The Psychology of Travel
Updated: Aug 31
Many people save up, plan, and look forward to vacations and travel when they can throughout their lifetime, however rarely do we consider the psychological benefits of traveling to the point where it can be considered even necessary for our overall health. Beyond just the break from our jobs and everyday stressors of life, here are a few Benefits to your Mental Health from travel:
1. It can help you stay fit and healthy
Physical exercise is known to improve mental wellbeing, and travel offers ample opportunity to get active. Whether you enjoy pounding the pavement on a city break, swimming in the sea or summiting mountain peaks, getting to know a new destination by embracing the great outdoors can boost energy levels and improve your mood.
Immersing yourself in and connecting with nature is another key way to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression – and while you can do this anywhere (even in cities), it makes sense to incorporate a little ecotherapy into your travels too.
2. It shakes up the status quo
Whether you venture abroad or simply to the next town over, taking a break from your usual routines with a trip away from home can help break negative cycles, get you out of a rut and reveal a world of possibilities beyond your bubble.
'When I'm in a period of depression, getting out of the house and out of negative routines (for me, wallowing on the couch and eating junk food) can help to clear my head and give me the space to properly consider the things my brain is telling me,' says David Owen, YA author and former travel editor. 'Going somewhere completely outside of my usual sphere, be that close to home or abroad, can be an effective way of gaining both literal and metaphorical distance. If nothing else, I have interesting stuff to go and look at and do as a distraction!'
3. It gives you a different perspective
Experiencing different cultures can open your eyes to new ways of living. Something as simple as learning a new recipe or changing the way you spend your downtime can have a dramatic effect on your wellbeing. Travel can lead you to question and challenge the norms of everyday life at home, potentially inspiring you to make positive changes.
4. It increases creativity
It’s been scientifically proven that new experiences – particularly ones that allow you to immerse yourself in a different culture – improve the neuroplasticity of your brain, increasing creativity in the process. After a stint of grief-induced agoraphobia, Erica Buist traveled around the world to take part in seven festivals for the dead – and wrote a book about it.
'I helped build an altar for the dead in Mexico, danced in a parade in Nepal, learned enough Japanese to get by in Kyoto and in Madagascar, I got hit in the head by a corpse (it was on the shoulders of its dancing descendants)', she says. 'Every now and again I feel a shadow of not wanting to leave the house, but after all the experiences I’ve had, it’s hard to doubt my ability to get to the shops. Travel is stressful, even when it’s wonderful, and now when things go south it's almost like the travel I've done is a benchmark I know I can get back to.’
5. It lowers stress levels
Sometimes all your body and mind need is a rest – and where better to chill out than on a sun lounger somewhere warm? Sunshine is a great stress-buster, giving you a dose of mood-boosting vitamin D and increasing the brain’s release of serotonin, the so-called ‘happy hormone’. Leaving work stress and the everyday routine behind in exchange for afternoon naps, leisurely walks and the freedom to make your own schedule can do your mental health the world of good. Spending time away with friends and loved ones can add to the feel-good factor, while solo travel can refresh your sense of independence.
6. It boosts self-esteem and confidence
Travel isn’t always swaying palms and spa days. It can also mean navigating crowds in excessive heat, getting lost, struggling with language barriers or culture shock – all of which is extra challenging if you’re prone to feeling down or anxious. Claire and Laura from Twins that Travel have found that dealing with travel stress has helped them cope in their everyday lives.
‘For us, travel has become an unlikely form of therapy for our anxiety. By keeping our worlds "big", travel gives context to the smaller tasks in life that can often feel overwhelming when you suffer with anxiety. For example, the elation of stepping off a plane after getting ourselves to the other side of the world makes completing a short train journey seem easily achievable. Travel continues to keep our lives open and fulfilled, which in turn, leads to better mental health.’
7. It’s an act of self-care
When you’re feeling low, it’s easy to feel guilty or undeserving of nice things. But treating yourself to a trip – whether it’s a staycation or far-flung getaway – can be an empowering act of self-care.
‘Of course, anxiety and depression can make traveling difficult. Anxiety makes me worry about doing it, and depression both saps my energy to organize it and tells me I'm not worth the effort,’ says David. ‘Planning a trip can be a good way to push through that and show yourself some love or give yourself some purpose.’
As well as the focus and excitement travel planning can bring, travel itself grants you the freedom to do what you love, take time to rest and practice living in the moment. To this end, for many people, travel is not simply an enjoyable pastime, but an essential part of fostering a healthy, positive mindset.
Along with these benefits travel also serves as a stress reliever, reconnects to self-development, and build resiliency, allowing you more opportunity to recover and heal quicker than otherwise would. If you could go anywhere, where would you go?