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Travel for your Mental Health

In North America’s ‘work-first, play second’ culture, travel is typically seen more as a luxury than as a habit.  If fact, many American workers often decline to take earned time off because they are afraid of falling behind at work or being seen as not dedicated.  It’s no surprise then that this type of lifestyle often leads to more stress and less fulfilling lives, even outside of the office.  If the many known benefits of travel aren’t enough to help you justify taking that long overdue trip to Italy or Thailand, there is a growing list of medical research pointing to the benefits travel can have on your mental and emotional wellbeing.  We’ve put together a list of 5 reasons why we need to start making plans to travel should become as routine as going to the dentist.

It’s good for your brain 

When you are on the ‘train tracks’ of your day-to-day life, your brain doesn’t have to work all that hard to accomplish the tasks that get you through the day.  Like any muscle, this leads to the brain becoming lazy and less efficient. According to Jean Kim M.D., “Travel disrupts your routine and introduces novelty to your brain, which improves cognition and helps reactivate reward circuits.”   That’s basically a fancy way of saying that forcing your brain to think differently, actually helps the way it works overall.  This is great when you are trying to figure out how to get to your hotel or read that foreign language menu but it also pays dividends when you get home.  Having woken your brain up from zombie-state, you are now able to think about your common day-to-day issues from new perspectives and find better solutions.  
 

Travel is a great stress buster

Stress can often feel all-consuming, especially when your surroundings are always the same, but when you step out of your comfort zone, the distraction can help shift your focus away from the issues that normally occupy your mind.  A literal ‘escape’ from the daily grind can help you refocus on your own interests, reprioritize your life and actually help reduce your body’s stress hormone levels.  When you return home and to the office and find yourself slipping back into the same old stressful routine, take a moment to remember how you felt sipping that wine at the vineyard in Tuscany or with the sand between your toes on that beach in Thailand.  You’ll have your own slice of mindful paradise wherever you go.

Give yourself new perspectives

Like stress, when you’re in a rut, it’s hard to get out of it if nothing changes but travel has a way of opening up our eyes to alternatives and different ways of looking at things.  Maybe visiting a country like France where 5 weeks holiday a year is the norm or Spain where they take their siestas very seriously can help us realize that our priorities might need a little shifting.  We aren’t suggesting you tell your boss that you can’t make the 3 pm meeting because you’ll be napping, but sometimes it takes seeing something in real life to understand that work doesn’t have to be the focus of your life.  

It helps you reinvent yourself

Immersing yourself in a new culture and interacting with local people increases your brain’s flexibility.  This is a good thing according to Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, because it actually helps increase your creativity.  When you think creatively, you are better at solving problems, are more productive and are better identifying new opportunities.  The personal growth opportunities on offer when you engage with people of different backgrounds is also priceless.  Empathy and tolerance are two of the most valuable interpersonal skills, especially in today’s “global” society.
Travel also tends to expose you to new experiences that could turn into your new passion.  If you liked the food in Paris, consider learning how to cook French food when you get home. Or if you were in awe of the art in Germany, learning how to paint could become a new hobby.  Not only will these new interests remind you of your trip every time you engage in them, but there’s also plenty of research showing the importance of hobbies in a healthy lifestyle.

It boosts happiness and satisfaction

How can you not be happy when you have an excuse to eat fresh croissants for breakfast and plates of cheese with wine as dessert.  When we travel, we often allow ourselves to enjoy the things in life, like food, that we’ve been restricting ourselves of in our ’normal’ lives and for some reason, we don’t feel as guilty about it. Travel gives us a sort of free-pass to enjoy the things that actually make us happy and we’re all for that.
And it’s not just the trip itself that will improve your mood. A Cornell University study, found that the anticipation of a trip can increase your happiness even more than the anticipation of acquiring something tangible, like a new car.  It’s like travel is the gift that keeps on giving!  This is just one reason we think it’s important to always have a trip planned.  In a perfect world, you book a second trip just before you leave on your next one.  That way, when the ‘back home blues’ start to kick in once you’ve returned from your holiday, you already have something to look forward to! Sounds logical to us.
 

It makes you mentally resilient

Let’s be honest, rarely does a holiday go completely to plan.  A delayed flight leads to a missed transfer resulting in an impromptu adventure on local public transportation.  An experience in street-food tasting turns into a case of food poisoning. Besides the obvious unpleasantness of these types of events, having to figure things out on the go can help build some serious mental toughness.  It makes you more flexible, patient and emotionally strong when you are forced to roll with the punches to ultimately find a solution.  Situations are rarely life-or-death and when you come out the other side, bruises and all, you’ll have a new found courage to face other challenges in your life head-on knowing that you’ll likely survive.  The more challenges you’re faced with, the better you’ll get at overcoming them. 
 
So there you have it.  With all of this evidence that travelling is good for your mental fitness, it must be true.  In case you’re still hesitant to ask your boss for that time off for fear of looking “un-ambitious”, Harvard Business Review found that “people who take all of their vacation time have a “6.5% higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise than people who leave 11 or more days of paid time off on the table.”  Can’t argue with that – and we know a great place to start: FarCloserTravel.com