Finding Wellness Via Travel
December 25th, 2017 by Lori Tobias

Longtime international traveler John Munson has led hiking tours in countries throughout Europe, including Scotland, pictured here.
Photo courtesy of John Munson

Whether local or international, planned or spontaneous, travel keeps the mind and body sharp

John Munson enjoys fishing so much, his wife jokes he would fish in the bathtub if he thought he’d catch something.

The real question is not if he could catch anything, but when would he ever find the time? The 73-year-old wears so many hats it’s hard to know where to begin—not only career-wise, but as an avid hobbyist. His list of favored pastimes includes golfing, hunting, traveling, fly-tying, woodworking, canoeing, biking, volunteering and of course, fishing—along with many others. He also has four grandchildren who keep him busy.

A professor emeritus of health promotion at the School of Health Promotion and Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, John’s career highlights include his role as one of the originators of the National Wellness Institute, of which he is the past president of the board of directors; and the founder of the first academic wellness program in the U.S., established in 1989 at UW-Stevens Point.

In December, as John looked forward to his 73rd birthday and he and wife Barb’s golden anniversary, they were also preparing for another trip. He has no doubt that his travels, often combined with some of his other favorite hobbies, go a long way toward keeping him well.

“I’ve always been an international traveler,” John says. “If I want to go to Switzerland and want to hike, I have to stay in shape.

“I love rafting the Grand Canyon. It’s not something you do every day. You have to have enough energy to make it 230 miles down the river. You sleep on the sand banks at night.

“I wade streams for trout fishing. It’s really good for balance. You have slippery rocks. If you’re not ready for that, you can’t trout fish.”

John also leads tours, reminding the travelers with him that the trip is a “wellness event for active adults.” The trips have been designed around hiking, including tours of Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Scotland, England, Poland and Hungary.

“When you do those kind of hiking trips, you are walking all day long over all kinds of terrain,” John says. “I work with the people I take before we go. I talk about good shoes, and tell them to walk on a regular basis so they are comfortable walking 8 miles.”

Other tours have involved biking, including a five-country swing through Europe and over the Tour de France courses.

Traveling has also opened the door to new friendships, expanded John’s palate and helped keep his mind sharp.

“I’ve met people from all over the world,” he says. “I have friends in different countries. From the point of pure social wellness, you get to know those people really well when you are out traveling and you share the experience with them. They become long-term friends. You become a connoisseur of foods from different cultures. You get to try out things you wouldn’t normally give a try. The intellectual dimension is important.”

John and Barb even find ways to include the element of travel in their home state.

“We take another couple on a mystery trip,” he says. “We don’t tell them where it is, but we do tell them how they need to dress or how much money they’ll need. We go to concerts, museums, sporting events, historical sites, artists’ shops, all kinds of things. You have to know what your friends like, too. We like to pick things that are different. Lots of times it’s not very expensive. We go to county parks, state parks. There are lots of interesting things in your area that most people don’t take time to see. We do that with our family, as well.”

John’s current trip is for volunteer work in Ghana, where the mission team he is part of will work with schools and a local orphanage.

“This will be my third trip to Ghana in the past five years,” John says. “Travel many times exposes people to cultures that have a lot less than they do. Ghana is a very poor country.

“Travel gives you a different perspective, a history of the world. I think that gives you a personal life satisfaction of being able to understand other cultures. That makes you a well-rounded, more interesting person.”