Travel can refresh and rejuvenate. It can be a respite from a stressful life. But it can also be much deeper than that. As Dr. Marilyn Varcoe says, “Travel is good medicine.”
Varcoe has been to 171 counties and belongs to the Naples chapter of the Circumnavigators Club, an organization of travel enthusiasts. She’s also a licensed cognitive behavioral psychologist with a successful practice in Naples.
For most of her career, she’s studied how those two parts of her persona intertwine and how the concept of a “vacation” can be so much more than just a getaway.
While we focus on the “where” and “when” of travel planning, there are the psychological benefits that may go unnoticed. A branch of behavioral psychology has started to focus on the positive effects of travel on health. Frequent travel has been associated with a boost in job performance, a lower risk of heart attack, an improved outlook on the world and even a better sex life. Overall, it makes people happy.
The proper dose of travel does need to be tailored to the patient. What is exciting to one person might be scary to another. What is relaxing to one traveler might be dull to another.
With Varcoe’s expertise, we’ve created eight different traveler personality types and the best vacations for each one. Read on to figure out which one (or ones) might fit your personality best. Consider it a trip to the therapist—just a whole lot more fun.
Playing it safe isn’t your style. Chances are you’re a type A personality looking to escape day-to-day life for a bit, and a mai tai on the beach isn’t quite going to cut it.
One of Varcoe’s most memorable trips was a three-day hike to Machu Picchu in Peru. The site itself has been named one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, but the adventure comes in the journey through the mountains to the ancient city. Travel companies offer multiple treks that can last anywhere from a couple of days to a week. Along the way you’ll see cloud-shrouded forests, alpine tundra and jungle. Just make sure you’re in decent shape before you go. Multi-day hikes can be strenuous even for the physically fit.
While you’re in South America, Varcoe recommends combining your hike with a trip to the Galápagos Islands, about 600 miles west of Ecuador. The remoteness of the islands means you’ll be able to get up close with the blue-footed boobies, tortoises and other native species. The majority of the islands is a national park, so access is restricted to certain areas, but island-hopping via boat will give plenty of opportunity to experience the wildlife and some kayaking or snorkeling adventures.
If those seem tame (and to some adventurers they might), try going to the ends of the Earth: Antarctica (pictured). Cruise ships are the most popular means of travel, but don’t just sail by. Actually go on land and see the penguins close up. “The views are spectacular, breathtaking,” Varcoe says. “All the colors you see are blue and white.” Go in January to skip the bad weather.
The Nervous Traveler
Not everyone can be the adventurer. The Nervous Traveler is someone who wants to see the world but doesn’t like the uncertainty that goes with it. Let’s face it: Everyone is like this to a degree. Traveling can bring a lot of the unknown. For some, new experiences can be anxiety-inducing. The best way to calm your nerves is to start planning. “You really have to feel like you’re in control,” Varcoe says.
Sometimes, that means trusting someone do the planning for you. The best bet is to get connected with a travel company that can take on a lot of the details. Tauck tours, for example, offers all-inclusive trips that are planned day-to-day. Its escorted tours feature guides who take care of everything from airfare to lodging to meals right off the bat. So, you know what you’re getting into each day. One of its most popular tours is its Classic Italy getaway that features an after-hours look inside the Sistine Chapel and a guided tour from an art historian in Venice. “You’re always in the hands of someone who’s taking care of you,” Varcoe says of the family-owned company.
The Lifelong Learner
A vacation doesn’t have to be a means to disconnect. The Lifelong Learner is the curious sort, someone looking to put context to experiences. In these cases, preparation can be half the fun, Varcoe says, as you can immerse yourself in researching the history of the area before seeing it firsthand.
One of the best places to see history up close is Europe. Varcoe recommends Croatia. It’s become a hot spot for historical travel recently, in part due to a favorable exchange rate. Cities like Split feature Roman ruins perhaps in better shape than the more well-known ones in other countries. Diocletian’s Palace (pictured) is in the heart of the city and serves as home to shops and restaurants. It’s a living, breathing museum.
Don’t avoid the Middle East entirely, either. The tumult can often overshadow the beauty of the region. A place like Jordan has a thriving tourist scene and ancient temples and ruins, such as the rock-cut architecture of the ancient city of Petra.
The Stressed-Out Traveler
If a vacation seems like work, maybe you’re doing it wrong. A jammed-packed schedule may not feel all that relaxing to someone who lives with a jammed-packed schedule every day. If your trip is purely a means to relax, take these steps:
First: Seek water. “Being near the water is always relaxing,” Varcoe says.
Second: Avoid the crowds.
The Caribbean is just a quick plane ride away from Southwest Florida. Varcoe finds that St. Barths (pictured) is perhaps the most remote of the Caribbean islands, meaning you won’t have to fight the crowds coming off massive cruise liners. A company like Wimco Villas offers places to stay with concierges who can pick you up at the airport, fill your fridge with food and bring you a drink on the beach. “You can easily find a quiet spot in St. Barths,” she says.
The Hawaiian Islands are always ideal for a peaceful retreat on white-sand beaches. Varcoe recommends Kauai, which features a laid-back vibe and charming resorts. You’ll also see the scenic Waimea Canyon (think the Grand Canyon but more lush).
Like the Lifelong Learner, The Spiritualist traveler is seeking a connection, oftentimes a higher connection. If faith is a driving force in your life, a vacation can be a chance to immerse yourself in spirituality of a particular culture.
The Holy Land is a must-see, Varcoe says. The well-known places like the Wailing Wall or Temple Mount are the highlights in Jerusalem, but just touring the Old City is an amazing experience. “It feels spiritual just walking along the side streets,” she says.
She also recommends Tibet and Nepal (pictured). Several travel companies offer tours of Buddhist temples, known for their majestic architecture. Swayambhunath, or the Monkey Temple, is perched high above the city. Religious iconography is etched into its stone. Colorful flags flutter off the gold stupa. It’s a lovely sight, and particularly rewarding if you can make it up the 365 steps to the top. “You feel like you’re up in the heavens. The altitude is so high, you feel like you can barely move. You wonder how (the monks) do it,” Varcoe says.
The Thrill Seeker
These are the young or young at heart. Just make sure your heart can take zip lining. The Thrill Seekers are like the adventurers—but they tend to live more on the edge. Therefore, a vacation becomes a chance to test your limits.
Costa Rica is starting to emerge has a thrill seeker hot spot, Varcoe says. One of her most memorable experiences recently was zip lining through a tree canopy along the Pacific. “You’re flying like a bird,” she says. The views are amazing—as long as you keep your eyes open.
The Gold Coast of Australia (pictured) is known for its picturesque beaches and some of the best surf breaks in the world. The famous Superbank attracts surfers for its long, curling waves. The SkyPoint hotel offers gorgeous views, but if you want to kick it up a notch, head up the SkyPoint Climb to the outdoor observation deck at the highest point in the Gold Coast. Or, get even higher with Skydive Byron Bay.
The Solo Traveler
You’re independent, fearless (for the most part) and looking to explore. Don’t bother trying to convince others to come with you. Just do it yourself. Solo travel is starting to become more popular. “The industry is recognizing the single traveler,” Varcoe says.
Cruises, in particular, are starting to target this demographic. Norwegian Cruise Lines (pictured) was one of the first to feature cabins for one and now offers cruises with singles-only meetups. Varcoe says the experience is perfect for the person who wants that freedom of solo travel but doesn’t want to be entirely secluded from other people.
Another option is booking a trip with Overseas Adventure Travel. The travel company’s small-group tours are designed to bring solo travelers together while still allowing opportunities for each person to venture out on their own. Varcoe says she has found that they’re popular with travel-experienced, single baby boomers. “It’s great because you’re joining a group of like-minded people,” Varcoe says.
The Luxury Traveler
Only the best for this one. Money is no object. The luxury traveler is one who isn’t looking to hold back (and can afford to do so). It doesn’t mean he or she is ostentatious, necessarily. Just seeking once-in-a-lifetime experiences—budget be damned.
If you’re looking to hit the water, the Seven Seas Explorer is the world’s most luxurious cruise line. Spend the day at the infinity pool, shop the designer boutique, then rest your head in the $10,000-per-day Regent Suite. The cruise line offers tours around the world with stops in luxurious cities—but you may just want to stay on the boat.
A safari should be on many a serious traveler’s bucket list. But don’t think you have to stay at a campsite. Four Seasons Safari Lodge is set amid the Serengeti. Head out on safari or watch elephants roam the land from the resort pool. The thatched-roof Presidential Villa fits four people and goes for upward of $12,000 per night, including a butler and private chef.
The Island of Lanai (pictured) is Hawaii’s smallest accessible island. High rollers have taken a liking to it, such as Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who liked it so much he bought the vast majority of it. The island features two resorts and is accessible only by boat. Explore the rugged terrain in an ATV or go snorkeling. Or just spend the day overlooking the deep blue waters of the Pacific from your room.
Read more about Dr. Marilyn Varcoe’s travel adventures here.