There are a ton of ways to justify travel. You can learn about new cultures, meet interesting people, and gain new stories to tell. Ultimately though, the main reason most of us travel is simple. It’s fun.
If you’ve ever come home glowing from a vacation, you aren’t alone. The high that travel gives people is very real, and it’s based on real science. Travel is beneficial to mental health in many ways, and due to COVID, we have a new appreciation for the benefits.
You don’t have to take my word for it. A new study from Washington State University surveyed 500 adults and found that those who traveled multiple times per year were, on average, 7% happier than their non-traveling counterparts. Let’s explore the real reasons why travel makes you happier. Hilton found that nearly 9 out of 10 travelers agree that their travel memories are some of the happiest ones of their lives.
Travel puts your bubble in perspective
When you spend all your time in one place, it’s easy to feel like that place is the whole world. After all, chances are everyone you know and love is nearby. The problems elsewhere are just something you see on the news. Beautiful foreign lands are just something nice to look at on Instagram. But popping your bubble and going somewhere far away can help you realize how small you are in the world.
While feeling small sounds bad in theory, it can be incredibly freeing. We are all the protagonists of our own story, so we put immense pressure on ourselves to get everything just right. Every decision feels life-changing and important. But to the SCUBA instructor in Belize or the hostel receptionist in Barcelona, you’re just a random customer. This is an opportunity to let your ego dissolve for a little while and get outside yourself. Some perspective may be just what your mental health needs.
Travel gives you the opportunity to learn
Yes, unlimited information is at our fingertips in the internet age, but how much do you really take advantage of it? In our daily lives, we tend to expose ourselves to the familiar over and over, and it’s a hard habit to break. Travel gives you the chance to encounter new information and ideas in person. Sure, you can look up Thai recipes on Google, but can you take an authentic cooking class led by a local?
Organic discovery is one of the great joys of life, and travel provides ample opportunities for it. Locals can tell you about aspects of life somewhere that Google simply can’t. Museums and tour guides can expose you to information you would have never thought to look up. Learning new things is one of life’s greatest joys. It will help remedy the loss of novelty in day-to-day existence and can help reinvigorate you with a lust for life. Learning has been shown to do wonders for your happiness.
Travel is an essential part of work / life balance
It’s no coincidence that the happiest countries in the world are in northern Europe. In Denmark and Finland, people typically use each day of their five guaranteed weeks and enjoy their vacation time. That positive energy follows them back to work, where they are often more productive and satisfied with their working lives.
Taking time off to refresh will actually make you better at your job! As will the communication, problem-solving, and adaptability skills you learn while traveling. Vacation days (PTO) is there for a reason, so use it!
Travel tests and strengthens relationships
The memories of experiences shared can last a lifetime with those you travel with. When traveling with friends or family, the bond created is unique to the travel experience you have together. The U.S. Travel Association found that travelling couples report being happier and having more sex than couples that don’t travel together (wiggle eyebrows here!).
Travel isn’t always all unicorns and rainbows, though. When you spend every moment of a vacation with your travel partner(s), you have to sharpen your communication skills. Constant novelty and adventure is exciting, but it can also be stressful. Learning to talk openly about frustration and difficulties will lead to further bonding and a deeper relationship. It’s equally important to share joyous and special moments. When you get back home, you might feel closer than ever before.
Relationship building during travel applies to everyone you are on an adventure with. Vacations are an excellent way to bond with your kids while also expanding their minds. When the mundane, day-to-day barriers like school, work, and media immersion are removed, you can build memories that will improve your happiness for years to come.
Travel builds new relationships
Travel is also a great way to forge new connections and make friends across the globe. This is especially true if you’re traveling solo. There’s something incredibly special about the serendipity of befriending someone simply because they’re in the same place as you at the same time. You might be surprised how easy it is. The very act of being where you are is an easy conversation starter. Better yet, befriend a local of your destination and get to know what it’s like to live in the paradise you chose for a week. The people you meet while traveling might become lifelong friends.
You’ll enjoy mental benefits before your trip, not just during
You can start enjoying the mental health benefits of traveling before you leave your house. A Dutch study recently confirmed that the act of planning a trip is almost as beneficial as the trip itself, maybe even more so. The study’s findings suggested that planning boosted happiness levels for around eight weeks leading up to the trip. If your trip lasts a week, and the aftereffects last several more, your one-week trip may boost your happiness for several months. The best part is, that the initial boost takes place while you’re still at work.
Travel helps you explore new sides of yourself
If we’re going to talk about the benefits of travel, we have to acknowledge that there are vastly different ways to do it. Some people’s dream vacation involves relaxing in the sun somewhere in the tropics. Others want to climb sheer cliff faces or go hang gliding. Some like to visit giant cities, while others want to seclude themselves in the middle of nowhere. Those who don’t travel can speculate all they want, but you can’t really know what you prioritize in a trip until you try different things.
Discovering new interests can be the key to self-actualization. If you’re an accountant in the middle of North Dakota, you might dream of spending your winter relaxing on a beach somewhere. But what if you get there and realize that you crave more intellectual stimulation? Maybe a trip to a famous museum could spark an interest in fine art or ancient cultures. Conversely, if you’re an ER doctor, your adrenaline-junkie personality might guide you toward extreme sports destinations. But what if you find you need to take a break to relax and unwind instead? Travel gives people the opportunity to challenge assumptions they make about themselves and grow. This is a sure way to pursue future happiness.
Experiences over things
Study after study has taught us that we’re better off spending our money on experiences rather than things. It seems counter-intuitive at first. Things last longer, sometimes many years longer, so shouldn’t a new giant-screen TV bring us more happiness than a weekend away?
Paradoxically, it’s partially the long-term ownership of things that devalues them. Let’s say you decide to buy that new TV, and it’s twice as big as your old one. For a little while, you might get a burst of happiness when you watch a movie. It looks so much better than it used to! But before long, that new TV becomes the standard source of entertainment in your home. You forget that your old one was smaller because this is the new normal.
Experiences as a whole, especially travel, are such a good value because they are for a short, specific time, which makes them special. Chances are, your vacation is something you’ll only do once, and if you do it again, it’ll be through the lens of another time of your life. Those memories and experiences will be a source of happiness for as long as you can remember them.
Travel is essential for combatting job-related burnout
Anyone who has taken a successful vacation knows how refreshing it feels to step away from the office for a while, but did you know that this phenomenon is scientifically verified? A 2010 study out of Finland might convince you to take another week off. Researchers studied about 200 people that embarked on various types of trips and measured their well-being in six ways before, during, and after the trip. They inquired about health status, energy level, satisfaction, mood, tension, and fatigue. They found that the mental health boost improved their quality of work upon returning. Unfortunately, these benefits faded after a few weeks. Looks like you’ll have to start planning your next trip afterward!
Travel can help ease anxiety
Anxiety manifests in different ways for different people, but there are common traits. According to the American Psychological Association, it often consists of recurring intrusive thoughts and uneasy feelings due to a perceived lack of control. Travel can help overcome anxiety by forcing you to live in the moment and accept whatever happens. By facing anxiety head-on, you can build the confidence you need to put anxious thoughts in perspective. Many anxiety sufferers report feeling more calm and able to overcome insecurities after and during travel.
Better mental health means better physical health
Lots of us work desk jobs, meaning we spend the majority of our time sitting in a chair and staring at a computer. Travelling, whether you’re hiking, exploring a city, or dancing the night away in a nightclub, often provides more exercise than we get in our daily lives. But the physical benefits go further than you might think, and the reasons are mental.
A study by the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that women who travel every six years or less are far more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease compared to women who vacation twice a year or more. Men who didn’t take annual vacations were found to have a 20% higher risk of death and a 30% greater heart disease risk. The study also found that 89% of participants felt noticeably less stress after just a day or so of traveling. Reducing stress not only feels good, but it just might save your life.
Travel gives you stories to tell for the rest of your life
Everyone likes to feel interesting, and all human beings love stories. When you’re chatting with friends or strangers at a bar or a party, your exotic travel stories may give you the surge of confidence you need to assert yourself in conversation and make new friends.
Who doesn’t want to hear the story of when you
stalked made friends with llamas all over Peru and ran into a childhood friend while lost in a maze of Venice streets? How about when you met a man on a beach in Barcelona that claimed to have inside information about secrets of the British Royal Family? Ok, just kidding on that last one. Telling stories can be a delight, just be sure not to overdo it.
While experiences don’t last forever, your memories and stories can last a lifetime.
✈︎ Bon voyage!