We All Know Travel Has Great Mental Health Benefits, But What Are They?

benefits of travel

In 2022, I attended a talk on sustainable travel at a travel writers’ conference where I learnt that travel, by definition, is unsustainable. Moving from one location to another simply for the sake of exploring undeniably comes at an expense to our planet.

“But, of course, that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop travelling,” one of the experts on the panel had said. “If that were the case, everyone here would be out of a job.”

Ever since then, I’ve been curious about why we travel. What do we get out of travelling? Why is it necessary for us to see and experience how others live?

“Travel has a lot of positive mental health benefits because it challenges people to step outside of their comfort zones, embrace new experiences and adapt to unfamiliar solutions,” says Nancy Sokarno, a psychologist at online platform We Lysn.

south korea travel tips
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The benefits can happen before we’ve even left, she says. Many would be familiar with the feeling of excitement and anticipation as we get closer to the departure date. These feelings can help to contribute to happiness levels and overall wellbeing.

“Then, once the benefits once we’re travelling can range from mindfulness and being present in the moment, through to experiencing new social connection,” she says. “Meeting people from diverse backgrounds can help people appreciate the richness of human experience and develop a greater understanding of the world.”

Another benefit of travel is cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts or thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously. Travel helps you develop this by encouraging you to think creatively, consider alternative perceptions and adapt your thinking and behaviour to changing circumstances.

“For example, in a new environment, we would be navigating the unfamiliar, which in turn requires problem-solving skills and adaptability,” says Sokarno. “Being in new places can prompt people to think creatively to overcome challenges, like language barriers or cultural differences.”

Easter travel ideas
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The impact travel has on our minds isn’t all positive, though. Travel has the potential to give you culture shock, leaving you feeling disorientated, anxious or lonely, says Sokarno. If you’re travelling alone, you might feel homesick. There’s also a disruption to your daily routine, potentially impacting sleep, diet, exercise and overall wellbeing.

“For me, travel is the perfect opportunity to switch off, be present and experience the benefits of fully engaging with my new surroundings and the people I’m with,” says Sokarno. “I find that my wellbeing benefits from the ability to do this, giving me time for self-reflection and, ultimately, personal growth.”

I feel similarly. When I’m travelling, I’m out of the autopilot of my daily routine, and much more present in my surroundings. I also feel a sense of privilege that I’ve been able to afford to visit this destination, which translates into gratefulness.

The inevitable commuting to attractions or other destinations also gives me time to take stock of my life. Plus, being away from it, I can better see it big picture, and notice elements I might not have before – a point Sokarno mentions too.

“I find travel can help me to go back to my day-to-day life with a renewed perspective and motivation that I didn’t have before,” she says.

Related: What I Wish I’d Known About Travelling to South Korea Before I Arrived

Related: Where Travellers Are Going This Easter, If You Want to Join or Avoid Them

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