Can travel really heal a broken heart?

Maybe Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed were on to something...

In today’s newsletter: the healing power of travel. This month, a portion of the profits from paid newsletter subscriptions will be donated to the Lilith Fund, an Austin-based nonprofit that provides financial assistance to Texas women in need of an abortion. 

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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 and is a feeling that doesn’t discriminate. We have all had a broken heart and felt that intoxicating rush of falling in love only for it to be followed by the exquisite pain of realizing it was a mirage. How a person maneuvers the choppy waves of heartbreak differs: some turn to friends, others seek solace in loneliness, while many choose to travel.

Travel is said to be the cure-all for a broken heart and 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, I spoke to experts in love, relationships, and human psychology to see if booking a plane ticket is all it takes to overcome lost love.

To begin my exploration into whether travel can remedy a broken heart, I sought to answer the question from a physical standpoint. When a heart breaks, is there anything that actually needs fixing? The short answer is yes. “When a person feels secluded or a loss, changes in the brain’s blood flow occur,” explains a study from Science 2.0. “The anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for regulating physical pain distress) becomes more active during these times.”

The way feelings of anxiety and stress can manifest as physical symptoms, so too can heartbreak wreck havoc on the body. If you’ve ever experienced a loss of appetite or insomnia post-breakup, these are just some of the symptoms of lost love. The physical symptoms of heartbreak can range from minor (headaches, nausea, fatigue) to serious (depression, panic attacks, or even a heart attack) depending on the severity of your emotional distress.

In rare cases, a broken heart can literally cause a broken heart. This medical phenomenon is known 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 extremely 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. “This leaves you more vulnerable to a whole herd of uncompromising stress hormones.”

A heartbreak can take on many forms—as can the solution to repair it. Like hangovers, people will swear by tried-and-tested fixes for broken hearts and one of them is travel. At first glance, travel seems like the perfect solution for lost love. A change of location, distance from the ex, untold beauty in an exotic locale, the promise of a romantic liaison with a handsome foreigner—it’s a no brainer that globetrotting could aid heartbreak, but can it heal it?

“Travel can help 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, which is 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 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.

With books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and 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 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 heartbreak is time.

Scary shows, apple tarts, and fall mode

Every year, when September 1st rolls around, I immediately transition into “fall-mode.” On August 31st, you’ll find me in jean shorts sipping an Aperol spritz; then 24-hours later, as if a switch has been flipped, I’ll be wearing a chunky knit sweater, cupping a warm mug of tea, and watching scary movies. It doesn’t matter if the weather (like now) is clinging on to summer with 80-degree temperatures, come September, I become a pumpkin-spice drinking, knit-sweater-wearing, scary movie-loving, apple-picking cliché…at least until November 1st rolls around and I transition into holiday mode.

This week I’ve been enjoying the new season of American Horror Story: Double Feature. The first feature is about a struggling New York screenwriter who moves to a moody town by Cape Cod in a desperate search of inspiration. While he does find inspiration, it comes at a price and begs the question of all artists: how far would you go for greatness? And because fall is all about the apples, make this awesome French apple tart to enjoy while you watch it.


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