After over a year of uncertainty, the freedom to get away for a few nights or a week, to break everyday routines and immerse ourselves in something completely different has never seemed more precious.
As we look forward to new adventures in the year to come, we explore what holidays mean to us. Why new experiences have been scientifically proven to improve memories. How the anticipation of a holiday can affect our mood thanks to the rosy view effect, and how openness to new experiences tend to be self-reinforcing.
Sometimes, we all need space and time to think about things in a new way or look at a problem from a different point of view.
In his brilliant 2002 book The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton explored the myriad ways in which travel can help broaden our perspectives and expand our minds.
“Journeys are the midwives of thought,” he writes. “Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train… Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.” We agree – and would add car journeys and walking to Botton’s list too.
Whether it’s a night walk along the coast path to watch the stars, a dawn stroll on the deserted beach or, as sound recordist Chris Watson recently found out for us, uncovering the secret soundscape of the sea, holidays are fantastic for freeing up the mind.
Something we know from experience at Watergate Bay; the power of happy memories.
Experiencing new things has been scientifically proven to improve our memories. Several studies have demonstrated that new experiences lead to the release of dopamine, the ‘happy hormone’, which assists learning and memory formation. In truth, science is just catching up with something we all innately knew already: challenging ourselves and trying new things not only gives us a sense of achievement at the time but also makes us feel good when we replay those memories later.
That’s something we know from experience at Watergate; the power of happy memories. Our CEO Will Ashworth recently looked back on some of his own memories in conversation with his friend and former beach ranger Tim Uff – and while we can’t guarantee the 10-foot deep foam, hidden bars or giant balls of fish they remember, the chance of spotting dolphins, sunfish and other wildlife out in the water is pretty good.
For photographer Jonathan Stokes, one of the great pleasures of holidays and travel lies in the anticipation.
“I love that feeling of waking up somewhere new, not quite knowing where I am or what the day ahead holds,” he says. “I remember one trip on safari in South Africa, we arrived in the pitch-black in the middle of the night, and woke up with this incredible view over a plain filled with thousands of wildebeest! It’s the joy of the unexpected that makes travel so intoxicating – and the anticipation of all the adventures I’ll have.”
Having things to look forward to is hugely important, especially when we may be struggling in the present. Holidays aren’t just about the time we spend away; planning, anticipating, researching and daydreaming about the adventure ahead are all part of the experience, too.
It’s also been shown that holidays can actually affect our mood even before or after we get away, thanks to a phenomenon known as the ‘rosy view effect,’ reading, planning and watching videos about where we’re headed in the weeks or months before we actually go makes the positive feelings of the holiday itself last much longer.
Action for Happiness champions the importance of maintaining a positive mindset, with plenty of academic ammunition to back its theories up.
If there’s one lesson we can all surely take from the rise of remote working, it’s that we don’t necessarily need to be tied to our desks to get our work done.
In fact, it may even be the case that getting away from the office can actually help us be more productive. The US firm Best Buy reported that flexible working resulted in a 35% increase in productivity (and there are likely to be many more studies published after 2020’s mass remote working experience).
So there’s no need to feel guilty about that early morning swim or stroll along the beach – in fact, it might even make you work better. Just remember to factor in some desk downtime: you're on holiday after all.
We all know how beneficial spending time outdoors can be – not just for our physical fitness, but for our mental wellbeing too.
Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator, is someone who’s devoted much of his career to helping us get more from our time outdoors – specifically by giving people the skills to interpret nature in books like How to Read Water and Wild Signs & Star Paths. For him, being out in nature is something that’s close to meditation – and that’s something everyone at Watergate Bay can identify with, whether it’s watching the sunset or looking up at the stars.
"I generally avoid the term mindfulness, because personally, I find it incredibly hard to just go out and be mindful,” he explains. “That’s why I focus on giving people the tools to look at nature in a different way. If you go out there with something to look out for, and the means to interpret it, you allow nature to do the teaching. It’s humbling. You start with something simple, practical, approachable, understandable, and you end up with something much greater – a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around you.”
“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things,” wrote Henry Miller in 1957.
As humans, we’re hard-wired to seek out new experiences – but it’s more than a case of seeking out novelty for novelty’s sake. Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has researched how seeking out new experiences can aid creativity, combat depression and anxiety, and promote a more positive mindset – but also how openness to new experiences tends to be self-reinforcing: in other words, the more things you try, the more things you want to try.
That’s one of the reasons we like to encourage all our guests to step outside their comfort zones and try something new, whether it’s surfing, hand-planing or power kiting – you never know what new ideas it might spark.
It’s also why we’re always looking to create new experiences at Watergate – such as our exciting partnership with renowned Cornish chef Emily Scott and the Beach Lofts. Even for guests who’ve stayed with us many times before, there’s always a new reason to return.
None of this really matters unless our communities and guests feel and believe it too. The word cloud below has been created from comments on a recent social media post. These are the words you think of when you see a photograph of Watergate Bay.