Need a reason to book a trip ASAP? Discover 15 science-backed health benefits of traveling to see what a getaway can do for your wellbeing!
Here’s how even a short vacation can boost your physical and mental health before, during, and well after your much-deserved break from the real world.
What Are the Health Benefits of Traveling?
- Travel is proven to translate to direct health benefits
- Vacations can boost physical and mental health
- Travel can reduce risk of issues from burnout to heart attacks
They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can book you a trip to a all-inclusive oasis in the Caribbean or on an African safari teeming with wildlife – and that’s pretty much the same thing.
Studies, experts, and our own anecdotal observations have shown that there are indeed health benefits of traveling.
The Global Coalition on Aging reports that 93% of American adults feel happier after traveling, with 80% saying it increases their energy, focus, and productivity upon return.
A full 77% – more than two thirds – of Americans feel vacationing (even for a short time) noticeably improves their overall health.
But is this just something wanderlust-worn travelers say to justify their endless trips into the unknown? Or does science actually back up these claims? There’s definitely truth to the notion that travel makes you healthier, happier, and enriches your world experience.
In fact, our analysis of peer-reviewed scientific studies and surveys of travelers around the world found that travel might be the very best medicine for whatever ails you.
From anti-aging, weight loss, and marriage-strengthening benefits to reduced risk for cardiac disease, dementia, and depression, it’s clear that “two tickets to paradise” is more than just a hit song – it may be the cure for a host of health conditions and problems!
We’ll talk about 15 science-backed health benefits of traveling and share some tips to help you make the most of every trip for your body, mind, and overall wellbeing.
15 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Traveling
That rejuvenated sense of happiness, health, and wellbeing you feel when you’re on vacation isn’t just your imagination. It’s a repeatable, proven phenomenon!
Check out 15 proven health benefits of traveling to encourage yourself to get out and explore the world more. You won’t believe what a quick getaway can do for your body, mind, and spirit!
1. Improves Your Sense of Health and Wellbeing
It sounds generic, but it’s worth noting that travel is shown to improve your overall sense of health and wellbeing. Travel makes you feel good, even if it’s not that far from home.
Researchers at University College London’s Centre for Transport Studies found that people who regularly travel 15+ miles away from home report that they experience better health and more social interactions.
Another study found that traveling increased overall fitness, recreational ability, mood, sleep, and social activities – and that those benefits last well after returning home.
On the other hand, people who don’t travel and those who experience a lot of barriers to travel report worse health and more feelings of loneliness.
While people’s self-reported feelings of health are far from scientific and more anecdotal, it’s a big deal that traveling has such a prominent impact on how healthy you feel.
2. Lowers Your Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease and cardiac arrest are scary possibilities and represent the world’s #1 killer responsible for at least 16% of deaths globally each year.
Good thing traveling can demonstrably lower your risk of heart disease and heart attacks!
The Framingham Heart Study (which has been running continually for 75 years) found that women who took a vacation at least twice a year had a significantly lower risk (8 times lower) of heart attacks or coronary death compared to women who only vacation once every 6+ years.
Men get the benefit of decreased risk of heart disease death, too. The LA Times reported that men who don’t travel at least once a year have about a 30% higher risk of coronary-related death.
Turn that statistic around to find that men who do take a vacation once a year have about a 30% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Another study from the Psychology & Health journal found that just looking forward to a planned vacation actually lowers your average heart rate, so the health benefits of traveling start before you’ve even packed your bags.
3. Lowers Your Risk of Death
Sure, death is inevitable and something we’ll all come to accept one day. But if it’s possible to lower your risk of death by taking a trip, who wouldn’t be up for it?
In the study, researchers found that men who ate a healthy diet and stayed active but took short or no vacations still had a higher risk of dying than the group of men that ate a healthy diet, stayed active, but always vacationed for 3+ weeks per year.
It’s pretty comforting to know that taking a trip somewhere new can drastically reduce your risk of dying. Short vacations work, but the longer, the better!
4. Decreases Stress Levels
We all deal with the deleterious effects of stress, and in modern society, it seems like everyone’s stress levels are higher than ever before. Turns out, travel is the natural antidote to stress.
The Global Coalition on Aging notes in their white paper on healthy aging that failing to take regular breaks (vacations) from everyday stresses – traffic, work, parenting, finances, etc. – measurably increases your levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The reverse is also true: Taking regular breaks from your everyday life by going on vacation or traveling somewhere new can effectively reduce your levels of cortisol, and by response, stress.
A study from the Psychosomatic Medicine journal found that people who did pleasurable activities (like traveling or doing fun activities on vacation) actually lowered their overall cortisol levels and blood pressure.
German researchers found that traveling continues to drive down stress levels even 5 weeks after the vacation. Talk about an effective way to relieve stress!
Another study found that just looking forward to a planned, upcoming vacation was enough to dramatically reduce reported stress levels before, during, and after the trip.
5. Slows Down the Aging Process
Believe it or not, one of the health benefits of traveling is that it can slow down the aging process by decreasing your overall cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
The white paper mentioned above from The Global Coalition on Aging states that “Everyday stressors can elevate the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which actually speeds up the aging process.”
And studies back this notion up. Acute stress – anything that causes you to worry and fret – triggers your body to start releasing excess amounts of cortisol and other related stress hormones.
Higher levels of cortisol speed up the aging process and reduce your body’s resilience to sickness, challenges, and age-related changes.
Another study from the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that the more cortisol you produce over time, the faster you’ll find yourself aging physically and mentally.
Your vacation may not give you the same results as a face lift or botox, but it’s shown to slow down aging cognitively and physically – that’s enough for us!
6. Instantly Buoys Your Mood
Traveling is proven to give you a mood boost that starts the moment you begin planning your trip, through the vacation, and even into your initial return home.
One study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies and the U.S. Travel Association found that 89% of respondents felt their stress levels drastically dip and happiness increase after only a day or two of traveling.
A Cornell University study found a link between people who travel more often and increased energy, focus, and empathy. Together, these are the factors that make you feel good and boost your mood!
Another Cornell study found that the planning process for travel can be just as positive and enjoyable as the trip itself, offering an instant mood boost.
A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that travelers felt they were in a better mood, less anxious, and better rested even 3 days after returning home.
If you’re the type that loves a little instant gratification, you can’t do better than the boost you’ll get from traveling and planning upcoming trips.
7. Decreases Risk of Depression
More travel means a lower overall risk of depression. The effects are measurable in men and women, but have been extensively studied in women.
A study from the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health found that for every 10 additional days of paid vacation a woman took, her risk of depression fell 29%.
Another study from the Annals of General Psychiatry discovered that men and women who didn’t travel for one year were at a 71% higher risk of depression the next year.
Interestingly, they also found that people with diagnosed depression were half as likely to travel in the first place, which led to further increased depression symptoms.
The Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin surveyed women and found that those who vacation at least twice a year are less likely to suffer from depression than women who travel less often.
The takeaway: Stave off depression and reduce current depression symptoms by traveling this year!
8. Promotes Lasting Health Improvements
With so many health benefits of traveling being reported by respected journals and experts, you’d be wise to wonder just how long these health boosts last. According to most of the research available, the benefits can last far beyond your actual travel dates.
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study linked above found that boosted mood, decreased stress, and sleep quality benefits lasted at least 3 days after the return home.
It also showed more subtle, lasting health benefits of travel continuing on at least 5 weeks after the trip – potentially much longer, but there were limitations on the study length.
This same study found that even short, 4-day weekend vacations continued to create lasting health benefits for up to 45 days after the trip.
A meta-analysis of vacation health benefits discovered that the benefits can start to fizzle once you return to work, but overall job satisfaction and what you do while on vacation are key factors in how long travel health benefits last.
9. Wards Off Burnout at Work
Speaking of job satisfaction, if you’re feeling burnt out at work, travel can offer a soothing retreat from the hustle. Lee Health shared study results that found 52% of employees feel “burned out,” with most feeling the effects more strongly due to the pandemic.
Working hard utilizes your mental resources and physical stamina, which can leave you exhausted and bone-tired on an existential level without regular vacations from work.
By traveling for even a short period of time a few times each year, a Finnish study found that you can ward off the heaviness of burnout and keep energetically chugging along in your work.
The harder and more taxing your job is, the more often you’ll need to break away to travel if you want the burnout-busting benefits.
A Stress Health peer-reviewed study also found that traveling and taking vacation time can even offer performance- and wellness-boosting benefits for “workaholics” who feel caught in the snare of to-do lists.
It’s never too late to say goodbye to burnout with a little travel – even if you feel you’re already well within its grip.
10. Makes for Marital Bliss
A happier marriage is a possible “side effect” of traveling – and it’s something that every couple should consider to stay on the right track.
It may not be a direct health benefit, but the Institute for Family Studies does show that people who rate their marriage as “not too happy” are twice as likely to report poor health as people who rate their union as “very happy.”
In fact, that same study found that those who rated their marriage as “not too happy” were even less healthy than single, never-married people and people who’ve been divorced.
It’s safe to say that the happiness level of your marriage translates somehow into your own health level, and fortunately, traveling as often as you can is a great way to strengthen the marital bliss.
A study in the Wisconsin Medical Journal found that women who took regular vacations rated their marriage satisfaction levels as higher, along with lower levels of tension, stress, depression, and feelings of tiredness.
Looks like traveling keeps the knot tied and tight – book a trip to boost your own marriage satisfaction and see how it affects your spouse, too!
11. Reduces Risk of Dementia
Dementia risk can be mitigated with travel because travel leads us to be more social, take part in more leisure activities that make us happy, and challenges the mind with learning opportunities.
Research shows that cognitive stimulation when you travel – like visiting museums, art galleries, and learning words and phrases in other languages – has the effect of lowering your risk of dementia.
The Global Coalition on Aging notes that brain health is better and dementia risk is lower when you regularly participate in pleasurable activities and social bonding, both of which are often part of traveling.
Cabin Zero discusses the potential for travel to boost creativity and strengthen mental focus because it “touches your every sense.” Taking in the sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures you experience away from home can go a long way in reducing your dementia risk over time.
12. Improves Quality of Sleep
Who doesn’t love the alert, content feeling of waking up after a great nights’ sleep? Travel can lead to better sleep quality – unless you’re traveling far away when jet lag becomes an issue.
A survey of around 20,000 traveling people over a combined 200,000+ nights away from home found that travel has a “balancing” effect on sleep quality.
If you go on vacation lacking proper sleep, you tend to make up for lost slumber time while you’re on the trip. In fact, people who usually sleep less than 7.5 hours per night find themselves sleeping more during travel.
This survey found that most people tend to wake up later on weekday mornings during travel, but wake up earlier than usual on weekends.
In fact, CNN reports that “sleep tourism” is on the rise as more sleep-deprived travelers head to new destinations in search of amazing rest they can only seem to get away from home in cozy locales.
13. Boosts Job Satisfaction
Getting sick of the grind? Heading somewhere new might be the fix you’ve been looking for. Travel can boost job satisfaction and keep you content in your workplace over a longer period.
Employee health and wellbeing was measured before, during, and after a short, 4-5 day vacation in a study from Stress Health.
The results? Even a quick 4-5 day getaway boosted job satisfaction and overall health and wellbeing, making employees feel more relaxed by “detaching” from their work for a short time.
Employees tended to spend more time talking with their partner, dealt with fewer negative and stressful events, and continued to feel positive effects from travel even 10 days after returning home.
Another study looked at employees who reported higher levels of work strain before and after their vacations. Their job satisfaction was boosted most in warm, sunny locations with opportunities for exercise, meeting new people, and getting more rest during travel.
14. Encourages Physical Activity
While you may not be on a strict exercise regimen at home, travel can actually encourage you to be more physically active and feel healthier as a result.
At home, our usual routines lock us into many of the same activities, day in and day out. Travel gets us out walking, exploring, trying new activities, swimming, and more.
Whether it’s heading up and down stairs, strolling the beach, exploring hiking trails, or taking bike rides through a new city, we’re often more active when we travel and it has direct benefits to our health.
15. Helps You Shed Pounds
While it’s not out of the ordinary to gain a few pounds on vacation to a food-centric area or cruise, traveling overall has been shown to help you lose a little weight and lower your BMI.
One study looked at 1,400 participants from 4 different travel studies who took part in pleasurable leisure activities while traveling, then filled out the Pittsburgh Enjoyable Activities Test (PEAT) afterward.
Participants had a lower body mass index (BMI), a smaller waist circumference, and even benefits like reduced blood pressure and cortisol (stress) levels after traveling and taking part in fun activities.
Engaging in leisure activities might be a simple way to shed a few pounds and slim your physique without trying too hard. Just take part in things that interest you and get moving!
Ready to Reap the Health Benefits of Traveling?
Traveling can hold so many benefits for your health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. With 15 direct, science-backed benefits listed here and more being discovered daily, it’s clear that travel is an important part of maintaining your health.
If you’re ready to improve nearly every aspect of your wellness and health, start with a short trip away from home. You don’t have to go far or spend more than 3-4 days to begin reaping the health benefits of traveling!