Can Travel Really Heal A Broken Heart?

Couple holding hands
Couple holding hands | © Daryn Bartlett/Unsplash
Nikki Vargas

Travel Editor

The Portuguese call it coração partido. The French know it as la douleur exquise. Latin Americans translate it as la congoja; while the English know it simply as heartbreak. Heartbreak transcends cultures; it is a unanimous feeling that doesn’t discriminate. We have all had a broken heart; have felt that intoxicating rush of falling in love only to be followed by the exquisite pain of realizing it was a mirage. How one maneuvers the choppy waves of heartbreak differs; some turn towards friends, others seek solace in loneliness, while many choose to travel.
Travel is said to be the cure-all for a broken heart – the quickest way to step above the rising waters of sorrow and find the strength to move forward. But can travel really heal a broken heart? To explore the question, Culture Trip reached out to experts in love, relationships and human psychology to see if booking a plane ticket is all it takes to overcome lost love.

Solo traveling man

The Science of a Broken Heart

To begin our exploration into whether travel can remedy a broken heart, we sought to answer the question: from a physical standpoint, is there anything that actually needs fixing? According to Science 2.0, the short answer is yes. “When a person feels secluded or feels loss, changes in the brain’s blood flow occur,” explains the study, “the anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for regulating physical pain distress) becomes more active during these times.” The way feelings of anxiety and stress manifest as physical symptoms, so too can heartbreak wreck havoc on the body. If you’ve ever experienced loss of appetite or insomnia post-breakup, these are actual symptoms of lost love. The physical symptoms of a heartbreak can range from minor (headaches, nausea, fatigue) to serious (depression, panic attacks or even a heart attack) depending on the severity of the heartbreak.

In rare cases, a broken heart can literally cause a broken heart. This medical phenomena isknown as ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ in which your heart’s normal pumping functions are disrupted. “Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one,” defines the Mayo Clinic. When we fall in love, our brains are pumped with dopamine and oxytocin, which create that “feel good” sensation; but when we suffer a break up, we experience a chemical shift. “Your supply of those feel-good natural chemicals starts to tumble,” explains Lucy Brown, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, “leaving you more vulnerable to a whole herd of uncompromising stress hormones.”

Woman in field

Traveling While Heartbroken

“Travel can help to heal a broken heart, as it breaks your regular routine and ensures that your brain changes in response to novelty,” explains Dr. Jessica O’Reilly. Dr. O’Reilly is Astroglide’s Sex and Relationship Expert, a TEDx speaker, novelist and has experience working with over 15,000 couples from around the world. In her expert opinion, Dr. O’Reilly believes traveling offers distraction and perspective during a break up; a necessity for overcoming heartache without losing oneself to the drama of it. “Whether you’re exploring new terrain, meeting new people or simply trying to master a few words in a new language, travel has the potential to boost cognitive functioning,” adds Dr. O’Reilly.

While the desire to grab your passport and jet off when in mourning may prove irresistible, the fact is that sidestepping daily life isn’t always possible. “One of the challenges of this [traveling to heal a broken heart] concept is that many people can’t afford to leave their day-to-day,” explains Dr. Ashley Arn who specializes in Marital and Family Relationships, and holds a Doctorate in Psychology. “The goal is to create an opportunity for peace and quiet where you can be alone with your thoughts. If you want to heal your heart, but don’t have the luxury of taking off to India for a month, you can create a mini version of this experience locally.” Dr. Arn suggests taking hikes, connecting with nature and finding a respite from distractions to simulate the same kinds of benefits traveling can have on heartbreak.

Woman smiling

In the wake of such inspiring stories as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, it would seem traveling is the only way to move beyond difficult moments in life, like heartbreak. In truth, while traveling can aid in the recovery of a broken heart, experts show us it cannot heal it. Travel only offers a means to step away from your life and gain much needed perspective. In other words, that fear of becoming a spinster with a posse of cats becomes almost comical when enjoying tapas in Barcelona with new-found friends. So, while travel can’t necessarily heal a broken heart it can go a long way towards repairing it; but like most things in life, the one true antidote to lost love is time.

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