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With many of us taking longer trips away or even working and globe-trotting full-time, there’s never been a better time to travel. And, more and more evidence points to travel being good for our health and happiness. As well as cutting stress and the risk of heart disease, travel has some surprising benefits. These range from bolstering our relationships, to helping us define who we are. Read more about this, and the other positive effects travel can have below.
It’s strange but true; traveling could boost our immunity. A UK study conducted on mice showed their immune systems responded differently depending on the environment they were in. It's the fact of being in a different location that is key. When we’re somewhere unusual, our bodies are exposed to new kinds of bacteria and produce antibodies, which protect us from future illness. Although more research needs to be done, it’s possible that spending time in new or even exotic locations might just be good for us!
What travelers say: I eat street food wherever I go. When I go to a new country from my home country in Australia I will sometimes get a stomach bug for a little while before quickly becoming accustomed to the local foods. Then if I travel to several countries in one trip I am usually a lot more immune and can pretty much drink or eat whatever I want! Call me irresponsible but after travelling Southeast Asia for 8 months I just started drinking the tap water after a while and didn’t get sick. I even drank the tap water in Northern mountainous areas of India (Gasp!). — by Crystal Egan from Castaway With Crystal
Apart from the inevitable arguments over who reads the map or gets the bigger bed, research indicates that when we travel with friends or family, we deepen our relationships with them. As we try new things and share moments along the way, we experience greater closeness. According to research by the US Travel Association, this could even help prevent divorce in the future. The study found that 84 per cent of couples who travelled together had better communication, and their relationships lasted longer.
What travelers say: When I started backpacking solo for the first time, about ten years ago, I experienced home sickness for the first time. It was in Panama and back then I could only speak a few words in Spanish, that did not really help. Luckily Skype was already invented and internet was not too hard to find, so I called my family and friends and saw them on video, that really helped. After a few days that homesickness turned into a travel bug which never left. Over the last ten years I have been more abroad than at home in The Netherlands, but the bonds with family and friends are as strong as ever thanks to the wide range of online video calling options and social media platforms. — by Marlies Wolters from Dive o'clock
We set off to travel the world together long-term after only 6 months of dating, and fast forward to 4 years later we can say with certainty that it was the best decision we ever made as it developed an unwavering bond between us. When you travel you’re constantly in different environments, doing new things and solving problems outside of your comfort zone. It can be very stressful at times, so you learn a lot about your partner by being in difficult situations with them and getting through the challenges together. Before making a long-term commitment to one another we recommend for all couples to pack their bags and go on a trip together, to develop a strong bond and a healthy relationship that could last for many years to come. — by Will & Sandy from The Brit & The Blonde
Who would have thought travel could be good for our bones? Well, it’s not travel per se, but the Vitamin D created along the way. Most of us don’t make enough Vitamin D naturally. Whether we’re hiking, skiing, sightseeing, or relaxing on the beach, when we travel, we spend more time outdoors, and the extra burst of sun helps our bodies produce the Vitamin D we need for good bone health and to avoid osteoporosis.
As well as being good for our bodies, travel can benefit our minds. In fact, it can even change our whole outlook on life. Meeting new people and learning about different cultures makes us more open-minded and tolerant. And, as we see the conditions in which other people live, we become more empathetic. A global study by travel company Momondo revealed that travelling helps us form new perspectives, and this leads to us being more open-minded and trusting.
What travelers say: Immersing yourself into different cultures and ideologies, broadens your brain’s scope to new more interesting and fortified ideas, be it in business, science, religion, art or music. That missing puzzle-piece you were looking for in order to open a new business or the motivation you were looking for to change your lifestyle, that is what traveling brings you. When you travel you become more creative, more alive. — by Arturo Ambrosio Guerrero from Legend Travel Group
Whether we’re rushing through an airport, heaving our luggage up the steps to our hotel, or peacefully floating in the sea, on holiday we are more active than usual. Being on the move all day is great for our hearts. In fact, science has discovered a direct link between travel and heart health. In a study published in 2000, researchers from New York University found that taking vacations reduced the risk of coronary heart disease in middle-aged men.
What travelers say: Do you know that feeling when you leave the plane in a new, unknown country? When you are excited about discovering a new city? Climbing to the mountain? Wandering through the national park? You may be tired, but it does not bother you at all — that is pure happiness. Do you think about work then? Does anything stressing you? No! When we combine physical activity, lack of stress and great joy, we get the perfect mix for our heart. I don't know a better recipe for a long life than traveling. — by Wojciech Kuzma from Fshoq! Travel Blog
It seems that we’re changing in quite a profound way. Research shows that we’re much more likely to value an experience — such as a holiday — over buying and owning a product. In other words, you can’t put a price on great memories. In 2014, San Francisco University published research showing that people believe life experiences — such as travel — are much more valuable than ‘things’. Since then, many other studies have found similar results, so much so that it’s even been labelled a trend to reject material possessions and aspire to have nothing.
What travelers say: As an avid traveler and a tour operator based in Indonesia, I have traveled to countless villages and small towns around and outside the country. During my travels I’ve found that more often people living in developing countries, rural areas or remote villages where people tend to have very limited resources and where quality of life isn’t very high, are content and happy. Visiting such places and staying with local communities, in the homes of farmers has in turn made me more appreciative of little moments in life and be happy with little things. — by Matteo Bierschneider from Wise Steps Travel
No one likes getting their period on holiday, but surprisingly, there are a few reasons why it can be a good thing! We’re on our feet much more than usual, which can help relieve cramps. We’re probably less stressed, meaning we’re less likely to get a bout of PMS. And if we do, the increased vitamin D we’re absorbing can help. Yes — that’s right — vitamin D can help with PMS. A 2015 study from the US found PMS sufferers had significantly lower levels of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D.
What travelers say: If there's one thing that helps during my period, it's distraction. Just go out there and do new things and see new places. Enjoy the world and enjoy your life. And besides, they sell chocolate everywhere in the world! — by Anne from Anne Travel Foodie
When we travel, we’re put into unfamiliar situations, and interact with strangers — especially if we’re doing it alone. All of this can lead to greater confidence and a better understanding of who we are. A recent study by Colombia Business School found that living abroad leads to a more definite sense of self, and can even help us gain clarity about the path we are taking in life.
According to research by the Wisconsin Medical Journal, women who took a vacation every year were less likely to suffer from depression than those who took a vacation every few years. This isn’t surprising, as sunlight, exercise and pleasurable experiences all increase our serotonin levels which can improve our mood. In fact, according to one study, merely thinking about a holiday you have planned can result in feeling happier. Plus, the activities we tend to do on holiday are proven mood enhancers — from getting more sleep and exercise to meeting new people and creating happy memories.
Traveling reduces stress by taking you away — both physically and mentally — from the pressures of everyday life. Whether you’re sunbathing in Greece, exploring Paris or watching a musical on Broadway, you are distracted from your ordinary commitments and experience less anxiety. Evidence confirms this. A 2017 study found that middle-managers who travelled for their holiday were less stressed than those who stayed at home. And reducing stress has proven health benefits — from better physical and mental health to an increased lifespan!
What travelers say: Every time I am on a vacation I completely unwind from my daily routines. Traveling makes me more aware of things and clears my mind, this is very useful in order to get ideas. For me, traveling has always been the most rewarding thing. And after returning home, I feel like a new person, it is a huge confidence booster. — by Peter Fischer Flórez from Costa Excursions
In a society that champions ‘busyness’ and success, taking a holiday is often deemed a luxury. In some workplaces, it is frowned on altogether. But this is changing — as more and more evidence points to how great holidays are for our bodies and minds. So, whether you’re thinking about booking a week in the sun or a year-long trip-of-a-lifetime, with so many proven health benefits, there’s simply no reason not to. Venture out into the world and see how this improves your life for the better!
Editor’s note: This travel article was originally published on 3 July, 2018, but has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.