Does travel help you stay emotionally healthy? An inspiring author tells us the in and outs of his journey, what he learned along the way, and all the mental health benefits of traveling.
Many people may not necessarily see a connection between mental health and adventure challenges or international travel. But I’m happy to prove you wrong here because by profession I do what I would call a “professional traveler”, “travel writer” or more accurately, an “adventure challenge seeker.” Why is that?
I have specialized for many years in taking on adventure challenges and publishing them in the international book and television market. Some of my journeys are called ‘How to Travel the World for Free’, ‘How to Barter for Paradise’ (How to turn an apple into a house in Hawaii by trading it for bigger and better things), and ’50 States of Wigge: 50 States in 50 Days facing 50 challenges’.
All of the challenges made me step out of my comfort zone, forced me to face my fears, and taught me the following incredible lessons about mental health.
Without further ado, here are my top mental health takeaways from my travels.
1. Overcome Fears
Going on a world trip alone with no money and going on a second world trip to trade in an apple for something bigger and better to reach a huge goal definitely faced my fears.
Fear of danger
I remember starting this journey years ago in Berlin, leaving for Antarctica with no money in my pocket for food, accommodation, and travel. I was standing on a highway bridge outside Berlin and suddenly felt this devastating fear of danger.
Was this trip going to be dangerous or even life-threatening? I was about to go back home and tell my friends that I didn’t want to make the trip and I never really wanted to anyway.
Because the fear overcame me and was so strong that I was even willing to not tell the truth. But luckily, I got a handle on that fear and decided to face it, fight it, and challenge it!
And it worked! A few days into the trip, that kind of fear was gone, accepting it as part of me. And so I started to do it with all kinds of fears.
But which other fears appeared as well?
Fear of loneliness
Several of these trips I did alone and also filmed myself as a VJ. So alone in the world, sometimes for days and weeks without meeting anyone else, made me face the uncomfortable feeling of loneliness.
It can be extremely intimidating when you need people and want to socialize, but there are no friends around!
I remember getting nervous trying to socialize with random people in different countries, but luckily traveling didn’t always let me get out of that kind of fear. As a result, you have to go through the anxiety and suddenly feel much more comfortable with yourself and alone with yourself after having to face this fear.
Existential Survival Fear
‘How to Travel the World for Free’ triggered this very existential anxiety in me, that my needs for enough food wouldn’t be met.
I was able to balance this by planning ahead to always have enough reserves with me. But confronting this extremely uncomfortable feeling probably did a lot to boost my self-confidence and my perspective on my needs.
Fear of Failure
In “How to Barter for Paradise”, I had to turn a bitten apple into a house in Hawaii.
Sounds pretty crazy when you’re traveling through 14 countries, right? I got very anxious halfway through when I turned that apple into a painting and three ounces of gold worth about $7,000.
Well, it was a great accomplishment after 100 days of travel and seven countries, but I was under extreme pressure to succeed because a camera crew from ZDF television Germany was following me around the world and I only had 100 days left to turn these items into a house in Hawaii.
The team was filming my activities and any kind of result, whether I won or failed, would have been broadcast nationally in Germany. I felt this extreme fear of possible failure that was hard to experience, but it helped me for later stages of my life: today I still find failure challenging, but not unbearable!
Failure is often the best lesson for further success and absolutely no longer a taboo for me. Confronting these feelings has helped me to better deal with all kinds of outcomes in projects.
2. Strengthening the ability to embrace change
Achieving goals, stepping out of your comfort zone, and traveling the unbeaten path requires very good change management. Especially in “How to Travel the World for Free”, I had to constantly embrace change to successfully trade for food, travel, and lodging.
Often, I had to be very proactive and outgoing to approach people, then I used humor for street stunts like pillow fights to trade for a plane ticket, and on other occasions, I had to integrate into subcultures like the Amish farmers in Ohio.
Looking back on this journey, I was a traveling chameleon, changing colors several times a day. And it was good that this journey forced me to do that because I’ve never really been good at embracing change.
I remember the early 2000s: I went to university in London to study film. The Internet and email communication were still pretty new, but I had to use them for my studies. I refused to get into the online world for a very long time until my supervisor at the university asked me to finally answer his emails to avoid further consequences on my graduation later on.
Five years later, I was living in Cologne, Germany, and online banking had become the norm. I still went to my local bank every day to make some money transfers for my business, bypassing their online offerings.
Embracing change also means facing the fear of the unknown and facing the fear of learning and failing if a change process gets bumpy along the way.
But that’s the best way to practice and live life to the fullest to achieve goals, rather than avoiding the fear. I’m glad that these travel challenges helped me improve!
3. Becoming more resilient
Resilient is the mental attitude for success and during my years of adventure travel “How to Travel the World for Free”, I’ve developed strategies for improving my resilience, especially in times of crisis and change.
I think resilience is the key to a successful and happy life – and just when traveling – and the good news is that we can always work on it. I like to stick to the seven-pillar model of resilience. Let’s jump right in:
Seven-pillar model of resilience
It is a distinguishing characteristic whether I approach challenges with a solution-focused or problem-focused mindset. Solution-oriented people have a dramatically higher chance of achieving their goals in life.
2. Realistic optimism
I used to be prone to pessimism and realized that it often causes fear and anxiety because of its negative attitude. For me, this was the key to successful goal setting and the mindset change only took less than a year.
3. Acceptance of the unchangeable
There are circumstances that we may never be able to change, like a pandemic or the cold weather in the winter. As a coach, I have seen many people become frustrated and angry at the unchangeable circumstance. It is important to recognize that acceptance of the unchangeable and brainstorming new solutions is followed by goal setting.
Great networkers have much more stability and the ability to get help or inspiration when needed. Research has shown that great networkers tend to be much more resilient people.
5. Future goals
Goal setting itself is one of the most important motivators in life. A lack of goal setting can lead to depression and a lack of resilience. I usually work with my clients on 1,3,5 years goals for a positive and enthusiastic mental attitude.
The more responsibility we take for our current situation, the faster we move forward and the faster we can overcome challenges. I would never think, “Oh, it’s his fault.” We created our own life and choose the people around us.
7. Emotion regulation
It is important to have strategies and tools at hand to regulate stress, motivation, and mood. Certain tools can be used under pressure to regulate emotions immediately. Workout and meditation would be the first that come to mind.
I usually scale each of these seven pillars from 0 to 10 and work on those that are 5 and below. People who have all seven pillars in the 5 to 10 range have a great chance of performing well, coming through crisis stronger, and impacting others with positive energy.
I like to recommend keeping a diary and reflecting on these seven pillars and regularly writing down changing numbers of the seven pillars. I’ve done this for years and it has definitely improved my life in terms of high performance and simple happiness.
What challenges will you take on to face your fears in 2021?
Speaker and Challenge Seeker Michael Wigge
Award-winning motivational speaker, Michael Wigge, specializes in documenting incredible stories about achieving victory over challenges.
How to Travel the World for Free, How to Barter for Paradise (where he turned an apple into a Hawaiian dream home through his skills in bartering for bigger, better things), and How to Travel Europe Blindfolded are just three of his seven travel shows.
He recently shared his amazing success stories on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (alongside co-guest Katy Perry) and also on the Today show. His TV programs and books have been broadcast and published internationally.