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Mason professor explains why the best vacation spot for self-discovery is the unknown

January 29, 2018

Todd Kashdan

George Mason University psychology professor Todd Kashdan knows why people return to the same, familiar place year after year for their vacations. The predictable comforts of a previously visited location encourage the relaxation many believe they need in order to reenergize for our daily work routines.

Not to burst your holiday bubble, but Kashdan believes that is all wrong. Forget visiting the same remote cabin or beach house, Kashdan said.

“Adventures that challenge us” are more emotionally beneficial than vacations in familiar settings, he said. “By spending time in unfamiliar towns, cities or countries, you become tolerant and even accepting of your own discomfort and more confident in your ability to navigate ambiguous situations.”

Kashdan calls the idea “emotional agility,” a concept he explored in a 2010 study and during a recent trip to Sri Lanka and Thailand. He also described it in an essay in the Harvard Business Review.

In his own travels, Kashdan, who teaches in George Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said that by putting himself in unfamiliar situations (he took a yoga class in Sri Lanka taught in the Sinhalese language), he experienced growth in self-reliance, empathy, creativity and confidence.

“I know that any initial anxiety is just a reaction, one that will dissipate as I begin to operate in it,” he said.

The good news is vacationers do not have to stray too far from home to experience enhanced emotional agility, Kashdan said.

“Holidays are a terrific self-development opportunity,” he said. “As long as you’re spending time in an unfamiliar environment, with people whose backgrounds and belief systems don’t entirely match yours, you’re succeeding at stretching yourself.”

Todd Kashdan can be reached at 703-993-9486 and

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.