Whether it's a 48-hour road trip out of town or two weeks in a far away foreign country, travel can work wonders for both our personal and professional lives. And aside from giving us the chance to relax, research has shown that, in fact, travel provides us with a great number of benefits to our mental health. So, here are six key ways traveling is great for mental health and happiness: it'll give you six more excuses to start planning your next adventure!
The daily commute. Family issues. Relationship problems. Feeling unhappy at work. Our day-to-day lives can be filled with many stressful situations. Taking time away from those things through travel is a great way to clear your head and de-stress, as it temporarily removes us from the places and activities that increase our stress levels.
Travelling allows us to forget about our chores and stresses and reset our minds. According to a 2013 study, almost 90 per cent of Americans surveyed noticed significant drops in stress following just a couple of days of travelling.
The same study found that women who travelled only every six years or less had a significantly higher risk of developing coronary death or heart attack when compared with women who vacationed at least twice a year. Additionally, men who didn’t take an annual vacation were shown to have a 20 per cent higher risk of death and about a 30 per cent greater risk of death because of heart disease.
Travel boosts mental and physical health shutterstock/haveseen
Margaret J King from the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis sums up the stress-relieving abilities of travel well: “With a short list of activities each day, freed up from the complexities of ongoing projects and relationships, the mind can reset, as does the body, with stress relief the main outcome.”
Aside from the obvious point that you don't have to work (and can basically eat and drink pretty much anything), traveling provides you with the perfect chance to step away from the mundane daily grind.
Switching up your daily routine through travelling means new experiences and events, which are proven to help rewire the brain and stimulate your mind, in turn boosting both your mood and happiness levels. Furthermore, according to two significant studies, even just the act of planning a trip is proven to raise your happiness levels.
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A 2014 study by Cornell University concluded that the anticipation of a trip increases a person’s happiness levels substantially, more so than the idea of acquiring a new possession, such as a car. This research was backed up by a further study from the University of Surrey that found that people are at their happiest when they have a trip ahead already planned. Moreover, they’re also more positive about their general quality of life, health and financial situation.
Visiting a new place while traveling is exciting, but it can also be intimidating and challenging. Indeed, facing difficulties in an unfamiliar environment and being among new people and situation often forces you out of your comfort zone.
For example, it could be trying to speak a new foreign language, navigating public transport networks, attempting to order and try new foods… While this can sometimes be uncomfortable, this aspect of foreign travel can also make us more resilient, by toughening us up mentally and emotionally.
“Travelling allows us to forget about our stresses and reset our minds. According to a 2013 study, almost 90 per cent of Americans surveyed noticed significant drops in stress following after just a couple of days of travelling.”
Being out of our comfort zones like this means we have to learn and adapt, which in turn makes us more flexible and patient. And, according to a 2013 research paper by Zimmerman and Neyer, the challenge of travelling in a foreign country can strengthen the 'openness' of our personalities and improve emotional stability.
Travelling helps promotes mindfulness as we tend to forget our lives back home and instead focus on the moment and all the nice things we're experiencing. However, taking time out from our regular routine can also provide a valuable time for reflection, especially if you're going through a transitional period in your life. As writer Patrick Rothfuss once said, “A long stretch of road can teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet.”
Furthermore, the lessons that you learn along the way during your travels can broaden your perspective, making you more aware and open to new ideas. Likewise, experiencing new cultures gives you a chance to reflect on your own.
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This chance to reflect on life is backed up by Adrian and Christoph from the German travel podcast Welttournee – der Reise Podcast. They are two friends who've travelled together to over 100 countries. Christoph says: “We've travelled to many countries together but from time to time it’s also good to go on the big trip alone. To be able to look, see and judge, it’s sometimes a big advantage, when you are totally on your own and unencumbered – your inner voices begin to speak with you and from this point it could be a journey to yourself.”
Many of the benefits of travelling on mental health we've looked at so far are very focused on individuals. So, how can travel be positive when there is more than one of you on the trip? Well, if you're travelling with a friend or partner, it opens up the possibility to strengthen and clarify the relationship.
In our daily lives, relationship stress can occur through miscommunication and other issues, which can in turn affect our mental health. However, traveling with lovers, family or friends, creates not just more time together but a different kind of time together: it provides the opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
Travel can help strengthen relationships shutterstock/biletskiy
During a trip together you have the chance to experience to many different and perhaps new feelings – awe, confusion, excitement, disorientation – all of which can be meaningful for relationships.
Indeed, according to a 2012 survey by the US Travel Association, couples who travel together have healthier and happier relationships compared to those who do not. The phone study provided three key results:
Furthermore, planning a trip as well as making decisions – and compromises – can help bring you closer and strengthen a relationship.
However, on the other hand, these experiences can also bring out hidden clarity to a relationship that was facing difficulties. Some people discover that the relationship with the person they’re traveling with is not worth investing in further and they realise they're not really compatible.
If you’re facing a creative block or lacking in direction, travel could do your mental health the world of good by boosting your ability to form new ideas and unlock your creativity through new experiences.
You may have previously heard that taking a different route to work every day is beneficial to you. That’s down to neuroplasticity – the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. By changing your environment and exposing your brain to things you haven’t seen before, you’re literally forming new neuronal pathways. And creativity is directly related to neuroplasticity.
“According to a 2012 survey by the US Travel Association, couples who travel together have healthier and happier relationships compared to those who do not.”
This was backed up with a 2014 study published in the Academy of Management Journal. The research showed that foreign travel and work significantly improved creativity among fashion directors from over 270 fashion houses.
But simply being somewhere new is not enough to maximise boosting your creativity. According to the study’s researcher Adam Galinsky, engagement, immersion and adaptation were all critical factors to success.
He told The Atlantic: “Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”
So, next time you go somewhere new, make sure to delve into all it has to offer and connect with the local community: you’ll be forming new neuronal pathways in the brain and may boost your creative juices.
Science shows that, apart from just relaxing, travelling and experiencing new cultures helps boost our mental health and happiness in many ways: providing stress relief, boosting our resilience, creativity and happiness, while also improving our relationships.
As Christoph from Welttournee – der Reise Podcast says, “We have become disgustingly rich by traveling. Not necessarily in our bank balance, but in a very special way. After each trip we have many stories to tell. We have met many new people, tried new things and become richer in our own way.” ●
Main image: shutterstock/frantic00
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Calvin edits the happiness.com magazine, as well being an artist and travel lover. He also loves hiking, nature, swimming, yoga, sweaty dancing, and all things vintage!
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