Millions of people look to summer as the time to get away from the routine of it all. There’s a promise of escapism—sunshine and waves and fresh air—all of which (and more) beckon you away from computer screens and meetings. Yet leaving for vacation is easier said than done for most, and even when people do take the time off, the majority check in on work-related matters at some point. Island beaches saved as screensavers and European castle-themed calendars are as close as many people get to vacationing. However, it’s easy to see the positive impact traveling can have on your health, which can motivate you to pack your bags and jet off.
A welcome challenge
I’ve had my fair share of delayed—and eventually canceled—flights. These were times that more often than not resulted in me sprinting through the airport and waiting in lines that never seemed to move, all the while fighting the panic rising in me that I simply was not going to make it to my next destination. But without fail, every single time, I did. It may have been different from what was planned, but sometimes it even ended up working out for the better. And, if not, then I certainly learned one of the most important things that traveling can teach you: how to adapt.
There’s a certain beauty in the challenges that traveling offers. In the moment, it can be stressful and taxing and make you wonder why you didn’t just opt for a staycation instead, but, in retrospect, these can be the moments that shape you. Sure, problem-solving is taught in the classroom, but lessons learned in the real world truly test your strength and character. All these road bumps can lead you to experience growth in a way that changes you completely. For example, as a society, we become so accustomed to routine that parts of our brains become underused. When you’re in a new place, forced to deal with circumstances that are out of the ordinary, you can improve cognitive functions that otherwise remain untapped.
Say goodbye to stress
While any challenges on the road may improve character, there’s also the part of traveling we all look forward to: kicking up our feet and relaxing. We tend to feel more connected to other people and nature while traveling, which, in turn, helps reduce stress levels. You forget about the things that would normally keep you up at night—like unanswered emails, big presentations, relationship problems, etc.—and instead are more focused on the present moment. Whether this is reading a book on the beach, enjoying mountain views from the comfort of your vacation cabin, or admiring the Mediterranean Sea from an Airbnb, there’s a part of traveling that can’t be replicated at home. The new environment, the views, the daily adventures, the fresh air—all of them help to alleviate stress.
Give me a boost
There have been times when I’ve come back from traveling completely rejuvenated from the experience and energized to tackle new projects and challenges. If you want to optimize not only your mental health but also your creative spirit, traveling to new places will do wonders for both. Part of this comes from venturing out of your comfort zone. Rarely will you travel and stick to the status quo. You embrace the local flavors, see the sights, and take hold of the spontaneous opportunities that arise. The newness is invigorating, and it stays with you long after your plane has landed back home.
Getting away can also be a reprieve for the millions of people who suffer from depression—which is over 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It’s a breath of fresh air for your mental health. Partaking in activities like sightseeing, hiking, trying new food, walking around in a new city, and the like can all help improve your mental state. Call it a change of scenery, but getting out there and experiencing the world is a game-changing boost.
An empathetic experience
If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign place, you know how difficult it can be to navigate around, order a meal, or ask for directions. These moments can be trying, but they all teach a valuable lesson in empathy. Traveling prompts you to seek compassion. We assume that people in other places will be able to communicate just how we do back home, but that’s not always the case. When faced with the various obstacles that traveling presents, the key to getting through them
is often through practicing empathy. Focusing on understanding where someone else is coming from—whether it be etiquette differences, language barriers, or a cultural gap—can allow you to not only find resolutions while traveling but also learn how to be more empathetic in your everyday life.
Recharge and reinvent
Have you ever wanted to push the restart button? Maybe you’re in the midst of a career change. Maybe a relationship just ended, and you’re not sure what the next chapter holds. Maybe you’ve suffered a loss, and you feel weighed down and unbalanced. There are hundreds of other reasons that could heavily impact your mental health, in which case, it may be an opportune time to pack your bags. People often associate traveling after these life-changing moments with running away from your problems, when, in reality, you’re just in need of an emotional reset. The mind and body sometimes need a tune-up, and venturing to new places can do just that. Even the prospect of a vacation on the horizon can significantly improve your mental health. So what are you waiting for?
For more info, visit ustravel.org or travel.state.gov