Traveling is stressful, diverse studies carried out on populations ranging from athletes to businesspeople has shown. Given that any travels interrupt your normal routine, often expose you to unfamiliar and crowded environments, and may cause you to worry about extra spending and perhaps personal safety, that makes all the sense in the world.
If you're feeling stressed out about an upcoming trip, however, it can help to keep in mind that traveling is, ultimately, very beneficial for your mental and physical health. Don't believe us? Scientific research backs us up!
The mental health benefits of travel
Traveling to a new place, whether for business or for pleasure, almost inevitably broadens your cultural horizons in some way. You're exposed to new foods, new cultural habits, new languages, a new climate, and novel surroundings. Even if that is potentially stressful while you're on your trip, research has suggested that you take the impressions from your travels home afterwards. Recent travels inspire many people to explore different types of literature and art as they decide to continue learning more about the culture they caught a glimpse of during a trip. This mental stimulation is, in turn, an essential part of "self-actualization", a fancy scientific term that essentially means "feeling fulfilled as you work out what your purpose in life is".
Vacations, especially, offer a total break from the regular daily grind. Good vacation experiences give people a sense of freedom and adventure, and the benefits can continue long after you unpack your bags and get back to work or school. People who have been on vacation almost universally report increased psychological wellbeing, and some have epiphanies that encourage them to finally make the kinds of life changes they have been brooding over for a while — like taking steps to find a job they like better, or proposing to their partners.
Even those who don't change their entire life after coming back from vacation have, on the other hand, renewed energy. People who travel to take vacations have a lower risk of suffering from work-related burnout, and tend to be more productive when they get back to work.
The physical health benefits of travel
Few people would be surprised that taking a nice vacation increases mental health, but did you know that research has also found that travel can boost your physical health? A study led by the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies discovered that retired people, in particular, benefit from traveling at least occasionally. Both men and women who travel for tourist reasons have a significantly lower risk of premature death from heart attacks and other heart-related causes, and in men, traveling slashes that risk by 30 percent.
Active vacations, which may include walking, hiking, boating, cycling, or swimming, are especially beneficial for travelers of all ages. That's true not just because being physically active is generally key to good health, but also because spending time in nature has been proven to lower stress levels. High stress levels, in turn, aren't just bad for your mental health. They can also increase your blood pressure, and indirectly cause you to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like junk food or excessive alcohol use. By allowing yourself to "recharge your batteries" as you connect with the natural environment, you will become more mentally resilient.
New fitness routines started on vacation also have a fair chance of turning into regular pursuits — so next time you're on holiday, do give the activities you always dreamed of trying a go, and you never know what happens next!
What do you need to know about traveling safely?
Although traveling, whether domestically or internationally, can be excellent for your mental and physical health, there's an important caveat. Unless you take common-sense steps to stay safe and healthy during your trip, your travels can also end in disaster. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel advice offered by all major health authorities — like the CDC and World Health Organization — very much focus on the risk of a coronavirus infection. Traveling posed health risks centuries before COVID emerged, and although we now face that additional adversary, the same hazards remain a threat.
To stay safe during your trip, it's important to:
- Consult your doctor to ensure that you are up to date on all relevant vaccines you may need at your destination, such as Hepatitis A and polio. You may also need to carry other medications, like anti-malarial drugs.
- Purchase travel insurance to cover your medical bills in case you are injured or develop an illness while on the road.
- Check whether the tap water is safe to drink at your destination, and preparing to use bottled water where it is not. In these cases, salad foods like lettuce also need to be washed with bottled water.
- Wash your hands frequently and properly.