Taking a vacation has a lot going for it. Travel helps you relax, experience new things, and rack up some hashtaggable moments all at once. But travel has a more important benefit many of us miss.

Travel is great for your mental health, and general wellbeing. You can travel alone, with company, overseas, or an hour up the coast… you can get a mental health boost with any type of holiday.

Here are six ways travel is proven to be great for your mental health, with research to back it up!

1. Travel makes you happier

Taking a vacation makes you less stressed, helps you feel like you’ve achieved something, and breaks up the monotony of day to day life. Travel just makes you a happier human being.

While it doesn’t take a scientist to realise this, there’s lots of research to prove it. Here are a few studies finding a strong link between travel and happiness:

  • A study of 1,000 Australians found vacations increase wellbeing.[1]
  • A study of 3,650 people in the Netherlands found more vacation days and more vacations increase happiness.[2]
  • Research on 264 South African travellers found vacation satisfaction was linked to increased life satisfaction.[3]

So, here are some tips on using travel to increase your happiness:

  • Take more vacations each year
  • Make those vacations longer
  • Have more satisfying holidays

That satisfaction point is tricky, but important. Trips are more satisfying if they’re long, relaxing, planned out ahead of time, and somewhere you really want to go.

Young people happy in the sun because travel makes you happier

2. Travel breaks the work/stress cycle

Study[4] after study[5] finds working long hours increases stress and dissatisfaction with life. Of course, we don’t need academic research to know that!

Travel acts like a circuit breaker and gets you out of the cycle of work and stress. A proper break from work will show you that the office doesn’t need you 18 hours a day, and that life comes first.

Here are some stress busting travel tips:

  • Turn off your phone or uninstall your email app when you’re travelling. Better yet, go somewhere without reception!
  • If you’re paranoid about being uncontactable, speak to your colleagues before you leave about how they’ll handle emergencies.
  • If you must check your emails, limit the amount of time to do so. Spend an hour in the morning or evening, then turn it off.

A stressed man working on a laptop, he needs a mental health vacation

3. Travel can get you a promotion

Well not directly, but travel is proven to improve your job performance[6] and increase your productivity. Coming back to work stress-free does wonders for your ability (and inclination) to work.

Many Australian employers are realising the link between productive workers and vacations, with some offering staff unlimited annual leave.

So next time you’re considering taking time off, don’t pass on it to make your boss happy. With the performance gains you’ll get once you’re back, she’ll have a hard time not promoting you!

A woman shaking hands with her boss, getting a promotion after traveling

4. Travel challenges us

Lifelong learning is important for our careers, but it’s also good for us personally. Travel is great for self-development, as it gives us first-hand experience of new people and new places.

Whether you’re heading to a new country or a new part of your city, you’ll meet new people and experience a different way of life. You’ll have better understanding of people unlike you, building your emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

The benefits aren’t just social. Getting around a new city uses different parts of your brain than day to day life. Whether it’s navigating an unfamiliar map or learning a new language by brute force, travel is sure to get those neurons firing!

A young woman at an airport, about to travel on a holiday, great for her mental health

5. Travel is great for kid’s mental health

Vacations are great for kids of any age. Multiple studies find travel boosts childhood socialisation and development[7], which gives kids emotional skills and resilience for later in life.

Real world experiments also prove the benefit. The British government sent 4,000 disadvantaged children and their caretakers on 1-2 week holidays. They found:

  • 33% of caretakers saw improvements in their children’s mental health.
  • 60% of children were more relaxed, more confident, and had a greater sense of wellbeing.

One child said “It made me feel like I’ve got a new brain”[8].

A man on the beach with his daughter, as travel is great for kids mental health

6. Travel can bring your family closer

While a big family holiday can be more work than fun, small family trips can improve your relationship with your kids, parents, or siblings. They also help create memories that last forever.

Here are a few studies that link vacations with family togetherness:

  • A US study of 265 people found trips increased family bonding, communication, and solidarity.
  • A study of 306 national park visitors found outdoor recreation increased family cohesiveness.
  • A study of 898 US family members found higher leisure satisfaction led to higher family satisfaction.

So, here are a few tips for getting the most out of family vacations:

  • Go on regular, small family trips. Traveling with 4 or 5 people is more fun than 10!
  • Find a spot to visit each year. It’s easier than finding somewhere new each year, and it builds long-term memories.
  • With older children, have them invite a friend. They’ll be more engaged, and it’ll be much more satisfying. If you don’t have enough seats in the car, a GoGet People Mover can help!

 A family travelling on holiday walking through a farm field together

References:

[1] Dolnicar, S., V. Yanamandram, and K. Cliff. (2012). “The Contribution of Vacations to Quality of Life.” Annals of Tourism Research, 39 (1): 59-83.

[2] Nawijn, J. (2011). “Happiness through Vacationing: Just a Temporary Boost or Long-Term Benefits?” Journal of Happiness Studies, 12 (4): 651-65.

[3] Sirgy, M., P. Kruger, D. Lee, and G. Yu. (2011). “How Does a Travel Trip Affect Tourists’ Life Satisfaction?” Journal of Travel Research, 50 (3): 261-75.

[4] Fritz, C., and S. Sonnentag. (2006). “Recovery, Well-Being, and Performance-Related Outcomes: The Role of Workload and Vacation Experiences.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 91 (4): 936-45.

[5] Strauss-Blasche, G., B. Reithofer, W. Schobersberger, and C. Ekmekcioglu. (2005). “Effect of Vacation on Health: Moderating Factors of Vacation Outcome.” Journal of Travel Medicine, 12: 94-101.

[6] Fritz, C., and S. Sonnentag. (2006). “Recovery, Well-Being, and Performance-Related Outcomes: The Role of Workload and Vacation Experiences.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 91 (4): 936-45.

[7] West, P., and L. Merriam. (2009). “Outdoor Recreation and Family Cohesiveness.” Journal of Leisure Research, 41 (3): 351-59

[8] Lewis, E. (2001). “Evaluation of the Benefits of Recreational Holidays for Young People in Public Care.” The National Children’s Bureau, May 2001. http://www.fhaonline.org.uk/Documents/ Prog01_NCBFullReport.pdf (accessed March 9, 2012).

About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.