The COVID-19 global pandemic has strongly impacted the field of traveling and tourism for two years. As the world strides toward the post-pandemic era, attempts to study the effects of the pandemic show that there seemingly is a connection between traveling (or the lack thereof) and mental health.
Here, we take a look at how traveling offers certain health benefits that may also positively affect our mental and emotional well-being.
Travel as a form of therapy
A recent joint study conducted by Edith Cowan University (ECU) Australia and tourism and health experts show that going on vacations may have therapeutic effects for people with fragile mental health. The study links travel experiences to certain therapies recommended by specialists for people with mental health problems such as dementia.
Additionally, a study conducted by the University of Surrey shows that UK tourists are at their happiest when they have a vacation planned. Another study also shows that the process of planning a trip, which includes searching for cheap flights and the most suitable hotels, may also potentially benefit our mental health. In short, the anticipation of an experience (like a trip) can increase a person’s happiness substantially—much more so than the anticipation of buying material goods.
However, it’s also worth pointing out that there is no conclusive evidence linking the inability to travel to psychological and emotional distress. This is reflected in UCL’s latest findings which state that well-being actually peaked in June 2020 while the English population was still under strict lockdown measures.
Traveling increases immunity
While travel was largely restricted precisely due to health-related concerns brought about by the pandemic, traveling has been largely attributed to increasing our immunity by exposing us to a variety of bacteria and getting us out of our protected bubbles. (1)
Travelling reduces stress
The collective benefits of traveling are not limited to just improving our health but are also great moral boosters that have been proven to increase mental wellbeing.
Nick Davies, a leading psychotherapist, and hypnotherapist in the UK, contends that our mood can be hampered by familiar surroundings as the brain gets used to things it sees regularly and slips into boredom which can turn into a low mood. Travelling creates a sense of adventure as we experience new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, which create feelings of positivity and happiness.
Traveling increases creativity
Psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining how spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. As creativity is related to how our brains are wired, they are sensitive to change and greatly influenced by the environment.
According to Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” on the connection between creativity and international travel. (2)
Travelling may also induce stress.
The pros of traveling definitely outweigh the cons, but it is important to acknowledge that traveling can also be stressful and induce anxiety.
The National Health Service (NHS) warns there is a wide range of risk factors that may potentially disrupt mental health during travel. Among them are:
- unfamiliar surroundings and the presence of strangers
- disruption of normal routines and travel delays
- time zone changes and jet lag/sleep deprivation
- culture shock and sense of isolation
While these risk factors may present a challenge for people with existing mental illnesses, the NHS also states that a history of mental health problems should not be considered an absolute barrier to travel. There are management strategies that can be adopted to minimize the chances of triggering depression, anxiety, and other symptoms for people during their travels.
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