Why Does Travel Make Us Smile? 5 Reasons

We love starting a new year, and nothing sparks an ear-to-ear grin faster than a chat about where we’d like to go next. So what is it about travel that makes us smile?

Last night we sat down in our cozy little living room, lit all the candles, raised a glass of eggnog to bid goodbye to the past year, and opened the conversation.

As the ideas began to flow, we realized we were talking more about the kind of experiences we wanted to share together, as opposed to the destinations we wanted to notch on our belts. Hmmm, that’s interesting.

We were exploring what would make us happy. The longer we talked, we realized that for us, the joy of travel boils down to 5 themes.

1) We like to get out of our comfort zone. Our life-long wandering started when we moved from the USA to Africa. That shook things up, and we haven’t stopped traveling to places that challenge us to up our game.

2) We crave new sensations. For us there’s no better adventure than experiencing the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of a new place. Give us a boisterous market and we’re in heaven.

3) We want to learn, experience, and observe. The eternal quest for wisdom can take many paths. Our chosen route has taken us to unfamiliar places to live, work, and explore. Only time will tell if we acquired any wisdom.

4) We love the simplicity of living with very little. When it comes to packing, we truly are minimalist travelers. Living day to day out of a small backpack reminds us that we don’t need stuff – what we do need is family, friends, and each other – it’s that simple.

5) We strive to understand other cultures. Sometimes it seems that the differences between world cultures is vast. But we have found that when you get to know individuals, not their governments,  it’s the common ground we all share that’s enormous.

So what about you? What is it about travel that makes you happy and brings a smile to your face?

We’re looking forward to a fabulous New Year. Wishing you and yours all the very best.
Terri & James

P.S. One of the fun things we did over the holidays was make “architectural alphabets” from our photos. The word “smile” up above came from the gorgeous Rila Monastery in Bulgaria. Has anyone else tried this with your photos?

Last updated January 1, 2020

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Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

92 thoughts

  1. Great idea, that architectural alphabet! I love people-watching, learning about rites and rituals in other cultures, connecting with wide-eyed, curious children, trying out different foods, etc… oh so much!

    1. Thanks Amit. I was at a craft fair a couple of weeks ago and saw a photographer who had created cards with each architectural letter. I loved the idea and came home to give it a whirl with our photos. You’re so right about observing the rites and rituals in other cultures – and you certainly have a rich environment there in Bali. Do you have a favorite ceremony? ~Terri

      1. Oh, so you know of what I speak 😉 Yes it is a rite of passage indeed, Terri! I could live here a lifetime and never learn about all the rites, ceremonies and festivals.. it’s endless – and endlessly fascinating!

  2. This is a great post to start off 2016 and I can totally relate to it. As I get older the way I travel has changed, I love to experience places at a deeper level via meeting the locals, tasting the local produce, learning about the culture and history of a place. I would love to be more time rich and be able to spend longer periods of time in a place, in 2016 we plan to travel at every oportunity within our time limitations and continue to work towards our goal of financial freedom.

    1. Gilda, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post. When we first started traveling we were all into “quantity over quality,” but now it’s just the reverse. We savor the experience and try to live deeply. We generally rent a little studio apartment so that we can truly be a part of daily life – and one of the great side benefits is that we also get to experiment with food and learn to cook dishes from the culture. Your goals of working toward financial freedom are wonderful – we did the same thing and it has made all the difference in our lives. 🙂 Happy new year to you and Brian! ~Terri

  3. I loved your architectural alphabet. So clever! I’ve never seen anyone else do that.
    Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to do any overseas travel at the moment but I do explore new places locally as well as returning to places regularly and exploring them in more detail and making friends there. Getting to know the locals intimately.
    I do a lot of photography and there’s something about seeing a new place through the lens and appreciating detail I might not otherwise notice, which includes things like fine architectural features, shadows, etc. When you experience the contrasts of travel, you also gain a deeper understanding of home.
    Tht’s a point to consider about travel. Whether to keep exploring new places or going back to the same place year after year possibly meeting the same people. I used to think it was pretty boring and limiting going back to the same place all the time but I also think there’s a beauty is really knowing a place well both inside and out instead of simply flying through on the way to somewhere else.
    Any thoughts?
    Happy New Year! You might enjoy Sydney’s fireworks: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/happy-new-year-sydney/
    xx Rowena

    1. Photographing the alphabet fun way to keep your skills sharp. Once you start looking for letters in ordinary things, you will see them everywhere. I agree with you about returning to a place until you know it like your own home. It seems there is always something you never saw in all of your past visits. The tagline of my blog is “Uncovering New Hampshire’s hidden gems, one town at a time” I think local travel helps us appreciate our surroundings and makes exotic travel even better.

      1. Laura, I’m so glad you chimed in. You are THE queen of finding hidden gems and your beautiful blog is a testament to it. Have you done the architectural letters? I’m really having trouble finding the letters “G” and “P.” Any advice? ~Terri

      2. One of the best places to find P or G is in the scroll work of old buildings. I’ve done the alphabet several time. It’s always a fun way to challenge myself.

      3. Sorry, I didn’t see your tagline. Just goes to show how important it is to keep going back and finding the details. You live in such a beautiful part of the world, particularly with the Autumn leaves. I used to love the movie: “Hotel New Hampshire” and I loved the “undertoad”.
        xx Rowena

    2. Thank you Rowena. As much as I love the idea of the architectural alphabet, I’m not the originator. Some very talented photographers plowed the ground way before me and you can find some great examples if you google it. But it really is fun to play around with your own photographs and to go looking for great shots when you’re out with your camera. So far the letter “P” has been tricky for me to find. 🙂

      James and I are huge believers in local travel and the wonderful familiarity it gives a place. I love your phrase, “When you experience the contrasts of travel, you also gain a deeper understanding of home.” Oh so true! Just this year, after being gone many years, we moved back to the city where we went to university. The feeling of “new but familiar” is with us every day and we love it. So I agree with you – there’s a beauty in really knowing a place well both inside and out.

      Thanks for the link to the Sydney fireworks. I’ll check it out. Wishing you a new year full of wonder! ~Terri

      1. Funny you should mention going back. My husband’s family home was on the market recently. It’s in a country town in Tasmania and we’re living in Greater Sydney so we didn’t get down there to see it. However, we did manage to tour it online, which was special for the kids and I as we’ve never been inside. However, my husband said it looked nothing like it used to and was too different.

  4. Knowing what you want from travel is half the battle of picking a new destination (or a revisit destination). It’s great you think of it in as “We want to feel or experience ______” as opposed to “We want to see ______” It really brings a new level of understanding to a place. I love photographing the alphabet, once you start looking for letter, you see them everywhere! All the best in 2016.

    1. Laura, it’s definitely been a shift in perspective for us. I think it happened several years ago when we started staying in studio apartments, and spent weeks instead of days in a place. We developed a keener appreciation for the people and their daily lives. We stopped being tourists and became long-term travelers.

      I would love to see some of your photographic alphabet. Do you do architecture, nature, animals … ? Happy New Year to you and Steve. ~Terri

      1. I think you nailed it – long term travelers, not tourists.Also you mentioned knowing the people, not the government, great insight. You’ve just given me a new mission! I will try to do the name of the town with my photographic alphabet.

      2. Woohoo! That will be so cool. The width of our blog column is fairly narrow so I have to stick to 5-6 letters, or run them vertically. I can’t wait to see yours. ~T

    1. What a great quote, Ron. And so true! Not all travel is pleasant, but you’ll certainly learn something … even if it’s what NOT to do next time. 🙂 Wishing you a very Happy New Year. So glad that you stopped by. ~Terri

  5. You nailed it for me too … but not just for travelling – for everyday in general. The only one I consistently fail miserably at is #4. I’m not a packrat, I don’t tend to save or collect stuff, but I’m very far from a minimalist. Very, very far.

    Wishing you both happy travels and many more adventures and discoveries ahead in 2016 🙂

    1. Great point, Joanne! The themes do often apply to our daily lives. And you’re right, #4 is often the most challenging – especially around the holidays. We’re definitely better at keeping it simple than we used to be. I remember when we lived in London, an American friend visited, and the first words out of her mouth when she arrived at our house were, “You’ve got SO much stuff!” We looked around and realized she was right. Ever since then (and many moves later) we try to keep it simple.

      Happy New Year to you and all the best in 2016, Terri

  6. When I travel, I like to stray off the beaten path. I have little desire to stay in touristy places, preferring to immerse myself in the culture & hopefully gain a better understanding of the people in the places I visit. Like you, we often rent a place, giving us the opportunity to mix with the locals & shop at the market.

    I look so forward to reading more of your travels & experiences in 2016! Happy New Year!

    1. It sounds like we are kindred souls, Lynn. We’re always looking for “the other place” or an alternative to the popular place. I love it when savvy travelers say something like, “Instead of Paris, go to _____ or ______ ! Those are my favorite recommendations. I bet you have several. Any suggestions?

      Wishing you a super happy new year full of wonder. All the best, Terri

      1. Agreed Terri. If I was to fill in the blanks, I would suggest land in Paris for a few days, then head south to the Provence region. We stayed in a little place called isle sur la sorgue, such a beautiful area & one of the best outdoor markets on Sundays!

        I really need to make an effort to write more about our travels!

  7. Happy New Year – looking forward to your travels this year.

    I appreciate scenery as well as cities and people, but it’s always interesting to see how differently people tackle the same basic problems. We had a bad rainstorm day before yesterday, and I was thinking that after water and food, shelter and warmth are the first priority, but there are so many way to provide all four.

    1. Excellent point, Kathy! James and I talk about this concept regularly as we travel. I’m particularly fascinated by “shelter” because people outside the USA generally live in abodes much smaller than the typical American house. I just read about a living arrangement in India for a family of four in 200 sq ft. The space consisted of two rooms – a kitchen and a bed-living-dining room. The toilet, sink and bathing areas were in an exterior courtyard and shared with neighbors. That’s pretty creative!

      As always, your comments spark great conversations. Thanks. Wishing you all the best in the new year and looking forward to your adventures. Do you have any plans in the works yet? ~Terri

      1. Hmm, 200 sq.ft. might be a bit too far the other way! But I am always bemused by the McMansion fad, which seems to have started up again. The bigger the house the more it costs to heat, cool, clean and furnish it. Since I just had to replace my HVAC system I’m very glad my house isn’t any bigger (and renting is looking more and more attractive!).

        Not sure about travel, I’ve been suffering from low energy. I’m thinking I should finally visit Central Asia before I get any more decrepit. I’d like to revisit mainland Greece, Georgia and Japan, and I still want to visit eastern Turkey, although with the current situation it might be only the north east, not the south. Between the visa and the clothes I think Iran may still be off the table. Do you have settled plans?

      2. Kathy, I agree that 200 sf. for a family of 4 has to be a challenge. James and I were talking about it and it seems to come down to “expectations of privacy.” As you well know, that varies from country to county.
        The destinations you mentioned sound great. We loved the time we spent in Turkey and would love to return to explore it further. What’s pinging our radar now is Mexico’s Yucatan and South America (which we’ve truly neglected – something about all those kidnappings), but no tickets purchased yet. ~T

      3. Yes, as a died in the wool introvert, privacy is pretty important to me.

        Some parts of SA are more dangerous than others! I loved, loved the scenery in Patagonia (and do not miss Iguazu!), and Colombia and Peru are on the list. I do have some doubts about Ecuador, but I know people who have had no trouble there. In general I thought the scenery far outshone the cities.

  8. Great post to start off the year. Experiences are definitely what does it for us. Markets and great natural beauty are at or near the top of our lists. All the best for 2016.

    1. Many thanks, Tim and Anne. You are so right to mention natural beauty, so readily found around the world. And with your “slow travel” philosophy (which we heartily endorse) you’ll have lots of opportunities to enjoy your surroundings. Wishing you all the best in the new year. Do you have a timetable for embarking on your new life adventure? ~Terri

      1. Hi Terri. We’re leaving the first of April for Costa Rica but may have to come back here to finalize the sale of our house. We are heading to England in September for a house sit and then we will make our way towards Italy. After that – who knows? Cheers, Tim & Anne

      2. How exciting – I know you love Costa Rica – as do we. I’m totally envious of your house sit in England because we lived in London several years and I love the place. We would work like fiends during the week, then do rambles all over the country on the weekends. What town will you be in? ~Terri

      3. We’ll be in Swindon for three weeks so now we’re thinking of where we want spend the early part of September. We’re big soccer fans so one of our must-do’s is to take in a Premier League match. The rest is unclear yet. Cheers, Tim

      4. Swindon is great. When I worked in the UK I was a consultant to the museums, and the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is a gem. And with ready access to the Cotswolds, Oxford, Bristol and London you’ll have a wonderful time. ~T

  9. Hi Terri & James, Happy New Year to you two.
    We liked the challenge of finding places out side out comfort zone too. It was enlightening to see how other cultures deal with certain situations and how similar we were in the end. Love of family and ones children is a universal characteristic. We only had a back pack, stayed in one star hotels and ate with the locals if we didn’t cook ourselves.

    1. Wow, Leslie, you’re our kind of traveler! So great that you mentioned the universal love of family and children – it’s always a joy to see. I’m curious – where were you traveling? I just checked your website, but I didn’t see it mentioned. It must have been great. ~Terri

      1. We lived in Paris for a year when my husband was on sabbatical. Of course we tooddled around Europe while there. Some of the other places we have been to – Greece, China, India, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Uruaguay , Tunisia, Egypt Morocco, Spain & Italy. I’ve probably left out a few. I’m working on an album of Greece at the moment.

      2. Leslie, that’s wonderful. You’ve experienced so many great places. We lived in Athens for a while, so Greek music is near and dear to our hearts. Are you based in North or South America now? ~Terri

  10. What a fun and thoughtful post to start the year! I’ve never seen nor tried the architectural alphabet thing (awesome idea) and so many of your reasons for enjoying travel match mine. You two are lucky that your travel goals and ideal lifestyles are shared together. I look forward to seeing where your adventures take you in 2016!

    1. So glad that you liked it, Lexie. Isn’t the alphabet thing a hoot? I’m looking at structures in a totally different way – like Where can I find a “G.” 🙂 We are lucky that our travel goals and lifestyle are simpatico – it makes the planning and experiencing so much fun. Wishing you a very Happy New Year full of wonder and adventure. ~Terri

  11. Your 5 reasons are great and make me smile too. I also would add meeting new people. We seem to make new friends every time we travel. We got Christmas cards this year from three couples we have met on three separate trips. Making new friends when we travel definitely makes me smile. 😀

    1. Great addition, Darlene. It seems that friendships you make on the road truly stick. I think the shared experiences form a smile-inducing bond. We wish you a Happy New Year filled with success, new friends, and lots of smiles! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Thanks Linda. I think #4 is my favorite, too. It seems to calm my soul and put things in perspective. Plus, since we’ve been like you moving pretty regularly, it helps to not cart around much stuff … and love Ikea! 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful 2016. Are you planning to stay in Germany or cast your net around? ~Terri

    1. Thanks Bertie, so glad you liked it. I love your phrase, ” I feel I always learn when I am widening my horizon.” Your totally nailed it! Wishing you a very happy new year. ~Terri

  12. I think you really nailed it. If Don and I were to say what we love about travel I think we’d make the same list. Smiles are universal, and people are good, no matter where you go.
    Have a wonderful 2016.

    1. Awww thanks, Alison. But I would say YOU nailed it with, “people are good, no matter where you go.” I can’t tell you how much I love hearing you say that. We wish you and Don a fabulous 2016. Are you in Mexico now? ~Terri

  13. Those 5 reasons are so true . Travelling simply broadens your mind and you upgrade something from each place you to yourself . You are constantly learning something new . ^_^

    1. Hi Antigoni, I’m glad these reasons resonated with you, too! I love broadening my mind – even if it’s a bit painful at times! 🙂 So glad that you stopped by. Wishing you a very Happy New Year! ~Terri

  14. Fun and lively post, Gallivances. For us, 2016 will be a cross-countries-off-Stanley’s-list year, then (should we live that long and be so fortunate) we hope we’ll have longer stays in fewer places. Nothing makes me smile more when I travel than seeing a memorable sample of local living down a normal neighborhood street. There’s nothing like a simple walk to let you sample local cultures. Here’s to wishing all your walks this year make you smile!

    1. Thanks Susan – we like it lively! We are definitely kindred spirits because I also love to see local living in normal neighborhoods. I always tell James, “I wanna go walk in the ‘hood.” So now you’ve got me curious – what countries are on Stanley’s List? 🙂 Wishing you a fun and travel-filled new year. ~Terri

      1. ‘Stanley’ is the one keeping the list, but I’m pretty sure it is the more standard fare, since neither of us has ever been to that area before. More capital cities and rapid transit. (and fun,fun,fun)

  15. Great reasons Terri and James. And I can picture the two of you sipping wine and discussing your next adventures. Peggy and I do the same. My list also includes history (a forever hobby of mine) and the natural history/beauty of different locations, given my life of wilderness travel. I know where ever you go we will be treated to new insights and great photos. –Curt

    1. We haven’t firmed anything up yet Curt. Honestly, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, some time at home with my feet propped up by the fire sounds pretty good. It’s a good time of year to pick out a few fat books to read, and a few new soup recipes to try. ~James

  16. For us travel is all about experiencing new things and it doesn’t hurt if there is a marathon in there somewhere for Commando. We are thinking about Vancouver but I long to revisit Normandy, it’s been a long time…

    1. It’s always good to kill two travel birds with one stone Marie. The only problem I see with Marathon trips would be hotel availability and higher prices. I haven’t really spent much time in Normandy, but have heard good things about it. ~James

    1. Thanks Pam. Trying to create the alphabet was really fun. I bet you could do one with all the gorgeous things you find in nature. 🙂 Happy New Year to you and Richard! ~Terri

  17. Something that makes me smile is just reading a Gallivance post! Your love of travel and each other is pervasive through each and every article. Best wishes for more smiles, more adventures, and, for us, more writing in 2016!!!

    1. Wow Rusha, I’m speechless – and that doesn’t happen often! 🙂 Thanks for your very kind words and wishes. We see the same love shining through with you and Bert. James and I wish you both a Happy New Year and all the best 2016 has to offer. ~Terri

  18. Perhaps not the most thoughtful answer, but I love being stared at! I admit it: I have a huge ego. It makes me smile to now that just by being me I am turning people’s heads.

    I agree with you, though. Traveling with little (or moving with little more than some clothes) is very liberating. Coming to Huadu with no more than a laptop and some dress shirts, I feel as though I can start life anew.

    1. John, over the years we have also had a lot of stares. When we moved to Khartoum, we went to the zoo. As we watched the animals, we realized that a crowd had gathered, not to look at the animals, but to stare at us. 🙂 It’s great to meet a fellow light traveler. It’s the only way to go! ~Terri

  19. Scrabble with photos – love your idea of the architectural alphabet words and I have to wholeheartedly agree with all of your reasons for embracing travel. Looking back on your pics I have to also add that the people you meet during your travels are interwoven into your love for the lifestyle. And looking forward, can’t wait to read more of your posts in 2016. Happy Trails! Anita

    1. I love your term Anita – “Scrabble with photos!” So clever. And I totally agree with you about the people you meet on the road – travel would not be complete without them, for sure. Wishing you and Richard all the best in 2016. Can’t wait to read about your adventures. ~Terri

    1. Thanks Jean. We’ve learned that for us – whether we’re traveling to the other side of the globe or the other side of the state – the best way to go is simple. This mindset makes every part of the trip more enjoyable and less of a hassle. ~James

  20. Can’t say it any better than you guys have… love all those things about travel from the chaos of the market place to the travelling in a minimalist way… YES YES YES.

    One of the things I love about travel, and that might sound weird to some, is that no one knows me. I can be and do whatever I want and no one recognizes me. I love that.


    1. Peta, this doesn’t sound weird at all. In all our traveling and moving around, we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t even expect to see anyone we know – or that knows us. I guess that some people might think that this would be lonely, and if I were solo all the time, maybe it would be. But, in the meantime, Terri and I just move through under the radar and without leaving any footprint. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us. ~James

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