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Bites of Curiosity

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The Humane Space app makes it easy and fun to inject more curiosity, wonder, and awe into your daily life — a powerful way to boost well-being.

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Transported in your Mind

<span  style="font-size: 1.5rem;" >You’re on a bus in India, fighting jet lag as you gaze out the window. When you’re finished dozing off, you reach for your phone, and realize it's almost dead. Also, you forgot to get the right outlet adaptor for India. So… how are you going to find your hotel now? Guess it’s time to go shopping for phone chargers in New Delhi at 11 pm on two hours of sleep after surviving two days on nothing but free airline cookies. Why did you think this solo adventure to the other side of the world was a good idea again?</span>

Travel has always been a pain. Cramped flights, jet lag, long travel times, and lousy food are mainstays. Why do we put ourselves through it? Well, we put up with it because travel to new, exotic locales can have pretty substantial upsides. Travel has always been a wellspring for curiosity and restoration, giving us an outlet for self-exploration and -determination. “Finding yourself” during travel is a cliché because, like most clichés, it happens all the time. Travel can be an education in fast-forward mode, making you question long-held beliefs and empathize with people you never could have before.

But do we really need to physically travel in order to reap the rewards of awe and wonder? Or is there a way to cheat and get some of the benefits of travel without the hassle and financial cost?

Merced River, Yosemite Valley,
by Albert Bierstadt, 1866, oil on canvas.

Most likely inspired by the incredible stereoscopic photographs that Carleton Watkins made of Yosemite Valley, Albert Bierstadt and journalist and explorer Fitz Hugh Ludlow, traveled a second time to the West on May 12, 1863.

From many studies that he made on this trip, Bierstadt painted several large works when he returned to New York. In this canvas, we see the wonder and splendor that is the Yosemite Valley, home to some of the most famous waterfalls and cliffs that make up Yosemite National Park.

Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Think of the long trip home.Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?Where should we be today? —From poet Elizabeth Bishop's,Questions of Travel

Domestic Downtime

We can start to get some of the benefits of traveling without actually traveling by learning to act like a tourist where you live. Have you met a San Diegan who hasn’t been to the beach in months? A person from Washington, D.C., who doesn’t go to the free Smithsonian museums? A New Yorker who never takes time to stroll in Central Park? Even though this kind of behavior is baffling, it is super common.

It turns out that once a human has a daily pattern set, it’s usually pretty hard to break it. We often follow the same routines and habits - eating the same meals, returning to the same locations, and following the same paths. “We adapt quickly to our circumstances,” explains the University of California, Riverside, psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, “but that also means we get bored easily too.”1

If you are feeling this boredom and monotony, it may not be necessary to go halfway across the world. Google “28 hours in [whatever city you live in].” You might be surprised by how rejuvenated you’d feel if you took the time to climb the nearest mountain, visit the nearest winery, or go to that museum you’ve only been to on a class field trip 20 years ago. If you make a regular effort to find new experiences right where you live, you may find that your need to book flights gets less urgent.

Traveling box with lotus scrolls, early 15th century, polychromatic lacquer, leather, wood, and iron damascened with gold, 15 x 12.5 x 21."

This beautiful box was likely used to carry belongings such as personal goods and gifts like porcelains and textiles for a Tibetan traveler to the Chinese court. The spiky painted blossoms and large lotus scrolls painted on the sides derive from late thirteenth-century Nepali artistic traditions.

Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Savored Sojourn & Anticipation

You’re sitting at your desk, answering work emails, and your phone buzzes. You look down and see an email from your friend. They’ve booked an Airbnb for your upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic. Suddenly, you’re transported to a pristine beach with palm trees wafting in the breeze. You don’t even have to close your eyes to imagine it, the image is just there in your head. When you snap out of it and get back to emails, you feel happy and renewed rather than annoyed. Before you’ve even left your office, this trip has done wonders for your mood.

If you sometimes feel like daydreaming about a trip is as good as the trip itself, it turns out your feelings have some strong data backing them up. Psychologists find that just anticipating an event can lower our stress levels and boost our moods. “Imagining good things ahead of us makes us feel better in the current moment,” Simon A. Rego, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center, explains; “it can increase motivation, optimism, and patience and decrease irritability.”2 Getting hyped about a trip or event can also help us feel better about ourselves, as psychologist Christian Waugh has found in his work on anticipation. “When you have positive anticipatory things in your mind, there’s less room for negative thoughts.” Waugh elaborates: “It promotes approach thinking, so the feeling that you’re going toward something you want or desire, as opposed to going away from something you fear, which gives you a sense of well-being.”2

So how can we build anticipation? Immersion. If you’re planning a trip, watch films and documentaries on the location, read books and listen to music by local creatives, trawl the internet for the perfect places to visit, pour over restaurant menus and keep notes on everything that sparks your interest or curiosity.

If you are not able to plan a trip right now, you can still get some of these benefits by anticipating future travel. So go ahead and buy the Lonely Planet for a trip to Argentina that you might take one day, or start looking at Airbnbs for the ski vacation you might take next year. The more daydreaming you do about travel, the more chances you will have to pre-enjoy the travel.

A Young Man, Two Young Women and a Girl at a Picnic Party.By Katsukawa Shunchō, ca. 1789, middle sheet of a triptych of woodblock prints; ink and color on paper.

Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Virtual Voyaging

A perk of living during the present time is that technology lets us transport ourselves to exotic destinations without ever leaving our couches. And it turns out there is a virtual voyage out there for pretty much anyone. Dream of going to space? NASA offers virtual and AR tours, including of the International Space Station. Love the outdoors? Get a taste of nature by checking out the National Park Services’ webcams, which provide live streams from nearly every park. Fine art more your thing? Take a virtual tour through the Louvre; it even has an app-based VR Mona Lisa exhibit. And if you prefer a bit of natural history, you could try a walk through the Smithsonian Virtual Tour.

Now, is the virtual tour of the Louvre the same as actually going to the Louvre? For now, technology only has the ability to recreate certain aspects of a travel experience. While you can see a painting or hear music virtually, you can’t (yet) taste a glass of wine or feel the breeze on your skin. But really, what you can’t make up for in quality, you can probably make up with quantity. Virtual travel gives you the opportunity to flit through time and space at dizzying speeds. One moment, you can stand agape in front of a 250-million-year-old specimen from the Triassic unearthed in Arizona, and the next, you can admire the intricate paintings on a 14th-century vase from the Ming Dynasty. If you love learning about history, geography, or new cultures, virtual travel can be a wonderful thing.

Given the opportunities we have to take stay-cations, delight in the anticipation of hypothetical journeys, and engage in virtual travel, is it even worth it to endure airport customs lines and costly plane tickets? For many adventures, the answer is probably still yes. Nothing can quite replace the delight of hiking through Yosemite or eating a plate of pasta in Italy (even though it’ll ruin pasta in the U.S. for you). But if you just can’t book a flight for tomorrow, these substitutes are pretty good. Exploration isn’t a United Airlines itinerary – it’s a mindset honed by presence. Not all travel needs to be to some distant city; sometimes, even a small detour can change your life.


Rosenbloom, Stephanie. “What a Great Trip! and I'm Not Even There Yet.” The New York Times, 7 May 2014.
2 Burns, Holly. “To Enjoy Life More, Embrace Anticipation.” The New York Times, 31 May 2022.

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