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  • Shelagh Hogan

Your Brain’s Response to Conscious Travel

You’ve just booked a trip.

Images of new places, people, and experiences flood your mind as your brain begins to anticipate adventure. The possibilities that the simple click of the “Booking” button to secure your participation in a trip can be absolutely exhilarating.


Why?


Because you’ve just gotten a dose of DOSE, my friend.


Your brain has just released a host of chemical messengers or DOSE hormones that are designed to make you feel good.



What are DOSE hormones and their benefits?


DOSE is an acronym to describe the brain’s main “happy” hormones:


Dopamine: a neurotransmitter designed to trigger your body’s pleasure and “reward” systems, which influence you to continue dopamine-releasing behaviors. Dopamine is essential for movement and motivation. It’s what drives you to fuel your body with fuel, exercise or play.


Oxytocin: Also known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is hormone which promotes bonding. Evolutionarily, it’s the hormone that triggers labor in pregnant persons, and bonding between mother and child. But it also promotes bonding between individuals and can be released through simple actions such as singing in a group, laughter and exercise.


Serotonin: A neurotransmitter that plays a huge role in mood regulation, digestion, sexual health, blood clotting/ wound healing, and sleep quality. Serotonin can be triggered naturally by sunlight, certain tryptophan-rich foods, and exercise.


Endorphins: A hormone released in your body that acts as a pain reliever, naturally. In fact, the word endorphin is derived from the words “endogenous” meaning occurring inside the body, and “morphine” which is a pain reliever from opiates. Endorphins in a survival standpoint are what allows the body to continue to function through stress and pain, and plays a key role in building confidence. It is most commonly released through exercise, laughter, and eating food.


The chemical messengers or neurotransmitters in the brain (as well as other parts of the body) that give you a sense of well-being. They are designed to reward you when you’ve done something good for yourself and play roles in other key markers of good health such as:

  • blood pressure

  • cognitive function

  • organ function

  • Digestion

  • Sleep

  • pain management.


Adequate levels of DOSE hormones are critical for your mental health, attention, motivation, productivity, personality, and learning ability.

DOSE hormones also decrease the release of cortisol, the hormone that is released when you’re feeling stressed.

Basically, DOSE hormones makes a happy person. So what does travel have to do with these chemical messengers?





Conscious Travel triggers happy hormones.


There are many ways to trigger the release of these hormones. Travel, when intentionally planned, can incorporate all of them.


Studies have shown that just the novelty of breaking the routine of your daily life can trigger the release of DOSE hormones and work wonders for relieving stress.


Being out of your normal environment requires focus and attention that is attained by dopamine release. While there may be an initial release of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, by a travel experience, new experiences also release dopamine to initiate the reward system in your brain. Dopamine can also reinforce learning, the creation of new neural pathways and memories.


Movement associated with travel is responsible for releasing endorphins and new sights and experiences in nature can release serotonin, decreasing overall stress and promoting good sleep.


Travel also contains the opportunities to create friendships with other travelers and locals, which promote the release of oxytocin, the hormone related to bonding. Studies also show that acts of kindness and compassion also trigger dopamine, endorphin, and oxytocin release.


Conscious travel, which places the emphasis on the destination and the needs of its communities and environment ahead of those of the traveler is the ultimate way to ensure the mutual release of happy hormones for all involved in the travel process. After all, when all bodies are experiencing DOSE release, the effects are contagious and experienced beyond the individual.





Creating a conscious travel itinerary to maximize DOSE hormone release for all


1. Get into nature

As you’ve learned, getting plenty of sunlight and time in natural settings can boost dopamine and serotonin levels and increase the overall feeling of wellbeing. When planning your trip itinerary, including a hike through the woods or even a picnic at a park in an urban destination can increase your mood and reduce stress.


2. Move your body

Get those endorphins flowing with some light exercise. Skip the bland four walls and elliptical in the hotel fitness center— Start your day off with a little jog to acquaint yourself with your new surroundings and break a sweat. Take a walking or biking tour with a local guide through your destination for some bonus dopamine and oxytocin production by learning about the history of the place and creating connections with the local community. Accompanying those endorphins is the reward of dopamine and serotonin,


3. Make new friends

You’re in for increased oxytocin levels when you make new friends. Humans are social beings. Take a group trip, even if you’re traveling solo. Finding common interests, understanding, and getting to know others is a sure way to stimulate dopamine production for all involved, which then reinforces the behaviour. You may just have develop a friendship that lasts the rest of your life, and at the very least, create memories that will (BTW, neural pathways created happy memories have shown to have the DOSE hormone triggering effect as the actual moment)


4. Learn a new skill

Sign up for a class such as cooking, weaving or painting—something culturally relevant and taught by local artisans— at your destination. Learning a new skill creates new neural pathways with benefits brain cognition and memory. The dopamine released encourages creativity and motivation while simultaneously honoring the history and culture the practice comes from.


5. Embrace sustainable practices

Sustainable practices are compassion in action for the collective good of the planet. When you choose sustainability and zero-waste in your travel choices, you reduce the negative impact of your presence on a destination and maximize the positive ones. Science has shown compassion and kindness as an endorphin and dopamine booster. When taking those endorphin-boosting hikes, always strive to leave no trace of your presence. Good for the planet = good for people.


6. Share a meal

Nothing brings people together like food. The only thing better than eating a healthy meal with nutrient-rich ingredients is sharing it with friends. Taking a trip with friends or joining a group tour where you can create memories through shared experiences is a prime magnifier of all happy hormones. Create an itinerary that incorporates that kind of community.



If you’re looking for a done-for-you trip designed to uplift, and by their nature boost those happy hormones, take a look at CTC trips. Conscious Travel Collective itineraries are intentionally planned with reciprocity at their core, mutually benefitting both the local communities and the travelers.





The author of this blog is the oh-so-talented, Shelagh Hogan.

You can find out more about her work on our team page




References:

  1. Cleveland Cinic

  2. Harvard Health

  3. Neuroscience News