Adventure Based Wellbeing – what is the Traveller Effect?


By Rod Quintrell

This article originally appeared in The View Magazine, official industry magazine of the South Australian Tourism Industry Council (TiCSA), formerly South Australian Tourism Industry Council (SATIC).

After presenting a workshop during the SA Tourism Conference I began to reflect on what benefits adventure based experiences can bring. This article is an attempt to explore the positive effects on psychological wellbeing of adventure based experiences.

Adventure based experiences are novel activities with hands on engagement, ideally in a group setting. Essentially the focus of these experiences is “learning by doing” – a fundamental tenant of Adventure Based Learning, which, in essence is a form of experiential education. Traditionally this also includes elements of physical engagement in a nature based setting, but does not necessarily need these components.

Two things can happen when we engage in new or novel experiences. Firstly – the working memory part of your pre frontal cortex needs to be engaged to learn and secondly, by default, your existing patterns of behaviour are temporarily changed to deal with these new experiences.

This leads to an internal phenomenon most people can relate with – what I call the traveller effect. When you return home from an epic adventure and there is that short lived period of ‘upbeatness’ and openness to change.

Some answers may lie within the science of Positive Psychology, a blend of humanistic and cognitive behavioural theories. It’s founder, Martin Seligman, suggests we need five ingredients for psychological wellbeing… Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

Adventure tourism, or that epic Heysen Trail trek you just returned from, contains many of these ingredients in varied ways.

Does the immediacy of Adventure Tourism make it the ultimate form of mindfulness?  Experience engagement or flow is all about here and now – you cannot experience flow without being in the moment. Meaning can be about understanding the value of things being in the journey, not the destination.  Accomplishment in this context can be satisfaction or perhaps trail completion.

When I first entered into the outdoor recreation / adventure tourism space I had clear vision of the potential physical and mental health benefits of extended time in nature with a small group of people, trained and equipped to deal with the chosen activity. I personally experienced, and have been privileged to witness, significant lasting personal change through adventure travel and it’s resultant effects on self.

This leads me into understanding that the science backed benefits can be split into three areas:

  1. Time in Nature – Studies have continually shown the varied health benefits. A 2016 article in Nature suggests the next big global heath issue is urbanisation, and experiences in nature produced physical, mental and social health improvements.
  2. The benefits of diet and exercise on our wellbeing are varied and well documented. From understanding that exercise is seen as a treatment option for depression to exploring the role food has on mood, the evidence is in – healthy body – healthy mind.
  3. The benefits of novelty engagement – “learning by doing” – a fundamental element of Adventure Based Learning, a form of Experiential Education. The evidence suggests the learning is far likelier to be retained if engaged. The benefits of mindful engagement are well accepted in heath literature.

Beyond Blue estimates three million Australians are currently living with Anxiety or Depression. In 2016, the cost to Australian taxpayers was, according to the Mental Health Commission, $60 BILLION Dollars, $4000 per taxpayer!

To me, adventure is a state of mind and is subjective to the individual, but adventure based learning and its societal wellbeing benefits are more objective. Perhaps if we all adopted an adventure holiday mindset in our day to day existing, and of course on our short breaks in South Australia, we all might experience the benefits.

Now…  where is my kayak….?