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Don’t Go Crazy: Four Travel Syndromes

Don’t Go Crazy: Four Travel Syndromes

Unfortunately, trips can not only make you happy, but also a little bit crazy. Despite their poetic names, “Paris syndrome”, “Jerusalem syndrome”, and “Florence syndrome” actually don’t bring along anything good. These cities gave names to a number of psychiatric disorders, simply because they provoke them!

Today, we’ll tell you about four common syndromes that can take hold of overly impressionable travelers.

ZenHotels Blog
1308
11 minutes read

“Paris Syndrome”

When we are getting ready to go to Paris for the first time, we imagine this sort of picture: a delightful city straight from a postcard, girls in berets carrying baguettes under their arms and rushing about on their mysterious affairs, croissants are being served everywhere at the ideal temperature and the most enticing aroma of coffee fills the air, and you are in the midst of all this magnificence. You are sitting on a veranda sipping a glass of wine and can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance while an obliging waiter is hurrying to you with yet another portion of foie gras.

Alas, your fantasies are dashed when reality hits you in the face as soon as you arrive at the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. You present your documents at customs, and, in response, you get a strict cold look, which sends shivers down your spine. And here it becomes clear that you’ll have to remove your rose-colored glasses.

You are sitting on a veranda sipping a glass of wine and can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance while an obliging waiter is hurrying to you with yet another portion of foie gras. Photo: karen mandau / Shutterstock.com

When reality doesn’t live up to your expectations in the world’s most romantic city, this can lead to a diagnosis called “Paris syndrome”

This syndrome was first noted by the Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota in 1986, since it was Japanese travelers who suffered from this kind of disappointment and continue to suffer to this day.

Arriving in Paris (and, indeed, in France), Japanese tourists expect to see a cinematic town with elegant and friendly residents, but find themselves in an ordinary European metropolis. We must admit that we love Paris, but it does not always love us back, and furthermore, it is not planning to live up to our expectations.

Arriving in Paris, Japanese tourists expect to see a cinematic town with elegant and friendly residents, but find themselves in an ordinary European metropolis. Photo: Catarina Belova / Shutterstock.com

In particular, communication is a shock to the Japanese. Nobody is in a hurry to serve you in the shops and cafés (those of us who have been to Paris know that Parisians don’t like to rush), and they can even be rude on the streets in the heat of the moment if you ask them your tourist questions. The coldness of local citizens, differences in interaction, the language barrier, and the level of crime in Paris are especially shocking to Japanese travelers.

The divergence between the fantasy city and the real Paris is so shocking to the Japanese that they begin to experience (depending on the case) dizziness, anxiety, cold sweats, hallucinations, irritability, and, in the most severe cases, depression and delusions of persecution.

An average of 12 Japanese tourists per year seek psychiatric help after a trip to France. “Paris syndrome” is so common that the Embassy of Japan in France even has a mental health hotline for travelers!

The coldness of local citizens, differences in interaction, the language barrier, and the level of crime in Paris are especially shocking to Japanese travelers. Photo: RossHelen / Shutterstock.com

How to protect yourself

Remember that there is no ideal place. No matter how attractive and developed a city is, it’s important to remember that every country faces social and environmental problems, and no place can meet 100% of tourists’ expectations. 

If you can come to terms with the fact that Paris has its own peculiarities and problems before you take off, you’ll be less likely to feel the weight of the burden of your own expectations upon arrival.

If you can come to terms with the fact that Paris has its own peculiarities and problems before you take off, you’ll be less likely to feel the weight of the burden of your own expectations upon arrival. Photo: Neirfy / Shutterstock.com

“Stendhal (Florence) Syndrome”

Art can be so beautiful that you feel it with every cell of your body, and not in the most pleasant way. “Florence syndrome” is a psychosomatic phenomenon in which a person reacts heavily to works of art. 

Hyperkulturemia (another name of the syndrome) can manifest in various ways. A person might become disoriented, another person might have inhibited reactions, and somebody else, on the contrary, becomes hyperactive. Somebody’s perception of reality becomes distorted, while another person’s self-perception may become disturbed.

“Florence syndrome” is a psychosomatic phenomenon in which a person reacts heavily to works of art. Photo: canadastock / Shutterstock.com

Delusions, hallucinations, and the feeling that you are inside an art object are all symptoms of Florence syndrome.

Artists should be particularly careful: travelers who are well versed in various art objects are considered to be the most susceptible to this syndrome.

Florence syndrome was first described by Stendhal in 1817 in his book “Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio”: “I was in Florence, and, as usual, I couldn’t stop myself from wandering around the center to admire its infinite beauty. I entered the church of Santa Croce, and after a while I began to feel ill. My heart was pounding, and I felt dizzy. All those works of extraordinary workmanship, so compressed into a limited space, were really too much for an aesthetic lover like me. 

I had reached that level of emotion where the celestial sensations given by the arts and passionate feelings come together. Coming out of Santa Croce, I had a [strong] heartbeat; it was as if my life had dried up, I walked fearing I would fall.”

Delusions, hallucinations, and the feeling that you are inside an art object are all symptoms of Florence syndrome. Photo: Hunter Bliss Images / Shutterstock.com

It’s not a surprise that “Florence syndrome” most often strikes travelers in Florence because this is precisely where almost every 100 meters there are palaces and museums filled with works by legendary Italian artists, such as Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian. 

Here are some examples of “Florence syndrome”:

  • in a state of disorientation, a student from Prague tried to destroy the frescos in the Cappella Brancacci
  • a female traveler began to hallucinate a few days after visiting the Uffizi Gallery
  • a girl heard the singing of angels and thought she was the incarnation of a nun buried in Umbria
  • a 72-year-old artist suffered from insomnia and delusions of persecution for eight years after visiting the Ponte Vecchio bridge

A female traveler began to hallucinate a few days after visiting the Uffizi Gallery. Photo: trabantos / Shutterstock.com

How to protect yourself

When you are in Florence, do not try to fill all 24 hours of the day contemplating works of art. You can spend a couple of hours in a park reading your favorite book, have a little picnic with friends, or go to the sea. 

Doctors strongly recommend: if you are a highly impressionable traveler, try to get in touch with the beautiful in small doses! Don’t include too many “must-see” places in your trip itinerary or in your daily sightseeing program. 

By the way, here’s one more tip in order to avoid “Florence syndrome”: don’t forget to pay attention to ugly things. Look at that terrible pile of garbage on the sidewalk!

When you are in Florence, do not try to fill all 24 hours of the day contemplating works of art. Photo: Catarina Belova / Shutterstock.com

“Jerusalem Syndrome”

If, upon arrival in Jerusalem, you’re tempted to wrap yourself up in a sheet and go to prophesy, it’s better to stay at home—perhaps you’ve already been overtaken by “Jerusalem syndrome”.

“Jerusalem syndrome” is a peculiar form of megalomania when a traveler begins to feel like a biblical figure and think that they arrived in the city with a special mission.

Most often, “Jerusalem syndrome” manifests itself as follows: a person becomes obsessed with cleanliness and they are constantly washing themselves and cutting their nails, and then they start to roam the streets dressed in a sheet from their hotel reading psalms and delivering sermons. This can continue for about a week. They usually try to treat such poor fellows with sedatives or send for a psychiatrist, but the best medicine is to quickly send the person away from Jerusalem and the holy places. 

If, upon arrival in Jerusalem, you’re tempted to wrap yourself up in a sheet and go to prophesy, it’s better to stay at home. Photo: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Psychologists believe that the causes of the disorder are quite understandable because Jerusalem has a very powerful spiritual and religious heritage.

It can be especially difficult on Christmas Day, Easter, and Passover. Some people who arrive in Jerusalem during these times may wander alone among the holy places, read sermons, imagine themselves to be Moses or Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

Often, symptoms also appear when travelers are near religious shrines, such as the “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” or “the Wailing Wall”. If a patient starts to behave aggressively and he becomes overly obsessive, he is hospitalized.

Psychologists believe that the causes of the disorder are quite understandable because Jerusalem has a very powerful spiritual and religious heritage. Photo: Framalicious / Shutterstock.com

One American tourist who was overtaken by “Jerusalem Syndrome” started to work out even back in his homeland in order to move the stone blocks of the Wailing Wall. The more he worked out, the more he felt like the biblical Samson. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, he immediately went to the Wall to carry out his mission. 

Of course, he was detained by the Jerusalem police. The guy was taken to the hospital, where he underwent medical treatment, after which he returned to the USA, accompanied by his father.

Now, they are studying this unusual syndrome at the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center in Jerusalem. Each year, there are approximately 100 cases of people having been hospitalized due to Jerusalem syndrome. Most of the patients are pilgrims.

One American tourist who was overtaken by “Jerusalem Syndrome” started to work out even back in his homeland in order to move the stone blocks of the Wailing Wall. Photo: Ido / Shutterstock.com

How to protect yourself

This syndrome is a medical diagnosis; it is a psychosis, and it can lead to hospitalization in particularly severe cases.

Nevertheless, according to statistics, 87% of people who fell ill had previously suffered from mental disorders. For this reason, those travelers who are predisposed to mental disorders should be extremely cautious when planning a trip to Jerusalem. 

In general, in order to avoid “Jerusalem syndrome”, you should treat the country’s cultural heritage as a historical landmark, and relegate the religious aspect to the background.

In general, in order to avoid “Jerusalem syndrome”, you should treat the country’s cultural heritage as a historical landmark, and relegate the religious aspect to the background. Photo: Rostislav Ageev / Shutterstock.com

“India Syndrome”

Remember how in the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” Julia Roberts went to restore her mental health in India? Well, she’s not the only one doing this.

Travelers often go to India precisely with the aim of embarking on their true path. Round-the-clock meditations, obsession with spiritual practices, and blind faith that after just a little bit more the secrets of the universe will be revealed to you, you will find yourself and your true destiny—these are the sure signs of “India syndrome”. 

In other words, “India syndrome” is an extreme enthusiasm for spiritual practices. A person starts to feel as if his body and spirit are now invulnerable, and a third eye has appeared on his forehead.

Travelers often go to India precisely with the aim of embarking on their true path. Photo: Asmiana / Shutterstock.com

The victims of this disorder are travelers who come to India searching for enlightenment and to acquire spiritual strength. Tourists most often fall sick during a pilgrimage to the country’s spiritual centers, such as Delhi, Rishikesh, Varanasi, and Pushkar.

The newcomers practice meditation and yoga 24/7, try to master extrasensory abilities and levitation techniques, and hope to become super-humans and obtain superpowers similar to the power of the Jedi. 

There have also been tragic cases when people committed suicide or disappeared without a trace, leaving all their belongings and a note that they set off to “liberate minds”. In 2012, Irish journalist Jonathan Spollen went missing in this way. The young man’s parents are still continuing to search for him and they urge young men and women traveling in India to communicate with their relatives on a regular basis.

The newcomers practice meditation and yoga 24/7, try to master extrasensory abilities and levitation techniques, and hope to become super-humans and obtain superpowers similar to the power of the Jedi. Photo: Pikoso.kz / Shutterstock.com

Scientists explain the syndrome as follows: a false understanding and meditative practices lead to short-term psychosis—spiritual ideas fall on an emotionally instable ground. This may cause breakdowns, a total withdrawal into oneself, and bringing the body to exhaustion.

Returning to your homeland is considered to be enough to recover from this syndrome, although psychiatrist Regis Airault says that he had patients who he worked with over the course of several years after their trips to India.

Kersi Chavda, head physician of a private hospital in New Delhi, says that every year about 100 people are admitted to his hospital, many of whom are practicing yoga around the clock.

A false understanding and meditative practices lead to short-term psychosis—spiritual ideas fall on an emotionally instable ground. Photo: Radiokafka / Shutterstock.com

How to protect yourself

If this is your first trip to India, it’s best to start in smaller cities like Menri or Dharamshala, as this will allow you become accustomed to the amazing India and get you ready for the big cities.

Ideally, you should go to India with a friend or as part of a group of travelers so you can exchange impressions and share emotions.

In the first days of your stay in India, it’s best to limit your desire to “liberate your mind”. You should not immerse yourself in long meditation sessions, then run off to a Buddhist temple, and practice yoga for the rest of the day. 

Instead of this, explore the local attractions, see the city on a leisurely stroll, take some beautiful photos, and simply admire what’s going on around you.

It’s best to start in smaller cities like Menri or Dharamshala, as this will allow you become accustomed to the amazing India and get you ready for the big cities. Photo: Kandarp / Shutterstock.com


In fact, among the millions of tourists who travel the world each year, only a few hundred experience some manifestation of the above-mentioned syndromes, so don’t be afraid. However, remember that you need to relax for pleasure and certainly not be in a hurry to embrace the immenseness and see an entire country in five days—this can make anyone feel out of sorts!

Trips come true!

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