Looking for ways to recharge on a weekend or during a college break? Consider an outdoor adventure! BookScouter contributor Seth Craig shares his experience and insight on the benefits of outdoor adventure trips for college students!
College Adventure Trips Help to Recharge After A Tough Semester
After my last semester, I was burnt out. The 16 unit class load, a multitude of group projects, exams that seemed to come every week, and finding ways to stay grounded was exceeding my stress threshold. Basically, I was ready to recharge. After the anxiety of finals week came and passed, I was left with time off to relax, recoup, and take stock of my academic situation so as to figure out if I was going in the right direction with my education.
Staying at home for break left me with a problem; I was still distracted and reminded of college life. In my bedroom, annotated textbooks, crumpled homework assignments, and my post-it note filled college planner only enhanced my post-semester anxiety. I even struggled to deny the urge of logging into my school email to check on info for the upcoming term from my professors. I needed a change of scenery.
It was at this point a classmate reached out to me about going on a day trip to one of the national parks in our home state with her and some friends. With the last concrete memory of me doing anything “outdoorsy” was in elementary school pitching a tent with friends 15 feet away from my house, sleeping bags in toe, a single lamp, and pretending that we were all somewhere in the lone wilderness ready for a “scary” encounter with a cougar, or more realistically, a stray neighborhood cat; I was a bit apprehensive to say the least.
Legitimate planning/prep questions arose in my mind like: Would we bring enough food? What if we got lost? And how would we handle coming across a large wild animal? All reasonable questions for someone like myself who felt more at home in a classroom than in nature. However, when we arrived at the national park, my worries subsided.
Benefits Of Outdoor Trips for College Students
The park was filled with scenic hiking trails, captivating waterfalls, majestic wildlife, and, at times, I felt like I was experiencing a nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough. I was surprised to discover that the quaint and quiet environment only known to nature that allows for simple, reflective thinking had the greatest impact. That clear thinking, in turn, helped me relax enough to allow myself to have a memorable experience and to not get caught up with responsibilities I had waiting for me back at home.
College peers that I had really only talked to in class I could now call friends of mine because there was not an obligation to discuss a class project. The outdoor day trip ended up providing what I need the most from a college break: the chance to forget about my stress and to reflect on what I accomplished both in and out of school that semester ensured I would be in a healthy state of mind for the upcoming term.
Research Shows The Benefits of Being Outdoors
If you are still unsure of the benefits nature can have on your academic career, there is research that shows a positive correlation between time spent in nature and mental performance. A growing field called Ecotherapy has documented nature’s ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
A 2015 study compared the brain activity of two groups: one that took a 90-minute nature walk, and the other group taking a walk in an urban setting. It was discovered that the group who took the nature walk displayed less activity in the prefrontal cortex; the area of the brain associated with repetitive thoughts, which are generally negative and can increase the likelihood of having bouts of depression or anxiety.
Studies in Ecotherapy have also found a correlation between the sounds of nature and/or the lack of sound found in the wild with decreased blood-pressure and lower counts of cortisol, the stress hormone.
These mental and physical health benefits nature provides are unique compared to the many other stress-relieving outlets such as exercise, supplements, and taking stress management classes. College students juggle an assortment of responsibilities during a semester. Being constantly immersed in the repetitive schedule of classes, assignments, and clubs, while exciting, can mentally and physically wear out a student, and that exhaustion can lead to incomplete homework assignments, poor class attendance, and bad grades.
The occasional nature walk or multi-day trip to the mountains can provide a much-needed refresher for your mind, and one of the best perks of an outdoor excursion is that to experience these positive effects on your health, your own nature adventure does not have to be a 5-day hike; you can experience the benefits on a short or long outdoor trip.
A Long or a Few Short Outdoor Trips for College Students?
My national park adventure was an example of a small trip; a single day, short distance vacation with friends. These short trips are easy to plan, a reasonable cost (always a positive for students), and generally involve short distance travel. Without the need for long term camping gear, a short trip, at a minimum, requires a small bag of supplies: boots, sunscreen, hat, etc…, a quick trip to the grocery store for snacks and/or sandwich items, and minimal fuel costs for travel.
Parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, or the Red-Woods are great options to experience the wonders of nature with only a small day fee; However, if you do not want to pay for entrance fees, or do not live near a large national park, researching wildlife areas around your local area is a great option. Many have nature trails and are open to the public for free. If you decide to go this route for your outdoor micro trip, you will assuredly have a short travel time to your nature destination.
Now, even though short trips are great for the aforementioned reasons, larger outdoor adventures are unique in that they offer you that feeling of being in an isolated, quiet space for long durations. For these types of trips, a group is always best to travel with so as to keep costs low as well as to minimize the difficult tasks that are sometimes involved with camping.
However, beyond the finding of firewood, pitching tents, and making sure everyone has enough mosquito spray, longer trips offer the chance for camaraderie and to focus on oneself. The difficult 5-mile hike on the second day of a three day trip to a famous waterfall is not memorable only for reaching the destination. It’s memorable when someone in the group lags behind, and you all lightly poke fun at your friend while encouraging them to keep going. It’s memorable when on the hike, you take the time to stop at a rest point and look out at the scenic view, which reminds you that sites like this exist beyond a classroom.
It’s memorable because when you finally reach the waterfall, you know that when you are back in school, stressed out, you can close your eyes, slow your breathing, and recreate this scene in your head and that will give you enough strength to keep pushing through another semester.
Resources For Outdoor Adventure Trips for College Students:
Wanting to find an outdoor adventure near you? Check out these resources and start planning!