Martin Lohmann knows exactly what motivated him when he was planning his winter vacation in the Austrian valley of Kleinwalsertal. “It was several reasons,” he tells DW. “I needed a change of scene, to get away from the grey winter in northern Germany — tank up on some fresh air in natural surroundings and spend time with my wife and kids.”
Lohmann is one of more than 50 million Germans who go on vacation every year. He’s also an expert on what motivates Germans to travel. Lohmann, who holds a degree in psychology, is former head of the Institute for Tourism Research in Northern Europe (NIT). He helped conduct the Forschungsgemeinschaft Urlaub und Reisen (Research Association for Holidays and Travel) travel analysis, an annual population-representative survey on the travel behavior of Germans since 1970.
Beach and sun motivate
The survey examines why Germans love traveling so much. The most common reasons for travel given by survey participants included “getting away from it all,” “having fun, enjoying oneself,” “sun, warmth, good weather,” “recharging your batteries,” and “spending time together.”
Meanwhile, reasons such as “experience a new atmosphere,” “being on the road,” “experiencing other countries,” “doing something related to culture and education,” or even “playing sports” ranked low on the list.
To put it bluntly, the vast majority of Germans simply want to lie on the beach and relax. According to Lohmann, this has been the primary travel motivation for Germans for the past 50 years. “Self-centered motives predominate,” he says. “People are primarily concerned with changing their situation.”
Christina Miro, a psychologist, travel therapist and passionate traveler, agrees with the results, although sitting on a beach isn’t how she prefers to travel: “Personally, I’m attracted to the foreign and the unknown,” she says. She is particularly interested in the culture, language, and learning about the way of life of the local population in her chosen destination, she says. “I find it exciting to learn more about other countries.”
For the vast majority of people, on the other hand, vacations are essentially a way to leave familiar surroundings and take some distance — both physically and mentally — from everyday life. Naturally, this isn’t always easy to do when stuck in the daily grind or at home, points out Miro. “After a stressful period at work, one longs for rest and relaxation on vacation. And vacations are mainly associated with warmth, sun, beach and sea,” she says.
Traveling despite crises
As with previous periods of crisis, the coronavirus pandemic didn’t have a lasting effect on Germans’ appetite for travel. Just as terrorist attacks or environmental catastrophes only briefly slowed down the tourism industry, the sector quickly picked up again once pandemic-related travel restrictions were lifted.
In many places, last year’s tourism figures were nearly back on par with those of 2019, and Christina Miro isn’t surprised. “We lacked positive experiences during the pandemic,” she says. The need for leisure activities, social contact and variety could only be satisfied to a limited extent, just as the desire to leave familiar surroundings and travel remained unfulfilled. “We’re making up for that now,” she adds.
Regardless of people’s motives, travel has a significant effect on the body and mind. “The fact that so many people travel repeatedly must have something to do with the fact that it does them good,” says tourism researcher Martin Lohmann.
Vacations produce feelings of relaxation that can last long after a trip is over. The relaxing effect usually dissipates three to four weeks after returning, Lohmann says.
The effects on health, however, are more long-term, adds Lohmann. A spa vacation, for example, can greatly improve one’s health, he says. But there are other positive elements that can last a lifetime, for example, the knowledge one gains when learning about a new culture. “This knowledge stays with you forever,” says the travel expert.
Positive feedback plays a role
Social recognition is another positive effect of taking a trip. People enjoy hearing words of admiration from friends, family, or colleagues when they recount their travel adventures, says Lohmann. “‘What, you climbed that mountain?!’ People enjoy the effect, even though it may not be the reason they took the trip,” Lohmann explains. Not to mention that watching the likes and comments flow in when posting on Instagram and Facebook provides a form of instant gratification that is now associated with travel.
Traveling can also have a positive impact on self-confidence, especially if one takes on a challenge while on vacation, like practicing a foreign language or doing a difficult physical activity. Lohmann experienced the latter on his vacation in Kleinwalsertal. “We did a pretty challenging snowshoe hike there,” he says. “It was a great feeling afterwards to be able to say ‘Great! I did that’.”
This article was translated from German.