Karen Schaler is the author of Travel Therapy: Where Do You Need to Go? A former embedded war correspondent in Afghanistan, she’s experienced the highs and lows of travel. I asked her how to get the most out of your next vacation.
Q: What’s travel therapy?
Schaler: It’s all about changing your attitude by changing your environment. By using travel therapy, visiting different destinations can help you deal with what you’re going through in life. Whether you’re going through a breakup, lost your job, stressed out, looking for a way to add some sizzle to your relationship or re-invent yourself you can use travel therapy to make sure you’re picking the trip that’s best for you based on what you need and want.
Q: Where did the idea come from?
I personally have been using travel as my therapy for years to not only help me get through the tough times but to also celebrate special occasions. I got the idea after I returned from working as an embedded war television correspondent in Afghanistan. I was going to the gym when I was grumbling about something insignificant and said out loud, “I need to get on a plane, I need some travel therapy.” It was like — bam.
I had been using the concept for years but had never put it into words. I knew I had to write about it so I could share the idea and hopefully help others pick vacations and special trips matching their emotions. So I finished the documentary I was working on about Afghanistan and quit my television career of more than 15 years. I knew there was more I could do and contribute so I cashed in my 401K and starting traveling and doing the research for the book.
Q: At a time like this, when travel — especially air travel in the United States — is awful, shouldn’t people be staying home when they want any kind of therapy?
Schaler: It all depends on your personality and where your head and heart is.
With travel therapy, there isn’t one answer that fits everyone, or one trip that has the answers. It’s all about picking a trip that fits what you personally need, not your best friend, or your neighbor, but you. For some people, getting on a plane and getting away is exhilarating and liberating and they barely notice the delays and travel headaches. While for others even the idea of air travel gives them hives.
Q: How do you know what trips to pick?
Schaler: Not every trip is for everyone in the book in each chapter there are fun, simple quizzes that help you narrow down the trips that are best for you. That way, you’re not just picking any random trip and ending up disappointed with your destination.
Q: Where should people not go if they’re looking for a therapeutic travel experience?
Schaler: Again, this depends on your personality and what you’re looking for. In the book, each chapter has a section called DO NOT ENTER giving you a list of places you shouldn’t go.
Q: For example?
Schaler: If you’re looking for a romantic escape, you don’t want to go to a family friendly resort where you have screaming kids killing your quiet time. However, if you’re looking to reconnect with your kids then a family friendly choice is the perfect option. Key to remember is one person’s idea of travel therapy could be another person’s nightmare. You need to pick the trip that’s right for you.
Q: Where is the most therapeutic destination for you?
Schaler: This answer changes depending on what I’m going through in life. When I was uninspired at work and looking for a challenge traveling and reporting in Afghanistan was the perfect place because it helped me realize life is short and never to settle.
When I was searching for a way to re-invent myself I found volunteering at an orphanage in Malawi was a life changing experience that helped me gain perspective and appreciation for everything I have.
When I want to really spend quality time with a boyfriend, I love sailing because I can truly disconnect with the world and reconnect with who I am with. Honestly, I find anytime I can travel and experience new place and meet new people I’m happy and thankful for each moment I have on the trip and can’t wait to write about it and share it with others. I really do love it that much. Good thing I’m a travel writer, right?
Q: Absolutely. So what advice would you have for those of us who are disillusioned by travel, who would really rather stay home? Can we be rehabilitated?
Schaler: Hummm…let’s see, what are you going to find at home. The same o’ll same o’ll? How has that worked for you so far? If your answer is “not so great” then get off the couch, turn off the TV, and pry your fingers off your BlackBerrys.
There’s a whole world out there waiting for you to explore. Anyone can change, you just need to take the first step and planning the right trip is key and can help you find your way in more ways than one!
Q: I want to ask you about when therapy goes wrong. Has that ever happened to you? What can you do about it?
Schaler: Of course we’ve all taken the wrong trips. It happens when you don’t spend the time doing your research and you come home disappointed and disillusioned.
Making sure this doesn’t happen was one of the inspirations behind writing this book. In this economy, you can’t afford to take the wrong trip, so I wanted to have one compressive book that helps you plan a trip and get it right the first time so you’re not wasting your valuable time and money.
In the rare case if you researched and planned and you still find yourself on the wrong trip try and think outside the box and be flexible. Spend time thinking about what you can change to make it better instead of just complaining about what’s wrong.
Q: Some therapies in the medical field have been discredited, like leeches and lobotomies. Convince me that this isn’t just another faddish cure that will go the way of transcranial electroshock.
Schaler: Travel therapy will never be a faddish cure because the benefits from travel are timeless. It will never go away because there is a whole world to explore and once you get started it’s hard to stop.
When people complain to me about something like being stressed out or sad about a breakup, I like to say, “Take two trips then call me in the morning.” Of course there is never one cure that works for everyone, but I’ve heard amazing stories from the travelers and therapist I have interviewed about how travel changed their lives. I know it has changed mine.