addict is one whose life is primarily driven by the need and presumed drive to continually experience the novelty and excitement of new places,” he says. “We all know people who seem to be on a continuous quest to travel more and more and, in rare cases, these travellers seem to be continuously moving about to new places.”
If you do suspect you are a dromomaniac, there are ways you can make the most of this down time. For those of us who make our livelihoods in the travel industry, for example, this is a critical time for learning new skills and building on your expertise, says Stimac. “This is the latest example in my own life of needing skills to build a sustainable career in the fast-moving tech-augmented travel industry,” she says. From website building, SEO and online promotion to photography, videography and editing, the list of digital skills required by the modern travel writer or blogger is immense.
“I’m trying to see the positives in this,” says Leon McCarron (leonmccarron.com), a writer, filmmaker and hiking trail designer from Northern Ireland, author of The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot through the Heart of the Middle East. McCarron was designing hiking trails in China at the time of the outbreak. “I’ve been telling everyone for three years now about how I’m going to write another book – I think this might finally be the time!”
McCarron admits that financially it will be a hard time; he hadn’t planned for months of no income and still has rent and overheads to pay. Does he consider himself to be a travel addict? “I haven’t been in the same place for more than two or three weeks in a decade, so I suppose that’s the answer,” he says.
Another thing that can help those with insatiable wanderlust is to continue to dream up future travel plans, says Keri Allan, who keeps a blog with five other writers called Ladies What Travel (ladieswhattravel.com). “Inspiration for future travels is really important for our mental health,” says Allan, currently on lockdown in the UK. “It's important for us to be able to make positive plans of things to look forward to when it's safe to travel again.”
In fact, a perceived need to travel creates the habit of always having at least one future trip on the horizon. “I find myself compulsively planning trips whenever I don't have one scheduled,” says Stimac. “Right now, I'm planning trips I cannot even book.”
Even after the restrictions ease, it will inevitably take time for the travel sector to fully recover – though travel addicts will be the first to dash to the departures gate.
“Travel media and influencers will lead the way as the bans start to lift, and then it will come on in earnest once people feel safe again,” says Stimac.
Dromomaniacs tend to be more risk-taking than the rest of us, adds Brein. “You may find travel addicts hole up and recuperate, rest and regenerate – as well as possibly earn and save some additional money – before choosing to revisit potentially more dangerous places,” he says.
“Airports will fill up again, though it might not be the very moment bans are lifted – we should be cautious to make sure the time is right,” says McCarron. “But people will always want to travel.”
How to know if you are a ‘travel addict’
Do you suffer from dromomania – or do you just like going on holiday? Here are some characteristics of people who are may be more likely to travel in excess in comparison with others, according to Brein:
– low fear or anxiety
– relatively higher risk-takers
– seek novelty
– more sociable and extrovert
– highly independent
– high energy
– pleasure-driven or hedonistic
– not comfort seekers
– already well travelled
– higher self-esteem, less driven by the need for recognition by others
– impulsive and spontaneous
– more emotional than intuitive