Why Travel Is Good For Your Mental Health

Man walks on a busy street with a backpack and a big smile. Learn why travel is good for your mental health with The Travel Yogi.

Feeling like running away from your problems? So, most of the time your problems will follow you wherever you go, but maybe your instincts aren’t entirely wrong. Actually, your instinct to “run away” could be on to something very healthy. There is something intensely refreshing and magical about removing yourself from your environment, dipping your toes in a new culture, and getting a break from the “ughhhhh” of your daily life. Because let’s be real, the monotony, the unrelenting to-do list, and the societal expectations of our culture, (no, I STILL don’t want to get married, mom!) can be detrimental to your mental health. Let’s delve into why travel is good for your mental health, and how you can run away from your problems the healthy way. 

The State of Mental Health In the U.S.

If the year 2020 taught us anything, it’s that mental health matters. It just does. Instead of thinking of it as an optional “add-on” to our daily necessities, such as food and water, mental health, and the self-care that goes into maintaining it, is now a non-negotiable. 

According to Mental Health America (MHA), the number of people struggling with anxiety and depression hit a record in September of 2020. In the State of Mental Health in America report, 19% of people in the U.S. currently struggle with mental illness—a staggering 47.1 million people. Compared to the previous year, this was an increase of 1.5 million people.

The pandemic itself did not help. Without social connection, some people were more prone to falling into negative, self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, such as developing addictions or neglecting the kinds of routines that keep us happy, connected, and engaged.

A world without travel?! For globe-trotters, this one was really tough.

Tasked with remaining in our homes as much as we possibly could, we had to adapt to a world without travel. 

Even if it was just traveling to your neighbor’s house, your yoga studio, or your parent’s house for the holidays. And international travel? As if. The world was closed, and as a result, so were we. Whether you’re ready to travel yet or not, here’s the 411 on the benefits of travel and why travel is good for your mental health.

Why Travel Is Good For Your Mental Health

Quiiick note on “travel”. Let’s be specific here. All travel isn’t the same, and we’re not saying every type of travel is good for you. To us at The Travel Yogi, when we say travel, we mean wellness and adventure travel.

What is wellness travel?

Take a peep at our blog article that’s all about wellness travel here. For a quick recap: Wellness travel is travel that allows the traveler to maintain, improve, or begin a healthy lifestyle of wellness.

So, no, when we say “travel” we don’t mean vacationing at your family lake house that you’ve been to every summer of your life. We don’t mean spending three days at a resort, with a margarita in hand as you tan under the sun. Not that those experiences aren’t valuable, but wellness and adventure travel is also about pushing yourself out of your boundaries and prioritizing self-care. It’s about welcoming feelings of uncertainty, going to new places you’ve never been, chomping down on the food you’ve never tried, and expanding your mind. When we say travel, we mean adventure wellness travel, the kinds of experiences that flip your world upside down and then get righted via your downward dog (and other awesome mat practices).

When we say travel, we mean adventure wellness travel, the kinds of experiences that flip your world upside down and then get righted via your downward dog (and other awesome mat practices). If that sounds really good, you should check out our yoga adventures around the world. We’ll also include some more info in this fine article you’re currently reading.

Another (more serious) note: As healing as travel can be, it is not a substitute for therapy. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses and need help, you should reach out to a mental health professional. 

5 Reasons To Get Your Booty On A Plane

1. Put Your Feelings In Check: Travel Enhances Your Emotional Agility

We all struggle with controlling our emotions. Whether it’s keeping in the flood of tears or holding back the urge to punch a wall, we’ve all been there. It’s great to feel your emotions in certain cases (i.e., crying in public can be cathartic). In other cases, our emotions can get in the way of us feeling joy, maintaining relationships, and functioning properly in society. Do you ever want to ask your emotions, “Um, where do you get off?” Us, too.

Emotional agility is your ability to not react immediately to your emotions, not allowing them to overwhelm or consume you. With enhanced emotional agility, you can observe the emotions, understand what triggered them, and devise a plan in managing the emotion.

According to a study of 485 Americans, foreign travel was linked to stronger emotional agility, and more effective communication, display, and regulation of emotions. Here’s the idea behind it: the more times you get lost in an unfamiliar environment, with a foreign language, foods, expectations, the more tolerant you are of the feeling of discomfort. You become more confident in places of uncertainty, and so when you are met with the challenge of an unfamiliar emotion, one that challenges you and threatens to knock you off your feet, you can observe that emotion, rather than let it sweep you away. Also known as, being an emotional badass.

2. ‘Stranger danger’… or Is It? Travel Helps You Develop Empathy for Strangers 

We’re all a little judgemental. It’s just human nature. The thoughts pop into our minds without invitation: “That dude still doesn’t have a job?” “Why is she so angry all the time?” “What’s wrong with them?” In the same study of 485 Americans, foreign travel was linked to reduced levels of judgment towards other people. Participants were better at understanding whether a person’s actions were based on their personality or their situation. The shift might look something like this, “It’s tough to find a job in these parts of town,” “I bet societal pressures are making her so angry,” etc.

In another study, 197 adults were surveyed before and after traveling. The researchers found that the more you travel, the more trusting and tolerant you are of strangers. Most interesting, this trust and tolerance carried through into their lives back home, helping them be more appreciative of the people they knew. Thinking positively of the people in your life can help you feel more connected to your community, your relationships. Thus, it helps you feel less isolated and can contribute to better mental health. A.k.a., you might actually feel like engaging in small talk with the cashier at the grocery store and feel happier because of it.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”- Mark Twain

3. Your Identity Crisis Will Have To Wait: Discover Who You Are 

If you’re having a Mulan moment every time look in the mirror, i.e., “Whooooo is that girlllll I seeee??? (Ahem, woman!)” you might need a vacation. We can all get caught up in our daily lives, bogged down by our routines, so much so that we disconnect from the unique flavors of life that make us special, growing, everchanging beings. Traveling gives us the time back to both reflect on and discover our personal goals and aspirations. It connects us to who we are, who we want to be, and how we can become them. So if you’ve ever thought, “Am I even on the right path?” spending some time on horseback over Iceland’s volcanic terrain might help you figure that one out.

4. A Literal Escape: See You Never, Stress! 

As, um, rejuvenating as a midday lavender bath is, self-care in the bathroom can only take you so far. Your house is still your house, and with it comes the same old, same old. You deserve better. Traveling, and literally escaping the environments and situations that cause you stress, can help reduce your body’s stress levels. Even if it’s just some much-needed distraction, travel can take your mind off the stressful situations that are keeping you down. If you’re taking a swim with sea lions in the Galapagos (soooooooo much fun!), it’s gonna be pretty hard to continue worrying about the passive-aggressive emails waiting in your inbox. If you’re just a few feet away from a baby ellie on a Kenyan safari, we’ll bet you won’t be thinking about how much you despise doing the dishes. When you’re not thinking of all the stress in your life, your body experiences lower cortisol levels, which promotes feelings of calm and contentment—happiness! 

5. I Can’t Freeeeeeakin’ Wait To Go On Vacay: Anticipation Sparks Joy

Okay, so now that we know how travel can improve our mental health, what if you can’t hop on a plane immediately? Science tells us that even just booking a trip does wonder for our mental health. In a 2014 Cornell University study, researchers found that “experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having).” So, if you’re ever deciding between buying that expensive couch (okay seriously though, why are new couches so expensive?) and your next vacation, researchers say purchasing the vacation will bring you longer, lasting joy. That’s enough to convince us to put our couch money towards a yoga adventure in Panama and pick up a free couch from off the street instead. Another study in 2002 suggests the same idea. Having a vacation booked leads to higher levels of happiness than not having a vacation planned. Who knew? Get bookin’

Travel With The Travel Yogi (We Cultivate Wellness Travel!)

Okay, so you are officially convinced that you want to travel to boost your mental health. You want it all: emotional agility, empathy for strangers, enduring happiness, stress-free livin’, and a better grasp on who the F you are! The world is calling for you, and we’re here to help you get there. With 14 different destinations to choose from, we WILL find the right balance of adventure, wellness, and yoga to help you improve your mind and mental health.

Here’s a sneak peek of what we offer. Imagine this: A FOMO-free yoga adventure in the country of your choosing, where you don’t have to plan anything. Our on-site staff knows the ins and outs of the most unique, tourist-free hidden gems in the country, to satisfy your inner adventurer, without all the added bucket-list stresses. Imagine a blend of yoga and site-specific adventure sports ranging from surfing in Nicaragua to exploring the medieval villages and ancient caves of France, among much, much more. You’ll be effortlessly immersed in a foreign place that will rejuvenate, inspire, and get you off that couch and away from scrolling the ‘gram! Sounds like magic? It is. Promise.