5 Psychological Benefits of Festivaling Abroad

Article by: Graham Berry|@Festival_Writer

Tue February 07, 2017 | 10:50 AM

For many, embarking on a festival adventure, whether alone or with a squad, is akin to taking a vacation. Festivals often peel away the layer of reality that lays between the core of who we are and the person we hope to be. They can help us look within and question who we are in the grand scheme of life. And while most of us opt for in-state or regional festivals, there’s a lot to be said about traveling to far-flung locales for even more eye-opening fest experiences. 

Several cultures actually encourage or even mandate pilgrimages as tenets of their communal codes. Some Native American tribes obliged their young members to go on vision quests to find their life's purpose; Islam requires making the Hajj to be considered a full-fledged Muslim, and many churches require missionary work in far-off places as a contribution to their communities. The common thinking of the day holds that money comes and goes but experiences are forever. In fact, the psychological benefits of traveling have been widely discussed and, coupled with the liberating nature of festival environments, there's a ton of personal growth to be had when you leave home behind. 

Here are five of our favorite ways festivaling abroad can help you flourish.

It's Easier to Overcome Cultural Misconceptions

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Dancing at Quest Festival in Vietnam. Photo by: Linka Odom

In societies that are rife with stereotypes and Manichean judgments, it’s easy to ascribe labels to groups of people and fall into an "us vs. them" mentality. By putting different cultures into boxes, one might never be able to open one's mind to new and different ways of life. Festivals can address these issues directly by serving as large-scale melting pots in which all kinds of people gather together for a shared experience. Traveling abroad for a festival takes this a step further, because being transported from what's familiar forces a person to exit his or her comfort zone and rely on the kindness of strangers to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Take the example of backpacking to Envision Festival in Costa Rica, or making it all the way to Wonderfruit in Pattaya, Thailand, which isn't an easy journey from the country's capital of Bangkok. Once away from the routines of daily life, it becomes easier to shed preconceived notions and form new opinions based on real-life experience.

It Can Spark Creativity

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Participants at South Africa's Afrikaburn. Photo by: Simon O'Callaghan

There’s something about the creativity that gushes out of the festival scene; the art, reverence for tradition, spirit of expression, freedom to lose oneself in the moment all permeate the veil of routines we seek to escape. At festivals all over the globe, people contribute dazzling paintings, colossal sculptures, heart-rending photography, whimsical words, arresting dance performances, or music – all with the hopes of expressing what makes them unique and finding others with whom to connect. The exposure to both kindred spirits and different ways of life allow deeper learning experiences to take place. 

The experience of watching barren landscapes or otherwise normal city streets transform into a festival in full swing is also powerful to witness, like the explosions of color during Holi or the 24/7 street parties of Rio Carnival – there's no way to not get swept up in the excitement. Festivals like Lucidity and Lightning In a Bottle are offering early arrival this year and onsite learning experiences to enrich their events and spark the creativity needed to ignite the passions of their attendees.

You'll Experience Elevated Openness

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A scene from India's Holi. Photo by: Tinka Kalajzic

Once past the initial culture shock of traveling in a foreign land, we instinctively search for the similar – but when we don’t find any vestiges of home, our persistence turns to a sense of wonder and curiosity that often leads us to turn to the locals for help. Genuine compassion may not be something you expect to encounter on the road, but that just may be what makes the experience of trusting someone else in an unfamiliar place so eye-popping. Not everyone is comfortable putting themselves "out there" in a normal setting, but on the road, directions, tips, and the occasional helping hand are crucial to make it through the journey. Relying on the kindness of strangers isn’t an easy. It takes an open heart, a brave mind and an authentic faith in the goodness of other humans.

You'll Witness Community

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Viking warriors participating in Up Helly Aa. Photo by: Andrew J Shearer

Every festival has a community attached to it. Bonnaroo has its Bonnaroovians. Electric Daisy Carnival has its “headliners,” Burning Man has its burners, and let's not forget the ShipFam. Even the cowboys of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and vikings of Up Helly Aa are tight-knit groups. In each community, a kinship gels among those who share the experience. Seeing how people come together at these events is particularly fascinating, for simply bearing witness to the feel-good gestures and random acts of kindness shared within the community can have a profound impact. For many, this is the secret sauce that makes traveling to a festival a truly transformative experience that can change our worldview and help us grow.

You'll Gain a Strengthened Sense of Self

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Lighting a lantern at Yi Peng in Thailand. Photo by: Emily Ward

For many, festivals challenge the idea that life is meant to be lived in a cubicle, on a schedule, toiling away for the benefit of someone else. Without the lifeline of parental figures or the security blanket of a social support network, traveling to a festival requires that one learn to make his or her own path. That self reliance, in turn, builds confidence and inner strength of character. Who knows? Maybe this newfound courage can propel you to participate in the special traditions practiced at cultural festivals around the world, like running with the bulls during Spain's Fiesta de San Fermín, or lighting a lantern at Thailand's Yi Peng and Loy Krathong lantern fest. Breaking habits and escaping routine also elicits an appetite for the extraordinary while encouraging us to realize our dreams.

This article was originally published in January 2016