It’s no secret that I love to travel. Some trips are exhilarating, others exhausting but all are transformational in their own way.
Failing to regularly take time off impacts my work. Like eating regularly, moving my body and staying hydrated, travel is also essential.
How travel promotes wellbeing
Science has proven that travel has a positive impact on our happiness, creativity and wellbeing.
While this finding is often cited, it doesn’t explain why holidays benefit your heart but two other cardio-protective factors often occur when we travel. Meeting new people while travelling increases our social connections. The converse, social isolation, is a known risk for both heart disease and strokes.
On a physical level travel frees us from routine, encouraging activity. I always find the best way to explore a new environment is on foot, usually clocking up 10 km or more a day.
Travel is not only good for our mental and physical wellbeing, in the truest sense of the word it also broadens the mind. Neuroscientists have revealed that being in a new environment – such as when we’re exposed to different sights, smells and language– triggers the brain to grow new neural pathways. Along with stimulating our synapses, holidays nurture creativity, imagination and even problem solving.
The reason such travels are mentally useful involves a quirk of cognition, in which problems that feel “close”–and the closeness can be physical, temporal, or even emotional–get contemplated in a more concrete manner. As a result, when we think about things that are nearby, our thoughts are constricted, bound by a more limited set of associations.
It’s the journey, not the destination
While visiting a new culture can enrich our senses, you don’t have to travel far to reap the health benefits. A combination of relaxation, stimulation and novel experiences can be found in your own city or state. A day trip or weekend in a national park exposes us to new smells, sights and other sensations. Breathing in the scent of the forest, exploring new trails and talking with people we meet along the way provide the same positive health-enhancing factors of a more exotic holiday.
One of my most healing breaks took me less than two hours from home for a retreat on top of a chilly mountain in the height of summer. The swirling mist and sub-zero morning temperatures were a novel sensory experience. Time spent meditating, walking and enjoying periods of silence provided an incredible tonic that I hadn’t realised I needed.
“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”
Jonah Lehrer, “Why We Travel”
Traveling solo or with others
When traveling with children there’s an added bonus of seeing the world through their eyes. No matter how many times you’ve experienced another culture or spent time in nature, it’s still a novelty for them. Buddhists talk about “beginners mind” – how to savour an experience with no preconceptions. Whether you’re travelling solo, with friends or as a family, holidays provide many opportunities to see the world from a new perspective.
So whether you can only eke out a day in the bush or by the sea, or an epic journey to foreign destinations, embrace the travel bug and let the healing begin.
Did you know that even 90 minutes spent walking through a forest can change the brain? Imagine what a couple of days could do for your body, mind and spirit.