Whatever madman came up with the slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” was onto something. Of course, the now-famous tagline is referencing the free pass that Sin City, that neon temple of anonymity, seems to offer its visitors; but it also offers a larger suggestion about the escapism of travel: when we are somewhere else, we are someone else.
There’s something about vacation that makes so many of us bolder, happier, freer, and more exciting than the people we are in our everyday lives. The picky eater tries an exotic dish; the wallflower strikes up a conversation with a stranger; the tax accountant goes bungee jumping; and the married couple actually feels frisky—twice in one day. But when it’s time to go home, we pack these vacation versions of ourselves in our suitcases, between the dirty clothes and the hotel shampoos, and grudgingly go back to being our everyday selves.
Free at Last
What inspires this more engaged, globe-trotting alter ego? First of all, it’s the point of vacation itself: to remove ourselves from (literally, to vacate) the stresses and distractions of everyday life. When those distractions are removed, our physical, emotional, and mental energy is freed up for other things. For some of us, this creates an opportunity to do things we’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the time or energy for. In my daily life, for example, I move efficiently from point A to point B simply to get things done, but my travel persona relishes wandering—getting lost in new and interesting neighborhoods. For others, a lack of routine and responsibility spells boredom. “There’s nothing else to do,” a friend explains of her friskier vacation self. So we seek out novel activities or experiences as distractions from our lack of distraction.
No One Has to Know
As the Vegas slogan suggests, travel offers a cloak of anonymity when it gets us away from our normal social circles. When you’re on an island two thousand miles from your coworkers, friends, and family, you can be whoever you want to be because there’s no one there to contradict you. There’s no one to say, “But you don’t go skinny-dipping” or “You wouldn’t like octopus.” There’s also no one there to report back on you. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Blame It on the Beach
Our surroundings also certainly affect our personalities. In a 2007 article, New York Times columnist David Brooks mused about the summer beach vacation versus the mountain vacation. The beach, he wrote, transforms us into “banal bimbo-ized version[s]” of ourselves. It’s the tacky boardwalk stores and the mindless arcade games, the repetitive lull of the waves and the lack of clothing. The mountains, however, he claimed, inspire our most “spiritually and physically robust” selves. Brooks never really explains this counterpoint, but it’s not hard to see how sultry, tropical climes might inspire sexier-than-normal attitudes or how majestic, alpine vistas might encourage out-of-character athleticism and self-contemplation. Exaggerated environments breed exaggerated personalities.
Go Ahead, You’re on Vacation
Travel for some people means splurging—financially and otherwise. A trip may open someone’s wallet to high-price experiences and activities not in the everyday budget.
And, of course, there’s the alcohol. People tend to drink more on vacation. Without early morning wake-up calls and a reputation to uphold, this makes sense. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, which makes dancing the tango in front of fifty strangers a heck of a lot easier.
Bringing It Home
Can we bring parts of our travel persona home with us, like souvenirs? Wii just released a video game called Vacation Isle: Beach Party. Unfortunately, it seems the game is intended for kids rather than adults. That’s too bad. It would be useful to have a game that flexed our vacation muscles, that kept us adventurous and bold and outgoing like our travel personas, even if only in the digital world. Games might include chatting up a cute bartender in Barbados or getting your palm read by a street psychic in Barcelona.
Until that game is invented, think about what inspires your travel persona. Is it the extra time, the lack of distractions, the location? Can you do anything to re-create those circumstances? Can you set aside an hour for a walk around the neighborhood if not a walk on the beach? Can you try a new ethnic restaurant each month? You might even look through your photos to remind yourself how fun you were, and can be. And, of course, you can always start planning your next vacation.