By Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist
Exploring on foot, visiting interesting sites, absorbing the energy of a bustling city and tasting delicious food in amazing restaurants. City breaks tick all of the boxes for me and I’m not the only one. According to Statista, city breaks are the most popular types of holidays taken by British tourists. But what attracts us to spending a few days in a bustling metropolis? Whether we travel in the UK or hop on a short flight to Europe, lets take a look what a few days in the city can do for our well-being.
Novelty and variety
City life is fast moving and ever changing and brings new and diverse experiences. New restaurant concepts, new flavours, new ideas, and an openness to change and progress. These new experiences can provide pleasurable experiences and can be a welcome break from our usual routines.
Visiting a city in another country can be a great way to experience a different culture, including new traditions, cuisine and experiences. In my recent poll of our Instagram community, 96% of respondents preferred city breaks abroad to breaks in their home country. In fact, our respondents indicated that experiencing a new culture and traditions was the aspect of city breaks they enjoyed most. Trying out new and hip restaurants and experiences was rated as the second most enjoyable aspect, followed by being in the physical space of the city, including the architecture.
Cities offer a huge variety of options that can help us to find experiences that match our preferences. In our Instagram survey our community indicated that city breaks can allow them to try out everything from vegan food, to rooftop bars, to concerts and theatre shows, nightlife and shops selling local handmade items. Having variety in our experiences can be great for our well-being (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2012). This is especially true if we can truly appreciate the experiences we have and not just think about them as a ‘tick list’ to go through. If we stay present for our experiences it can help us to appreciate them.
Being in busy places
As humans we are a social species and busy environments can help us to feel energised. This is much more likely though if we have chosen to take part in the busy situation, like attending a concert. In contrast not many of us like busy situations when we are trying to get somewhere quickly or get something done! City breaks allow us to experience the ‘buzz’ of a city in bite sized chunks, without having to live our day to day lives in the thick of it.
Can city breaks be restorative?
There is research evidence that short breaks (3-4 days) can be more restorative for us than longer vacations (Packer, 2021). Feeling able to detach from work is particularly helpful in allowing us to recharge from the mental fatigue of working and our day to day lives. The researcher, Dr Jan Packer suggests that short breaks can help us to address this mental exhaustion by providing the right conditions for our minds to restore. These conditions include being physically away from our everyday location and having activities that fascinate us or occupy our minds.
Activities that provide “soft fascination” are thought to be particularly beneficial. Dr Packer defined this as “activities that hold your attention effortlessly while allowing some headspace for engagement in reflection”. This might include visiting an art gallery or museum, or spending some time in a local park. Thinking of my own experiences, La Plaza de España in Seville totally ticks this box for me. I like to spend time just absorbing the atmosphere, and looking at the beautiful detail. But it is not ‘in your face’. These kinds of experiences can help us to restore.
The epic rise of budget airlines in the last 20 years has meant that city breaks are easily accessible and can be cheap. Taking a long weekend away can also feel more manageable than a longer holiday if our work demands might build up when we are away. This means we can experience the benefits of a trip, without the stresses that come with taking a long time away.
But what about the downsides?
So, jetting off somewhere new is great for our well-being. But how to we balance this with the effect that lots of short breaks might have on the planet? This article from loveEXPLORING provides 10 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your holiday.
Their suggestions include adapting the length of the trip to reflect the length of the flight. If you’re travelling long haul, combining a few days in a city with a few days at the beach can give you the best of both worlds. If you’re taking a short flight, try to keep your luggage to a minimum especially as this will save you precious time on arrival!
Last but not least, consider taking a trip closer to home. Local towns and cities may not give the opportunities to experience a new culture as travelling abroad. But, it is possible to find interesting and quirky options closer to home. As well as looking out for options that you know you will like, why not try something different? You never know, you might find yourself unexpectedly invigorated!
Gurung (2021) The power of people: why being in a crowd feels good Power of People: Why Being in a Crowd Feels Good | Psychology Today
Packer, J. (2021). Taking a break: exploring the restorative benefits of short breaks and vacations. Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights, 2(1), 100006.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). The challenge of staying happier: Testing the hedonic adaptation prevention model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(5), 670-680.