The Psychology of Travel

– Niharikaa Mehta

The Psychology Behind Motivation of Travelling and Wanderlust 

Travel to some is a refuge from their current state of life. Visiting gigantic mountains, taking a dip in the vast ocean, camping under the starlit skies, exploring new cultures and cities or living life in the unknown are all immensely enticing prospects. travelling is an evolutionary trait extending from all animals to humans. From ancient travellers and navigators like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus to present-day Instagram travel bloggers, humans have always been wanderers. Exploration is known to be in our nature. 

However, whilst travelling may seem fun and relaxing, it might, at times, get difficult with the minimum amount of resources and facilities out there. While travelling and exploring cultures, we have to step away from our comfort zones, away from the luxuries of home and city life. Travelling to unknown remote places also requires a great amount of courage and will. Hence the question often arises as to why people travel despite language barriers, cultural shocks and the fear of the unknown?

Why do we travel?

Motivation plays a key role in everything we do. It refers to the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. Everything we do on a daily basis has a certain underlying reason, motive, and drive that push or pull us to behave or engage in a kind of activity. For instance, most of our biological behavior such as eating and sleeping is controlled by our hypothalamus. We maintain social relationships, because of our need for affiliation. We engage in a certain kind of lifestyle because it satisfies either our intrinsic or extrinsic motives. 

All the activities can be attributed to an essential motive that causes a particular behavior. This is no different for travelling. We have seen so many people leave their normal lives behind to focus on travelling continents. Although some try to maintain a balance between the two. 

People travel for various reasons such as escape, relaxation, self-discovery, expanding knowledge, interpersonal relationships, scenery, wanderlust etc. These factors are usually categorised into physical motivators, cultural motivators, interpersonal motivators, status, and prestige motivators. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs 

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs focuses on different levels of needs placed in the form of a pyramid. At the lowest level comes our physiological needs – the basic requirements of hunger, thirst, sex, and sleep. These needs are then followed by safety needs, love and belongingness, self-esteem needs and finally at the top of the pyramid lie the self-actualisation needs (McLeod, 2020). 

This model of motivation is also adapted to understand the factors that drive travellers to explore different places. Maslow’s hierarchy theory helps us to comprehend the different needs that motivate travellers while also providing knowledge about what kinds of experiences travellers seek. It states that a person has to fulfill the basic physiological and safety needs before thinking of travelling. One will take care of his hunger before booking a plane ticket to fly to another part of the world. Once these needs are met, the person might be interested in travelling again. Theorists believe that self-actualisation is the end of the goal of leisure (Brown, 2005). In simple words, travelling usually helps us explore the different sides of the self, re-evaluate the self and understand the self. Hence, making us more and more aware of our true self, ergo reaching self-actualisation. 

In addition to this, Maslow described two other sets of needs, that fell between the esteem needs and self-actualisation needs. The aesthetic need and the need to know and understand also called the growth needs are not very well known as they are not places in the pyramid (Gautam, 2007; Huang & Hsu, 2009)

Once the person has achieved the esteem needs, the need to know and understand is increased. The individual wants to expand their knowledge about the different things in and around the world, different cultures, different historical eras. Humans want to learn, explore and discover. Following the expansion of knowledge, to continue upward the pyramid, it was believed that humans need something beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to them. They need to be surrounded by the beauty of nature and absorb what it has to offer  (Gautam, 2007).

In short, we can say that travel, in one way or the other, can be used to satisfy the different levels of needs. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Push and Pull Theory 

Apart from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the push and pull model given by Dann in 1977 was also widely accepted by various researchers to explain the motivation for travel. Dann explains that travel is the result of two important factors – the push and pull factor. The push factors include the intrinsic factors such as escape, relaxation, rest, prestige, social interactions that drive the desire to travel. The pull factors on the other hand include the extrinsic factors about the destination held by the traveller, such as the beauty of the destination, recreational activities, buildings and environmental attention of the place. The push factors help to initiate the desire for travel while the pull factors help you decide the destination of travel (Uysal and Jurowski, 1994).

We usually see ourselves taking a break from our daily routine and going on a vacation. We take the break to escape from reality at times, or just rest and relax. Therefore, the inner needs drive us to travel (Crompton, 1979).  Based on our desires, we also are appealed by the external factors of the place. If your internal factors for travel are peace and relaxation, you will end up choosing a place amidst nature, maybe the Himalayas, or a tropical break at Hawai. If they are prestige and status, you may end up choosing something that is more commercialised. Hence, both pull and push factors work together behind your travel decisions. 

Other theorists have come to an understanding that the main motive behind travel is escape. Escape the boredom and mundaneness of life. To get rid of the everyday mishaps and burdens, the small apartments, the busy roads, the stressful jobs, and the loss of nature, to rejuvenate the self to go on with life (Krippendorf, 1987).

Travel motivation is a psychological concept that helps in comprehending the underlying structure. Apart from these motivators, subjective factors like background, culture, previous experiences also play an important role in travel-related decision-making (Push And Pull Factor In Tourism Tourism Essay, 2018) 

As an avid traveller myself, I used to find myself asking why humans travel. What is the need to circumnavigate the world, experience the greatest civilizations of the time, the monumental buildings, trek through the soul capturing beauty of the majestic mountains, enjoy the calmness of the blue water under our feet to feel relaxed or escape from everyday life? If required, this can be done at our own homes, right? With the ‘Netflix and Chill’ trend, all you have to do is shut your phone, binge-watch a few movies, and you have your escape from reality, your period of rest. But that is not enough. 

Often, I find myself packing my bag and getting away from home and my daily life, to be amidst nature. While all of this does make me intensely happy, it might also add to my status in society. But I believe they do more than just that. Few days away from the noisy city is not only my escape but also appeals to my innermost desires and needs. 

Humans, even though materialistic, crave the aesthetic and sublime nature that they originally belonged to. We crave knowledge and experiences. Our intrinsic needs to relax, explore, reevaluate and connect with the self all is achieved by travelling. Travelling caters to the desires and needs within us. It helps us to revive our energy to deal with the daily happenings of life. We are fuelled with the adventure of travel to fulfill these desires and attain a state of happiness on the surface level and calmness on a deeper level. 

No wonder that by just visiting places, travel can turn into such an emotional and spiritual journey for some. As Ray Bradbury says “We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to be lost.” 


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Crompton, J. (1979) Motivations for pleasure vacation. Annals of Tourism Research 6(4), 408-424.

Gautam, S. (2007). Maslow’s eight basic needs and the eight stage developmental model. The Mouse Trap. Retrieved from

Huang, S., & Hsu, C. (2009). Travel motivation: linking theory to practice. International Journal Of Culture, Tourism And Hospitality Research, 3(4), 287-295.

Krippendorf, J. (1987), The Holidaymakers. Understanding the Impact of Leisure and Travel. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.

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Uysal, M., and Jurowski, C., (1994), Testing the push and pull factors. Annals of Tourism Research 21(4), 844-846.

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