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The Mental Health Benefits of Traveling

Image by Avi Chomotovski

As humans, we crave novelty. We yearn for new sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences. Being immersed in familiarity for too long can feel monotonous. When every day bleeds into the next with repetitive routines, our minds go to autopilot. Mental stagnation sets in. 

Then suddenly, we get whisked away on a vacation. We find ourselves hiking through lush jungles, learning to cook regional cuisines, or dancing with locals at a festival. We feel alive again.

Travel provides a valuable opportunity to shake up our routines. It offers exposure to diverse cultures and ways of life. For our mental health, this stimulation is akin to a reboot button. Let’s learn why we should all travel more and travel mindfully.

Exploring the Relationship Between Travel and Mental Health

Travel provides novelty. It pushes you out of ingrained routines and surroundings. You become hyper-aware of the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Ordinary daily experiences suddenly become extraordinary.

According to a Global Wellness Institute survey, 89% of travelers said they returned home happier and healthier after a trip. Getting away allows you to tune out daily distractions back home. You can zero in on relaxation, leisure, and self-care. 

The science also demonstrates clear links between travel and improved mental states. In a 2018 study by the U.S. Travel Association, travelers were more likely to report good mental health compared to non-travelers. 72% of travelers said trips helped them relax vs. 48% of non-travelers.

Stress Relief and Relaxation Through Travel

Daily stress builds up easily. We juggle so many responsibilities with work, finances, relationships, family, and health. Pressures pile up until we feel ready to explode. This chronic stress can manifest in anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and more. 

Travel allows you to take a temporary break from the churn of daily stresses. Think of it as hitting a reset button for your mind. According to one survey, 81% of travelers said taking a vacation helped them relieve stress.

Even in the trip planning stages, you can start to feel excitement and joy building. As CEO of Jettly, Justin Crabbe, remarks, “Anticipating your vacation provides mental boosts by giving you something positive to look forward to. Research shows that pre-trip excitement increases reported happiness.”

Boosting Happiness and Satisfaction

Mental health encompasses more than just the absence of illness. Feeling content in life and having a sunnier disposition also signal good mental well-being. So, how do vacations positively impact happiness and life outlook?

Science confirms that spending money on experiences boosts happiness more than buying material goods. While shopping provides a temporary mood lift, having experiences to remember creates more lasting satisfaction. The joy and meaning that you gain from travels will stay with you for decades.

Looking back fondly on past trips can improve your overall life satisfaction. Those memories become sources of happiness you can tap into anytime. Flipping through old photos or souvenirs gives you a chance to reminisce. Recalling fun moments from previous travels lifts your mood instantaneously. 

Enhancing Creativity and Personal Growth

Travel pushes you outside your comfort zone. Facing unfamiliar situations forces you to adapt. Being a beginner again in a new culture or activity humbles you. These challenges help develop skills that boost confidence and creativity.

Trying new foods, exploring overseas, learning to surf – getting proximate to “newness” flexes your problem-solving abilities. Navigating novel scenarios gives your brain a workout. Neuroscience shows that placing your brain in unfamiliar territory sparks creativity and cognitive benefits.

Studies demonstrate that people who live abroad or are routinely exposed to foreign cultures perform better on creative problem-solving tasks. Their multicultural experiences widen their perspectives, enabling them to generate creative solutions.

Practical Tips for Mindful Traveling

Here are some practical tips to keep in mind in order to maximize the mental health benefits of your travels:

Avoid Overplanning

Leave room for spontaneity.  As CEO of ViaTravelers, Kyle Kroeger, says, “Don’t pack your itinerary with too many activities. Allow time to wander aimlessly and discover hidden gems. Rushing from place to place prevents you from fully being present.” 

Keep a Journal

Writing about your experiences, emotions, and insights during your trip can be cathartic. Re-reading your journal when you get home helps you hold onto precious travel memories.

Discuss with Travel Buddies

If traveling with others, chat about your mutual feelings and revelations during the trip. Verbalizing your thoughts deepens your processing of them.

Try Wellness Retreats

Choose trips specifically designed to nourish mental health, like meditation retreats, yoga getaways, or health spas. The itineraries will already optimize relaxation and self-care.

Digital Detox Periodically

Power down devices periodically throughout your trip to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Social media can wait – enjoy being off the grid.

Match Destinations to Interests

Select travel locations that speak to your passions, like music, art, nature, or history. Fulfilling these interests re-energizes your spirit.

Save Money with Smart Preparation

With clever planning, you can save a significant amount of money on your trip by selecting the best flight and accommodation offers on the market. Purchasing travel insurance for your vacation can also help protect the funds you’ve invested in your trip.

Talk to Locals

Having conversations with locals gives you insight into how others lead happy, meaningful lives. Their unique perspectives may inspire you.

Build in Self-reflection

Schedule time for reflection daily during your trip. Meditate, pray, journal, or simply ponder life while sipping coffee in a cafe. 

Final Thoughts

Traveling gives our minds the periodic novelty they need to boost creativity, perspective, and problem-solving abilities. Exploring the world expands your mind figuratively and literally.

Crafting a mindful travel routine can be an impactful piece of your mental health regimen. Of course, travel is not a cure-all or replacement for professional care. Those with mental illness should still seek therapy, counseling, or medication as needed. 

But for general well-being, travels remind you how joyful and fascinating life can be. They replenish your spirit, open your heart, and broaden your worldview.