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Benefits of leisure and tourism for people with disabilities

benefits of leisure and tourism for people with disabilities

Traveling has been proven to improve social skills, communication skills, and self-esteem. In addition, with ContigoMasViajes (an agency specializing in accessible travel for people with disabilities), travelers have the opportunity of participating in the entire planning and making-decision processes, therefore improving their self-management skills in daily life.

Today, we are going to address some of the benefits of traveling and we will do so by focusing on people with disabilities or with any type of special needs.

Benefits of traveling for people with disabilities

1. A first step for getting out of your comfort zone

Traveling, especially over long distances, means preparing for new experiences: learning about different cultures and customs, being shocked by people wearing different clothes, etc.

This requires a dose of empathy and patience since you must be ready to make yourself understood in everyday situations by changing your perspective. What for you is a gesture that indicates a terrible lack of manners, somewhere else in the world might bea sign of respect and admiration for the stranger showing up in a different community and willing to share new life experiences.

This naturally leads to open-mindedness, making yourself aware of how small your immediate surroundings are.

However, new experiences (always) entail anticipatory fear of the unknown, an instinctive and primitive sense of danger that threatens our emotional stability. At the same time, you are attracted to these experiences much like the boy who feels the need to cause mischief even when knowing he is running the risk of being punished. Yet the craving for adventure is stronger than anything else. This is what is called “getting out of your comfort zone.”

We all have an urge to get out of our comfort zone from time to time. But what about people with disabilities?

The world of people with disabilities is unintentionally limited by invisible social barriers which make it more difficult to overcome small obstacles that, for the rest of society, are mere trifles. Thus, when people with disabilities step out of their comfort zone, it is as if invisible walls as high as skyscrapers crumble. It is as if the Great Wall of China stood between a person and his dreams, and suddenly, this person demolished it.

Every small success is greater when achieved with effort and determination. A reinforced self-esteem in the face of adversity is the first and main consequence that traveling has for people with different types of disabilities, even more so if we bear in mind that broadening our horizons means getting out of our daily routine, making new friends, and improving our ability to socialize with others.

2. Traveling improves your social skills

As mentioned before, traveling forces you to put yourself in other people’s shoes; in other words, it gives you a capacity for empathy, that is, to sense what others are experiencing.

In addition, being outside your immediate circle forces you to talk to strangers and often, make yourself understood. This, which seems unimportant, turns out to be a great tool for improving your communication skills because if you can make new friends in a different—and even sometimes hostile—environment, you will be able to speak in public for you have acquired skills by putting yourself out there.

Traveling also provides you with memories and knowledge that can be used whenever you must defend your position, make your case, or deliver a presentation in front of your boss or clients.

Traveling makes you more sociable and social. It teaches you to start a conversation and is a good resource for over coming shyness.

Additionally, travel enhances creativity. Nowadays, there are organized tours focused on finding inspiration. Renowned chefs, painters, architects, perfumers, designers and other professionals use travel as a stimulus to become inspired, turning the new ideas experienced during traveling into sources of inspiration when creating new projects.

Finally, travel makes your brain store memories and experiences that increase your cultural knowledge. If you visit the Louvre Museum, you may not remember all the works of art, but you might remember a small painting created through “sfumato” called “Mona Lisa”, or perhaps an Egyptian sarcophagus covered in gold. Behind ancient treasures or a mummy lying in a glass case, there is a tourist eager to learn.

Therefore, travel also increases your cognitive functions.

Let’s add all this up and apply it to the case at hand. People with disabilities—both physical and intellectual—often need external stimuli to improve their psychosocial skills, as well as their cognitive capacities and management of everyday tasks. Traveling, in light of the above, opens up a wide range of possibilities when it comes to training each of these areas.

3. Travel promotes brain health: benefits to the brain

What does science have to say about all this?

Science has recently shown that the adult brain can form new neural connections but, obviously, this works like everything else (e.g., if you want to have biceps of steel, then you must train hard at the gym).

Nowadays, we all know that brain training games can fight the ravages of aging (e.g., video games designed to improve memory). All this results from what is known as “brain plasticity”, the ability of the nervous system to undergo structural and functional changes throughout life, in response to different environmental stimuli.

According to José Manuel Moltó, a member of the Board of Directors of the Sociedad Española de Neurología (Spanish Society of Neurology): “when you travel to another location, especially if it is unknown to you, you are forcing your brain to deal with a continuous problem-solving process and overcoming challenges. Traveling mainly requires learning and memorizing the unknown until it becomes normal and familiar. This is a challenge for your brain and is like intense training. It is important to train and stimulate the brain because, over time, the more connections mean the greater cognitive reserve, thus making your brain more resistant to age-related decline or the symptoms of neurological disorders.”

At the same time, traveling involves broadening the horizons of your personal universe, thereby increasing your ability to connect abstract concepts, such as experiences or situations that, when applied to everyday life, provide the solution to many of the problems you encounter every day. Therefore, at ContigoMasViajes, we created the “Self-managed Trips” program some time ago, in which clients with disabilities are actively involved in the entire organization and decision-making process required to plan a trip, regardless of its duration, be it a month or only two days.

This program seeks to improve the self-management skills of people with disabilities in their daily routine, since the trip and its planning are used as a tool for practitioners in collaboration with the travel agency to take a step forward in that regard. For example, emphasis is placed on the management of the finances available to the client for each trip, the creation of concept maps about “what, when and how to decide to participate in a leisure activity during the trip”, the preparation of materials adapted to people with intellectual disabilities such as travel guides or foreign language dictionaries.

It is a matter of “pulling out all the stops”, as much as possible, so that people with disabilities can achieve their own goals, reach their own conclusions and get to places that would otherwise be difficult for them to reach.

In short, the goal is to use all the different tools we can find (especially our human resources) to train the brain of people with disabilities in order to overcome any obstacles we encounter along the way. Travel is the excuse. The process is what really matters.

Travel involves three stages:

Therefore, with all these arguments, there is no option but to conclude that travel improves self-esteem and social skills in addition to having a clear and direct health benefit. Travel is the key that opens the door to what all human beings crave: happiness.

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