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Are You (Literally) Dreaming About Travel Lately? You’re Not Alone

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Martha’s Vineyard

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Martha’s Vineyard

Much has been written about our collective subconscious being on overdrive during the coronavirus pandemic. Find out why you’re dreaming more about travel right now.

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“Is anyone else having travel dreams? Not daydreams . . . actual dreams.” I posed the question to the AFAR staff on Monday after my brain had gone on vacation nightly—for a week. One dream took me to a hybrid European city, some combination of Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, with wide boulevards and empty plazas and landmarks like the Spanish Steps. (Apparently everyone in my subconscious is self-isolating as well.) Another night, I dreamt of a work trip to Belgium, where my colleagues and I had a particularly rowdy night out and a senior executive ended up dancing on a bar. I’ve never even been to Belgium—though that senior exec scene was pretty accurate. What about the rest of my fellow avid travelers?

“Last night I had a dream about a Rome/Nashville hybrid . . . with Egyptian food.”

“I recently dreamed that I was rock-climbing in Armenia and at the top of a cliff was a tiny Armenian library run by a little boy and an old man. They specialized in rare and ancient books.”

“I’m missing my family so much and so I keep reliving our family vacations on Martha’s Vineyard almost nightly. Riding bicycles, making sandwiches with Mom and packing up the cooler for the beach; waiting in line for the Flying Horses Carousel with my little brother and getting lost on a hike with Dad.”

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Not everyone is enjoying the fruits of REM sleep—in fact, several staffers said they’d been having nightmares, or more specifically, “totally whack” dreams, and per the rush of dream-related coverage lately (check out the Cut and the New York Times to start), it appears much of America can relate. Why are we having such weird dreams during the coronavirus pandemic, specifically about travel? A few possible reasons:

We’re sleeping more

Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard Medical School psychologist and dream specialist, told the Cut that “the spike in dream recall is a side effect of the slower-paced lifestyle some non-essential workers are now leading. ‘Changing one’s routine dramatically often leads to more dream recall,’ she says. Especially when the new routine involves more sleep. . . .  ‘I hear more people who—both because their workaholic activities are interrupted and their partying is on hold—they’re sleeping more. I think that’s probably the single biggest factor.’” This might also sound familiar to anyone catching up on a sleep debt, particularly when you get four hours or fewer of sleep a night like many working parents these days.

We’re feeling nostalgic 

Barrett also told the New York Times that, in a 2012 study of prisoners of war, “common subjects were ‘family of origin, distant past, hometown.’ Sometimes the men dreamed of returning to their families and hometowns only to discover no one had noticed their absence. Another theme that occurred more often and vividly than in the normative sample was something else the prisoners were missing: ‘Food, food, food,’ said Barrett. She anticipates an uptick in food dreams as virus confinement continues.”

We need to recuperate

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The classic definition of a travel or vacation dream is pretty obvious: You need to get away. To relax, recuperate. You’re overwhelmed by your daily responsibilities and NEED. A. BREAK. Sound about right? Your brain thinks so, too—though if you’re dreaming about a vacation gone wrong, be it a missed connection or a squabble with a family member, it may just signal growing frustration or regret in your waking life.

We’re thinking, and talking, about travel more

With some 90 percent of the world living with travel restrictions during the pandemic, according to PEW Research, and with those limits ongoing, we’re seeing more people “dreaming about vacation”—in the figurative sense as well. There’s been a 57 percent increase in the number of people talking about “dreaming about vacation” year over year, according to a listening analysis by MMGY, a major integrated travel and marketing agency. Our dreams, day or night, will have to carry us to that distant horizon for now. 

>>Next: Save Me From Myself! A Travel Lover’s Guide to Staying Sane While You’re Stuck at Home