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Unpacking the Mental Wellness Benefits of Travel

Megan Schlosser Filak Senior Marketing Communications Specialist

Mental wellness encompasses many factors, but there’s no mistaking that for many people there is a direct and positive connection between mental wellness and travel. Travel looks a little different for everyone — for some it’s basking in the sun on a quiet beach, or for others it involves a rigorous hike to a rugged mountain peak or sampling the flavors in a new city while others work their way through an amusement park. With so many ways to travel it’s no surprise that the benefits are equally diverse. 

Traveling to Escape

Before we dive into the mental wellness benefits of travel, we have to be clear — they are not one-size-fits-all. Even for the most seasoned traveler, traveling can at times be stressful with logistics to plan, flight delays, crowds, and new places. For people managing mental health issues such as anxiety, travel can pose further challenges.

That said, for many, travel, no matter the destination, offers a break from the monotony of the work week, school schedules, housework, and all the other obligations we pile into our days.  According to a TripAdvisor study 51% of Americans surveyed cited rest and relaxation as the top reason for a trip they were planning at that time, followed closely by 49% saying the purpose of their trip was to escape day-to-day life. The escape that travel offers can be enough to reset minds and bodies. “We can use travel as a way to reexamine our priorities and devote our time and attention to identities and commitments that we, unwillingly, have to put in the background in our daily lives,” said sociologist and author Karen Stein when speaking to Fodors

Furthermore, as travel disrupts your routine with its new experiences and fresh perspectives  it stimulates your mind. According to Psychology Today, this improves brain cognition and helps reactivate reward circuits. While navigating new areas can be stressful at first, what’s happening as your brain learns and adjusts has lasting positive effects even after you return to your normal routines.

Traveling to Connect

For others, it’s less about the escaping and more about the connecting that comes with travel. Research has shown that traveling with loved ones brings you closer together. One study found that couples who engaged in higher levels of shared experiences during their vacations, such as effective communication or trying new things together, reported happier relationships when the vacation was over. Back at home they noted higher levels of flexibility and cohesion following their vacations. 

But you don’t need to travel with loved ones to experience the benefits. Travelers have reported that being in a new area, learning from the people around them, and embracing the culture of the new place has refreshed their mental wellness. In addition to enhanced empathy that comes from connecting with other cultures, researchers have found that this can also increase creativity. 

The DMO’s Role

While travel can be fun, it often serves a purpose beyond the journey itself. Increasingly Americans are turning to travel as a way to improve their mental wellness and to step away from not only the day-to-day grind, but also larger stressors that impact them. Travel has the ability to not only connect people with others, but to also give individuals the opportunity to connect more deeply with themselves. When DMO’s are aware and mindful of what people are seeking when they travel, it can create positive outcomes for both visitors and the destination.

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