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How Travel Benefits Your Mental Health

Elephant Ride Thailand (credit: Randy Yagi)

Last year, the amount of unused vacation days in America's workforce reached a 40-year high, with workers forfeiting an estimated $52.4 billion in time off benefits. This year doesn't seem much better, as in a highly competitive environment many employees are worried about their loss of production or, worse yet, their loss of a job. Yet whatever the reason may be, the lack of taking time off can potentially affect someone's work performance and can contribute to an increased risk in overall physical and mental health. With numerous studies presenting the positive aspects of traveling and the negative impact of not taking time off, here are five good reasons why traveling is good for your mental wellbeing.

Hammock (credit: Randy Yagi)

Stress Reduction

Even if you're on a vacation, it may not be possible to completely remove yourself from your work. Still, by simply getting out of a workplace environment and into travel mode, you're already doing wonders towards reducing stress. One common theme from travel experts is to disconnect from your normal routine as much as possible for stress management. But don't plan on eliminating all of your gadgets, especially your smartphone. Still, you should try not to focus so much on your gadget while traveling, especially if you are missing out on whatever natural beauty is associated with your travel destination. Instead, use other tried and true methods of stress reduction, such as a simple walk, meditation, indulging in a well-deserved spa treatment or just leaving your gadget in your room or a hotel safe for the day.

Friendly Thai Locals (credit: Randy Yagi)

Mood Improvement

Regardless of the mood you're in before you begin your trip, there's an excellent chance you'll be in a far better state of mind upon your return. That's because travel inherently makes you a happier person! While it helps to visit places like Thailand, known as the Land of Smiles, you're bound to meet friendly locals most anywhere that will make it easy to reciprocate the friendliness with a wide smile. After all, it's difficult not to smile when someone is smiling back at you. But it's not just the people you might meet or your destination that will boost your mood. Simply spending time with your loved one, going for a stroll or detoxing from the connected world can all help make you a happier and more relaxed person. Lastly, just knowing that you have an impending trip will likely put you in a better frame of mind.

Getting More Active 

Travel is defined in a number of ways, such as going from one place to another or proceeding or advancing in any way. In doing so, you'll have to do a certain amount of walking along the way. While walking might not seem like much exercise, it has multiple benefits. Among these are are reducing your risk of heart disease, improving blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and most certainly enhancing your mental well being. You are also likely to have a chance to engage in other forms of wellness on your trip, including bike riding, yoga, swimming or even an elephant ride.

Waikiki Beach (credit: Randy Yagi)

Strengthening Relationships

It doesn't matter if you're involved in a relatively new relationship or if you've been married for more than 50 years, traveling is a great way to strengthen the relationship with your loved one. Some ideas are obvious, such as a stroll along a secluded beach or dinner by candlelight, but most any activity you can think of can be incredibly romantic on a trip if you make a little effort. Spending more time together allows you to get to know each other that much better, and by reaffirming your commitment it improves or maintains a healthy relationship, which in turn leads to a happier and more content life. Of course, if you're traveling solo, you still stand to benefit from strengthening relationships with your family, loved ones and co-workers simply by being away and coming home recharged and invigorated. Additionally, as a solo traveler, you have the ability to take time for some soul searching, which can help you in a number of ways, including easing stress and building self-confidence.

Paris Metro Station (credit: Randy Yagi)

Improve Cognitive Function

If you're one of the workers who missed paid time off last year in order to stay at work, you are a top candidate to take a break from the bump and grind. Spending long hours in any work environment can breed stress, burnout and perhaps resentment, which can contribute to a decrease in your job productivity. Instead, take some vacation time to clear your mind and relax a little. Additionally, when traveling, you'll provide yourself some mental stimulation by learning new things such as a foreign language, local customs or an unfamiliar subway map. Think of it this way: if your employer or your colleagues are taking time off, you should be doing it too. There's an excellent chance you'll find yourself more creative and productive when you get back.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on


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