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Mental Health Benefits of Travelling

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

This article is taken from .

The benefits of travel go beyond making memories and meeting new people. Getting out of your comfort zone and exploring a new place can have a remarkably positive impact on your emotional wellbeing. Want to know more? Here are seven ways travel can be good for your mental health.

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.

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 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 in the UK 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!’

Riding in tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka gave Emma a different perspective on handling stressful situations

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.

When I feel my own stress levels rising, for example, I like to think back to my experiences riding in tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka. As we overtook buses on blind corners, dodged death-wish pedestrians and got cut up by countless motorbikes, our driver remained relaxed and took it all in his stride, as did other road users. Despite the chaos, everyone was calm. After a few of these journeys, my own worries and bewilderment dissipated as I realised that the alternative responses – fear or road rage – serve no-one. I try to apply this lesson to my life at home: you cannot control the actions of others – only the way you respond to them.

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 travelled around the world to take part in seven festivals for the dead – and is writing 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.’

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 from 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.’

Getting out of your routine and trying something new is a great way to give yourself a mental boost © Tom Cockrem / Getty Images

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 travelling difficult. Anxiety makes me worry about doing it, and depression both saps my energy to organise 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.

Travelling gives you a change of scene

A simple change of scenery is often all we need to reignite our lust for life. If you’ve been struggling to find motivation for your studies, you’re stuck in a rut at work or you’ve just come out of a tough relationship, hitting the pause button to go travelling can be the perfect way to restore yourself.

Staying in one place and doing the same thing every day may be a comfort to some but for others, it can often make you feel trapped both physically and mentally. Switching up your daily routine and location by journeying somewhere new will help stimulate your mind, boost your happiness levels and make you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile with your time.


Travelling promotes independence

If you’ve not spent much time away from home, setting yourself the challenge of going travelling for a few weeks (or months!) will definitely give you a sense of independence. If you aren’t very good at budgeting, try living on less than £5 per day in South East Asia. Or maybe you’re not very confident around people you don’t know, so going on group tours or staying in a hostel will show you just how easy making friends can be.

All these classic travelling experiences can seem daunting, but you’ll realise just how good they’ve been for you when you get home and find simple day-to-day situations so much easier to handle.

Travelling gives you a sense of achievement

It’s often said that the only way to truly get over our fears is to face them head-on. If the thought of experiencing an unfamiliar place (especially on your own) makes you feel anxious, perhaps embracing rather than shying away from it is the best solution. After all, if you can handle backpacking around countries you neither know nor speak the language, daunting tasks later on like a job interview or big presentation will feel like a walk in the park.

Being able to do things that seem nerve-wracking or scary can also leave you with an unrivalled sense of pride and achievement. Even if it’s just a small thing like flying on your own or successfully navigating from A to B in a city you don’t know, you’ll automatically be building up inner-strength and enhancing your self-esteem.

Travelling actively lowers your stress levels

Our daily lives can be filled with so many stressful situations, whether it’s work deadlines, a long commute or a hectic home life. Taking some time away from those things, by travelling to a completely new destination, is an ideal way to clear your head and de-stress.

When you’re travelling, you also tend to be in charge of what you do and when you do it. Why not have breakfast at midday or spend a whole day lazing around by a pool? Nobody expects anything from you, meaning you can completely relax and just go with the flow.

Travelling can be a long-term mood booster

It’s fair to say that travelling for pleasure typically makes most people happy. In some cases, it has even been known to help people overcome depression. We usually look back on past holidays with fondness, whether it was because we experienced something unique, ate a particularly great meal or just enjoyed the company we were in.

Despite generally dreading the end of a trip, returning home is never as bad as you believe it will be (sleeping in your own bed again is always a major plus point). You also have so many new memories to hold onto — many of them documented in photos — that can give you an instant mood boost simply by thinking about or looking at them.

And, finally, having a great time travelling usually gives you the desire to plan more trips and have even more epic experiences to look forward to in the future!


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