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Last updated: 18 January, 2023

The last few years could not have been a worse time to travel: a deadly, highly contagious virus pandemic, flight cancellations and delays, airport and train chaos, economic uncertainty, inflation and war.

All of which would put any sensible off going anywhere.

But there’s increasing evidence that travel is not only good for your health: physical mental and spiritual health. It also makes you a more tolerant, appreciative and socially-successful human being.

Here are 15 great reasons why should immediately plan your next trip.

1 A stronger immune system

1 A stronger immune system

Prominent US microbiologist and immunologist Mary Ruebush PhD wrote a fascinating article on how dirt and germs may actually be good for us.

She notes: “The immune system is like an athlete: To become strong and adept, it needs training and practice. Hyper-sanitized environments deny it that opportunity and keep it sedentary and out of shape.”

Indeed, medical professionals back in the 1980s linked obsessively sanitised environments that eliminated all harmful bacteria exposure with a surge of cases of children being diagnosed with asthma and food allergies. The prognosis: avoiding exposure to harmful bacteria leads to weaker immune systems and increased autoimmune disorders.

“An adventure a day keeps the doctor away.” Unknown

Conclusion: Travelling to foreign lands, and eating foreign foods especially, will do wonders for your harmful bacteria exposure – and thus your immune system. So maybe that trip to India (and the inevitable stomach upset), is not such a bad idea after all…

2 Better sleep

2 Better sleep

Sleep is when our body repairs and refreshes itself, when our liver detoxifies our body. A hundred or more years of sleep science has proven that the better our sleep, the better we feel, and perform, during the day. Not that we need convincing – we’ve all woken up after good and bad sleeps and felt the difference.

But in one particular scientific study, sleep scientist Dr Mark Rosekind assessed the impact of holidays on sleep. He found that after two to three days of vacation, the study participants were averaging an hour more of good quality sleep per night, and experienced an 80 per cent improvement in their reaction times.

It further found that even after the participants got home, they were still sleeping close to an hour more, and their reaction time was 30 to 40 per cent higher than before their trip. (The impact reduces by up to 40% if you don’t switch off your electronic devices).

3 Longer life expectancy

3 Longer life expectancy

A 9-year study of 12,000 middle-aged men that ended in 2000 found that those who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.

Another study found more frequent holidays led to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, plus reduced high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat and abnormal cholesterol levels.

A third study found that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.

4 Improved fitness

4 Improved fitness

Travel gets you off the office desk chair (or the sofa at home) and out walking, hiking, climbing, kayaking, swimming and more besides. The benefits of physical exercise on health are well established, including increased endurance, weight loss, building muscular tissue and increased flexibility.

5 Reduced cognitive decline

5 Reduced cognitive decline

One of the joys of bucket list-type travel (for most) is the cacophony of unfamiliar sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights that assaults the senses, amplified when you go anywhere new.

Neuroscientists now believe this sensory battery sparks synapses in the brain, revitalizing the mind. The body is evolutionally constructed to respond to the challenges of new surroundings – in this case, forcing our brains to wake up and take notice.

It makes sense. Whose brain will remain sharper for longer – the person sitting in the chair watching Murder She Wrote re-runs, or the one taking a luxury train around India’s Golden Triangle or cruising down the Nile?

“Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind.” Seneca the Younger

6 Increased creativity

6 Increased creativity

Have you ever noticed during those last few days on holiday that new ideas start flooding into your brain about what you can do with your life? Or clarity starts to emerge on how to solve a sticky problem you’ve been dealing with?

Creativity in the mind is related to neuroplasticity (the make-up of your neural pathways that wire the brain). Neural pathways are influenced by your environment and your habits – change both, and you give them a refresh.

Adam Galinsky, a leading professor at Columbia Business School, studies the connection between creativity and international travel. He told The Atlantic: “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility, and the depth and integrative-ness of thought.”

But not just any holiday. Professor Adam Galinsky went on to say: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”

In other words, you won’t get the same benefit flopping by a pool for a week, as you would from a bucket list visit to the Pyramids of Giza or white-water rafting through the Grand Canyon.

There’s compelling proof too. One study in 2014 looked at the output of 270 fashion designers and found that the designers who had worked outside of their home countries produced the more creative and successful work.

7 Increased mindfulness

7 Increased mindfulness

Following on from enhanced cognitive performance, holidays that take you out of your routine and ‘wake up the brain’ force it out of autopilot, making its thought more present and engaged with the surroundings – in other words, more mindful.

That’s according to Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds. (And he should know, right?)

“A traveller without observation is a bird without wings.” Moslih Eddin Saadi

8 Feeling of life satisfaction

8 Feeling of life satisfaction

A 1998 research study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on goal theory found thatachieving accessible and personally meaningful goals is associated with a heightened sense of well-being.

A follow-up study in 2010 found that individuals benefit from this effect by taking holidays that involve some higher-level goal achievement – like swimming with dolphins, or driving through the lavender fields of Provence.

We’re all conscious we only get one life, and ticking off bucket list travel experiences on holiday not only affords all the benefits of a holiday, but generates this enhanced sense of satisfaction that we’re making the most of the time we’ve been given.

“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.” Unknown

9 Reduced stress

9 Reduced stress

It doesn’t really take a scientist to tell us that going on a holiday reduces stress, but it’s nice to know it’s scientifically proven.

A 2005 study on women showed that those who took more frequent holidays were less likely to become tense, depressed, or tired, and are more satisfied with their marriages. Multiple other studies have also shown that taking holidays decreases job stress and burn-out.

Stress is increasingly being shown to have unseen and highly detrimental effects on our physical bodies too, not just our minds. Having a break from stress allows our bodies time to rejuvenate and strengthen, meaning we are physically better equipped to deal with diseases, and of course, stress when we get back home.

Laying by a pool for a week, or just going somewhere familiar, lowers stress, but the lack of stimulation means you’re still thinking of everything back home. For bigger and faster stress relief, go somewhere different or do something memorable. Your brain will be so distracted – you won’t have time to think of anything else.

One study concludes that the emotion-calming ‘holiday’ effect endures for only a short period after – days, weeks at the most – depending on the level of stress in the life situation you return to. The physical benefits, however, from allowing your body to recuperate and heal, are likely to last longer.

“Live your life by a compass not a clock.” Stephen R. Covey

10 More appreciative

10 More appreciative

It’s a very disappointing fact of life that the more we have of something the less we appreciate it. In the West, relative to most other regions of the world, we have materially-rich lives – yet the highest levels of depression. You only have to see the implosion of many celebrities in Hollywood to understand that money and adoration by the masses don’t lead to happiness.

A number of studies in the Journal of Travel Research have provided conclusive evidence that satisfaction with holidays leads to an increase in overall life satisfaction; there’s nothing like stepping out of your comfort zone for a few days or weeks to appreciate your creature comforts when you get back.

“No one realises how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin Yutang

Seeing how the less fortunate are forced to live, and perhaps even immersing in their way of life for a time, is also a strong tonic for mentally appreciating how fortunate we are, for re-seeing all of the positives again, not just focusing on the negatives as we sometimes do.

“You lose sight of things… and when you travel, everything balances out.” Daranna Gidel

11 Become a better person

11 Become a better person

Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, told Travel & Leisure:  “Travel helps people appreciate the common humanity and basic goodness which is present in all human beings… Not just those who look like us or who talk like us or who dress like us.”

Another 2013 study supported this. Todd B. Kashdan PhD, professor of psychology at George Mason University, told Harvard Business Review that “People who travelled to more countries developed a greater tolerance and trust of strangers, which altered their attitudes toward not only strangers but also colleagues and friends back home.”

As Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” In other words, the world would be a much nicer place if more people travelled to new places.

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” Moorish proverb

12 A stronger sense of self

12 A stronger sense of self

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California, has shown in her research that mixing with the locals strengthens your sense of self.

Rich cultural experiences help us to develop, understand and ultimately strengthen our own beliefs and values, shaped by a greater tolerance and understanding of others.

“Jobs fill your pocket; adventures fill your soul.” Jaime Lyn Beatty

13 Closer relationships

13 Closer relationships

How many times have you heard people lament that they wish they’d spent more time with their kids growing up, or their parents before they passed? Sadly, in today’s digitalised world, where we all increasingly live in our own online bubble – a trend that’s accelerating.

Holidays are an ideal way to spend quality time with those you love most, without the many distractions of our daily lives. Even better if you can (or you’re forced) to leave the screens behind (you can’t check your phone on a safari).

Studies have shown that travel leads to closer, deeper relationships. Increased communication and shared, memorable experiences are proven to bring people closer. It strengthens family bonds and even reduces the likelihood of divorce. (Though, as Ernest Hemmingway cautions, “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love”).

“It doesn’t matter where you are going, it’s who you have beside you.” Unknown

14 Increased personability & likability

14 Increased personability & likability

Stepping out of the hotel into a new environment forces you, on occasion, to talk to the locals. You may be engaged in conversation even before you leave the hotel by fellow travellers. And 99 times out of 100 it will be a positive, enjoyable and even uplifting experience.

Travel inevitably leads to conversation, and conversation practice and positivity lead to improved communication skills, confidence and personability. A mind broadened by travel will make you more likeable too.

Bucket list travel experiences also make for fantastic stories when you get back. Your dinner party card will be booked out for weeks. After all, who would you rather sit next to at the table – someone who could recount their experience snowmobiling across Lapland to see the Northern Lights, or someone who just stayed at home and moved the lawn?

“Don’t tell me how educated you are tell me how much you have travelled.” Mohammed

15 Increased knowledge

15 Increased knowledge

Whenever you visit a new place, you not only learn about its geography, but also potentially about cultures, customers, natural phenomenon, art, history and so on.

And yes, nowadays we can learn about anything online – if we have the focus and motivation to do so. Not easy in today’s world of distractions. The in-person, immersive experience is unavoidable, more memorable, and filled with nuance and uniqueness.

Research has proved it once again. Studies have shown an increase in factual knowledge covering a wealth of aspects resulting from travel – and also linked it to personal growth and increased life skills from the attainment of knowledge.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Saint Augustine

So there you have the proof. Taking holidays is one of those rarities in life – something that is thoroughly enjoyable that is actually good for you.

Crucially, all of the above travel benefits are significantly amplified when you go somewhere new – rather than taking the easy option and going somewhere trusted you’ve been before, or just flopping on a sunbed.

“Once a year, go somewhere you have never been before.” Dalai Lama

For travellers with young children in tow, a sunbed flop is about all they want (or can manage) most of the time. But for couples pre-kids, families with teenage kids, or retirees with grown-up kids – it’s worth making the effort to do something special or go somewhere new.

And even if you don’t end up going, there’s research that shows that anticipating a holiday – by planning one or even just creating a travel bucket list – accrues many of the above health benefits. A 2014 Cornell University study found that anticipation of an experience increased a person’s happiness – a lot more than buying material goods. If you can’t travel this year or even the next, you can always dream… and it’s good for you.

So what are you waiting for? Starting making a travel bucket list. If you write it down (or save your favourites online), there’s a much higher chance of it happening. (That’s proven by studies too). You’ll have ideas at the ready when you need inspiration.

You also never know what life will throw at you – so when you have the opportunity, take it. Die with memories, not dreams.

“Life is short and the world is wide.” Simon Raven