by Ronnie Charrier
Travel, as a concept, doesn’t need much help in the way of advertising. We've all seen the Instagrams of beach sunsets, pristine mountains, tanned people reading books in hammocks, and cuisine which makes our mouths water. Travel is, in itself, a pretty good incentive to buy a plane ticket and book some vacation days, but did you know that there's evidence that travel can actually improve your overall quality of life, even after you've unpacked your bags and gone back to work? A variety of scientific studies have suggested that the significant physical and psychological benefits of travel may make it well worth your while to splurge on that dream vacation.
So how exactly will traveling improve your life?
You'll Stress Less
Traveling promotes happiness and helps you take your mind off stressful situations. This leads to lower cortisol levels, making you feel more calm and content. Margaret J. King of the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis has said this about the stress-relieving abilities of travel: “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.”
Travel doesn’t just have to be about seeing new places, but can also be about escaping old ones that have a negative impact on our lives and reducing how much work our brains have to do. "The stress of work and daily demands can distract us from what we find to be actually meaningful and interesting," says Dr. Tamara McClintock Greenberg, a San Francisco-based clinical psychologist and author of Psychodynamic Perspectives on Aging and Illness. “It also helps us reflect on our personal goals and interests,” adds Greenberg.
Travelling, particularly if you are in a foreign country, can sometimes put you out of your comfort zone, and so you often have to adapt to those differences. This challenge strengthens the ‘openness’ dimension of your personality, according to a 2013 paper by Zimmerman and Neyer. The paper adds that this adaptation makes you less emotionally reactive to day-to-day changes, improving emotional stability, while meeting new people can also help with agreeableness, depending on the size of your existing social network.
You'll Enhance Your Creativity
According to the Colombia Business School’s Adam Galinsky, immersing yourself in a new place and engaging with its local culture can increase your cognitive flexibility. This open-mindedness can help you to embrace different ways of living to your own, in turn influencing your own outlook on life. It also enhances "depth and integrativeness of thought," consequently giving a boost to your creativity. Galinsky is the author of multiple studies that look into the connection between creativity and international travel.
You'll Improve Your Relationship
Sharing travel experiences with your other half can make your relationship with them stronger, according to a survey by the US Travel Association, which has a knock-on effect on your own mental wellbeing and self-esteem. The results showed that not only does travel have long-term effects for couples, such as an increased closeness and perception of shared interests and goals, but also that it helps to maintain relationships, as well as to reignite a romantic spark.
Not only does travel offer you and your partner some quality time together, but overcoming the tougher elements of traveling (such as planning the trip, dealing with unexpected inconveniences, and making compromises along the way) can help bring you closer together and make you a stronger couple.
You'll Strengthen Your Heart
People who wander away from their homes for vacation are generally less stressed and anxious — or at least they’re willing to take a break from their stressors. Because of this, the long-running Framingham Heart Study found that men and women who traveled annually were less likely to suffer a heart attack or develop heart disease.
You'll Sharpen Your Mind
Most of us have very set routines that we follow daily, weekly, and even yearly. While that helps us to be more efficient with how much mental energy we use, it doesn’t provide much opportunity for our brains to exercise much of our mental faculties because we aren’t having to deal with much new information.
Traveling almost always leads to dealing with a multitude of new information that your brain has to deal with, from being exposed to different ideas and languages, down to even what you’ll do that day. And according to a recent white paper from the Global Coalition for Aging, all of this knowledge will help your brain build resilience against degenerative diseases at a cellular level as you age. The novel stimuli that you encounter during traveling will also help keep your mind young and improve your memory and concentration.
You'll Improve Your Life at Home
The effects of travel aren’t felt only during, and in fact, even just your anticipation of traveling can boost your mood. According to a study by the University of Surrey, people are at their happiest when they have a vacation planned, and are more positive about their health, economic situation and general quality of life. Another study by Cornell University also found that you will get more happiness from the anticipation of an upcoming trip compared to anticipating buying a new possession.
Similarly, you can reap the benefits after returning from the trip as well. "As a clinician, I encourage people to hold on to aspects of a travel experience or vacation that was pleasurable," said Dr. Tamara McClintock Greenberg, a San Francisco-based clinical psychologist and author of Psychodynamic Perspectives on Aging and Illness. For example, "if you liked the food in Paris, learn how to cook French food in order to re-create some of the feelings you had while you were on vacation," she explains. "Another behavioral intervention is to remember peaceful moments you had on vacation and try to remember what was different from your present life. Maybe you took the time to eat breakfast, maybe you exercised. Those things are crucial reminders of what we should do every day," adds Greenberg.