Travel expands our minds and gives our well-being a boost.
Matthew Brum doesn't run from his problems, he takes them to the beach for a vacation.
“Whenever I need a break from the everyday grind, I travel,” says the 29-year-old director of digital strategy and social media for Nashville’s Big Machine Label Group. “Even if it’s just a long weekend, it refreshes my state of mind, gives me clarity and inspiration. Traveling always refreshes my soul.”
It’s not just Matthew's imagination. Research shows that travel is as good for the brain as it is for the body, and it can make you happier and more productive when you return to work.
In her book, The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, happiness researcher (and avid traveler) Jaime Kurtz, Ph.D., looks at how travel can boost happiness and how we can get more of its benefits.
Travel, she says, presents us with a “book-ended period of time” in which we experience a full range of highs and lows. That includes the exhaustion and exuberance of travel, the loneliness and newly discovered shared connections found among strangers, and the cultural missteps and deeper understanding of the world around us.
“It’s all there, and many of us consider that full range of experiences to be essential for a well-lived life,” Jaime says.
Go more, grow more
Matthew, who grew up in a family that loves to travel, has visited Portugal, France, Spain, Nicaragua, England and Italy. He’s also done plenty of domestic travel, and usually there’s a beach involved. He says each trip has helped shape who he is and how he sees the world.
“If I wasn’t able to see so many parts of the world, my brain and imagination wouldn’t be as colorful as they are,” he says. “I travel three to seven times a year, even if it’s just a short trip.”
He says traveling has opened his mind to other cultures and helped him find friends in far-flung places. It also has encouraged him to take chances and follow his dreams.
“I’m a dreamer, and when I experience something new and different, it inspires me. I believe travel has expanded my horizons in both my personal and professional life tremendously.”
Matthew certainly isn’t alone in his globe-trotting ways: 99 percent of baby boomers are planning to take a trip this year, and millennials are on track to outpace all previous generations when it comes to travel. While they may not realize it, all that travel is doing more than giving them brag-worthy Instagram photos.
Five things travel can do for you:
1. It teaches you to savor the moment
Traveling forces you to unplug from your daily world and take in new sights, sounds and smells. These moments of awe require you to experience them in real time.
2. It makes you more creative
Research shows that students who experience other cultures are better problem-solvers, are more interested in their studies and exhibit greater creativity. Much of this is attributed to the fact that traveling can help you see the world differently and open your mind to multiple solutions.
3. It makes you a better worker
For most of us, work is the one thing we most need a vacation from, but it’s also the reason many of us postpone or ignore vacations. According to the coalition Project: Time Off, some 658 million vacation days go unused every year in America alone. But vacations are crucial for letting your brain rest, and that helps you see things differently.
Project: Time Off also reports that small-business owners who take a vacation say their job performance increases upon their return, and managers say employees improve both focus and creativity when they take time away. If you need more reasons to plan a vacation, consider this: workers who use all of their vacation time are 6.5 percent more likely to get a raise or promotion than those who leave 11 or more vacation days on the table.
4. It can help improve your health
Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked, and a 2014 study from the Global Coalition on Aging looked at the social, cognitive and physical benefits of travel. Among its findings? People who skip annual vacations were more likely to have heart attacks; women who traveled at least twice a year were less likely to have heart attacks than those who traveled every six years or less.
5. It makes you happier
Even before you take a trip, you’re planning what you’ll do, where you’ll go, what you’ll see. (That’s called “anticipatory savoring.”) Jaime cites a recent study from the Netherlands, which found travelers were actually happier before they left for a trip than during or after the trip.
“You can use that time to build more happiness and anticipation in your life,” Jaime says, adding that being aware of it can help you maximize its effects. And, once you’re back home, taking time to reflect on the experience and recall your favorite moments will help prolong the beneficial effects of your travel.
“Experiences just get better with memory. As you tell those stories, or look back at the photos, they just get richer and more valuable,” she says. “Souvenirs get old or dusty or broken, but experiences live on.”
Listen to our podcast: The Happiest People on the Planet, With Linda Swain
Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy.