Travel enthusiasts, rejoice. As of Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted the requirement for airline passengers to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States. After more than two years of stay-at-home orders and other travel restrictions, the majority of Americans are ready to venture out and explore, according to Tripadvisor’s annual travel forecast. And that might not be a bad idea, as research has shown that satisfying our collective wanderlust has a surprising number of benefits for our mental — and possibly even physical — health.
It’s not just because time away from work and day-to-day responsibilities helps us get rid of stress. It seems our brains are happiest when we take them to new, faraway places — though it’s best to check the CDC’s COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination before booking trips to check for travel restrictions.
How does travel benefit us? Here are five ways your next trip can help your overall health and well-being.
1. Travel makes you happier
People who travel regularly (defined as trips at least 75 miles from home) report being about 7% happier than those who travel rarely or not at all, according to a study of a Taiwanese population published in January 2021 in the journal Tourism analysis.
Even before the pandemic, researchers identified a link between travel and happiness. They tracked the location of 132 adults for several months. The results, published in May 2020 in Natural neuroscience, reported that people who spent time in a variety of places reported more positive emotions than those who did not venture out as much. About half of the subjects also underwent MRI scans near the end of the study, and the scans showed a strong association between visits to various locations and activity in the hippocampus and striatum, two parts of the brain that deal with novelty and reward.
The simple act of looking forward to a trip can increase happiness. Results of a study published in the journal Psychological sciences found that consumers experienced more positive feelings when planning to spend money on an upcoming experience (“doing”) than on a possession (“having”).
2. Travel can lower your risk of depression
You’ve probably heard that you “should” take your paid time off, but maybe you’ve wondered if there really is evidence to back it up – and there is. Research published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal found that, out of 1,500 women, those who took vacations more frequently reported less stress and depression.
Recent research supports these findings. In a study published in January 2019 in the Scandinavian Journal of Labour, Environment and Health, experts observed positive results among a group of 3,380 active men and women between the ages of 45 and 52. They found that 10 extra days of paid vacation reduced the risk of depression by 29% in American women (there was no association in men).
“Travel can help with depression in that it gets people out of the rut of their daily lives,” says Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Flower Mound, Texas. “It can also be a great reminder of our own humanity, and seeing the pain of others in the world at large can be a great connector when it comes to compassion for self and others.”
3. Travel makes you more creative
If you’re feeling exhausted, traveling can be helpful in getting you back on track. Adam Galinsky, a social scientist at Columbia University in New York who studies the relationship between travel and creativity, found a positive connection between the two. Adapting to different cultures, as often happens naturally and necessarily when traveling, can be powerful enough to foster creativity.
A study co-authored by Galinsky, which was published in the Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychologyfound that living abroad can facilitate a process called multicultural learning, which allows you to solve problems in new ways, increase your awareness of your surroundings and reduce rigidity – which the researchers found helps to creativity.
New experiences can inspire you to be more creative, as you may need to think differently to navigate new situations, says Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. “The novelty of travel, including people, cultures, customs and places, can broaden a traveler’s perspective, increasing positivity and enabling creativity. Travel also offers us distance from a problem or situation, which can then give us the possibility of a new perspective.
Recent research supports this view. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2021 assigned 274 workers to self-declare their creativity before and after the holidays. The researchers noted that while workers reported less creativity on the first day back at work (while trying to tackle accumulated tasks), they overall felt more creative two weeks after a vacation when handling new tasks. .
4. Travel can strengthen your relationships
If you feel closer to your loved ones after a vacation, you can’t imagine anything. Some research suggests that travel can bring you closer. “Couples who travel together report more satisfaction, experience better communication and have longer-lasting relationships. This also seems to be true for friendships and families. More leisure time, more accessible while traveling, improves our relationships,” says Lurie.
Women who took two or more vacations a year had higher levels of marital satisfaction than those who took vacations every two years or less, researchers in the Wisconsin Medical Journal. And couples who vacation together are more cohesive and flexible as a unit, with lasting effects long after they return home. The more positive the vacation experiences you have with your partner — like communication, shared times and affection — the better your day-to-day functioning at home will be after the vacation, researchers noted after studying 112 couples for a study. of December 2019 in the Travel Research Journal.
5. Travel relieves your stress
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but long-term or chronic stress can negatively impact your mental and physical health, according to the American Psychological Association.
Even a short vacation can reduce your overall stress, according to a study of 40 German middle managers published in July 2018 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The small study concluded that a four-day solo stay in a wellness hotel had a significant, positive and immediate effect on stress and well-being (and suggests that a short vacation can be as effective as long).
Other research indicates that even looking forward to a planned vacation can lessen the effects of stress. Fifty-four workers took surveys and wore devices to monitor their heart rates in the weeks before and after the holidays. According to a study published in August 2020 in the journal Psychology & Health.
The stress-relieving effects of well-timed vacations may be due, in part, to how they increase your connection to the present moment, which means travel may share similarities with the practice of mindfulness, says Elizabeth Jarquin , PhD, licensed therapist. in Dania Beach, Florida. “Stressed people usually have a lot on their minds and are unable to connect to the present. But when people travel, they find themselves in a whole new, out-of-the-ordinary environment. This, she says, can lead them to be more aware of what’s going on around them and can result in a greater connection with the people around them, their environment and the moments in which they live.
After two years of vacation, it might be time to dust off the old passport or plan a weekend or day trip somewhere new. As COVID-19 restrictions ease somewhat across the United States, a summer getaway could be just what the doctor ordered, and for good reason. Research shows that taking vacations has multiple potential benefits for your mental health. Not only does some research indicate that it can increase happiness and help prevent depression, but it can also help you recover from burnout, increase your creativity, and broaden your horizons – literally, of course, but also cognitively.
Before using these vacation days, be sure to review the CDC’s guide to COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination to help keep you and your family safe.
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