(This article was originally published in Natural Awakenings Magazine of Central Florida December 2023 edition)
Thanks to the advent of the World Wide Web and social media, we humans are (in many ways) more connected than ever before. For the first time in the history of man, it’s easy to stay in touch with people you haven’t seen in decades, and possible to have “face-to-face” chats with friends and family members thousands of miles away.
These advances served us well during the pandemic (when the world shut down for months on end), as a large swath of the population suddenly transitioned into remote workers in place of an “un-quarantined” shared office environment.
Add to that an uptick in online shopping (which has replaced browsing through shopping malls with friends) and even grocery delivery services and, for some of us, there’s not much need to leave the house anymore.
While it appears (on the surface) that the world is more connected than ever before, there is a new growing trend that has medical experts concerned: LONELINESS.
According to the Surgeon General, “loneliness is more widespread today than any other major health issue in the United States.” The health ramifications of this “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” can increase the risk of premature death in ways similar to those who smoke daily. In fact, a recent study indicates that loneliness may increase the risk of stroke by 32%, and heart disease by as much as 29%.
In short, whether we realize it or not, many of us are CRAVING true connection, and this is something we are hard-pressed to find on a computer or telephone screen.
Not only are some of us depending heavily on social media for much of our community interaction (giving us fewer and fewer reasons to leave home), but too many have stopped living the adventure of life altogether; unconsciously choosing instead to live vicariously through others (something social media influencers have been capitalizing on now for years).
Some are making a living doing the living for others.
This disconnect is not only affecting us personally, at home and in our communities, but it's impacting us on a global scale.
I recently heard someone say, “Travel helps world peace,” because it’s hard to see the rest of the world as the “alien-other” when you start to see yourself as a citizen of the world (rather than just as a citizen of your home country).
According to William Chalmers, author of America’s Vacation Deficit Disorder, only 5% of Americans have ever been overseas. In a recent study published by Forbes Magazine, a whopping 11% of Americans have never left their home state!
We, sometimes, forget that these geographical boundary lines which divide us are not “real”. They are divisions created by man. Sadly, many of us have bought into these divisions, forgetting that (ultimately) we’re all connected. We are all brothers and sisters of a single human race.
Travel educates us. It expands our minds and opens our hearts. We start to recognize that we (humans) are more alike than we are different. Because, ultimately, we all seek the same things: safety, belonging, connection, and love.
Another growing trend (that has both positive and negative ramifications) is solo travel.
Yes, solo travel is empowering and liberating. When the decision is ours, alone, we don’t have to wait for a commitment from others to get out there and start living our adventures. We shouldn’t be afraid to venture out into the world and be at home wherever we are.
And, yet, just because you CAN travel alone doesn’t mean you WANT to nor that you HAVE to.
As one woman recently put it, “I’ve tried traveling solo, but I just don’t enjoy it.”
For some, traveling solo isn’t as fun as they thought it would be. Even with travel, there seems to be a growing desire to plug into a community of like-minded others.
This may be why small-group travel is becoming more and more popular.
Other reasons for the growing popularity of small group travel are shared (and therefore often lower) travel costs, increased safety, more relaxation, and less stress (someone else handles the details).
Just because we might be “single-and-loving-it”, divorcees, widows, and married men or women with spouses that don’t share our same wanderlust, it doesn’t mean we have to stay home and limit our travels to following others’ experiences in YouTube videos.
There are, also, couples who enjoy meeting new people, expanding their circle of friends, and sharing experiences with others.
Having just returned from escorting another small group on an overseas adventure, I’m reminded (once again) that what’s even better than the destination itself are the people we get to meet and the relationships that are formed along the way.
Everyone has their unique motivations for taking these trips.
Like the woman whose beloved, all too recently, passed away after a long battle with ALS. Since then, she’s joined us on several European river cruises and (each time) grows more outgoing and committed to living each moment, wholeheartedly. “Every minute is a gift,” she said, and her thirst for life is an inspiration.
Those sentiments were echoed by another woman who'd also lost her husband way too young and way too soon. On a journey they were supposed to have taken together (but hadn’t gotten the chance), it was an honor to help her make that trip happen in a way that allowed her to feel supported and, yet, still free enough to venture off on her own.
There are sweet couples celebrating their wedding anniversaries.
There are mothers and daughters; single women traveling with friends; best friends, old friends, and new friends.
Whatever the motivation and whatever the experience level, if it’s friendship, connection, and a life fully lived that you seek, there’s no reason you have to do any of it alone.
Perhaps it's time to get back out into the world and invite more connection. Let’s put ourselves in situations where we can meet new people, have new experiences, and feel deeper connections. Because what the world needs, now more than ever, are more expansive minds and open hearts. These are the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves, and to mankind. And travel is one beautiful way we can get there.
Life is a gift. And nothing is guaranteed.
Don't wait to live the life you could be living today.
Join us on an upcoming trip of a lifetime!