Travel is good for lots of things, but it can also increase mental well-being – and not just in the short-term. Whether you’re traveling for business, on a one-week family holiday, or have sold everything to pursue a life on the road, traveling can make you a happier person by building self-confidence, providing new experiences and memories, breaking routine and allowing you to meet people from all over the world.
I feel happy when I’m gaining new experiences and insights, and challenging my boundaries. Travel is the perfect catalyst for happiness, as it has allowed me to experience the natural, cultural and man-made wonders of the world. Being in foreign lands, it also continuously forces me to step out of my comfort zone – a great confidence-builder. In my book, travel is the best school there is: I’ve learned so much about the world and, most importantly, about myself.
Marilyn Tam, entrepreneur and author of The Happiness Choice, was travelling when I emailed her to ask her take on happiness and travel:
I’m travelling right now and yes, I am indeed very happy. I am in Myanmar and learning and appreciating another culture.’ Tam worked with Minister of Home and Culture in Myanmar and the first Prime Minister of Bhutan to introduce the idea of the International Day of Happiness to the UN, an annual day which this year falls on 20th March. ‘Travel expands our capacity for wonder, joy and appreciation of the amazing diversity on our lovely planet. It makes me very happy indeed. If I didn’t travel, I may never have had the opportunity to meet the Minister and, who knows, maybe the International Day of Happiness may not have happened yet.
So the next time you find yourself heading out on a shopping spree to lift your mood, why not put that money towards a flight instead? Here are 11 ways in which travel can make you happier:
1. FIND YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE BY DEALING WITH UNEXPECTED SITUATIONS
There comes a time when everyone must deal with an unexpected situation when they’re on the road. Even if you plan your trip to the letter, things can take a surprise turn. Whatever happens, there is a way around the problem and knowing that you can deal with these situations is a big boost to self-confidence and therefore your happiness.
2. HAPPINESS IS INFECTIOUS
When locals are happy, smiling and friendly, it has an immediate knock-on effect. I found the people of Cambodia and Laos to be notably friendly and cheerful, despite the relative poorness of these countries and the former in particular having a very recent traumatic history. When faced with those big beaming smiles, it’s hard to be annoyed at the hassling you might experience at busy sites like Angkor Wat; putting that knee-jerk irritation to one side instantly lifts your mood and is a good habit to take home.
3. BEING AWAY MAKES YOU APPRECIATE FAMILY AND HOME
Being away from things we often take for granted — family, close friends, home — makes us appreciate them more. Calling home isn’t a chore, but something to look forward to: no one enjoys listening to your envy-inducing travel stories more than your parents, so it’s the perfect excuse to wax lyrical about whatever place with which you’ve just fallen in love.
4. YOU MAKE NEW FRIENDS
It’s much easier to make new friends on the road than it is at home, where people are less inclined to chat to strangers on a bus or strike up conversation in a bar (at least, that’s true of London). When people are away from home, there seem to be less boundaries to cross and making friends becomes much easier, whether it’s a local curious to know where you’ve come from or a fellow travellers keen to have someone with whom to enjoy a beer or share a taxi. Social interactions make us happier and increasing our social circle means that we’re talking more and meeting different, interesting people, which hopefully means we’re learning more, too.
5. DETOX FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media can be used for both good and bad, but it’s healthy for everyone to have a break from the internet every once in a while. Wi-fi is so prevalent that it’s hard to turn off and you can quite often find yourself tuning out whatever amazing place you’re in with your face in your phone, checking Twitter, scrolling through your Facebook feed, checking your emails… stop. Turn it off. Better yet, find somewhere with no reception and no wi-fi so that you don’t have a choice. It’s liberating and allows you to better enjoy the ‘here and now’, which nicely ties into the following point.
6. GETTING SOME ‘YOU’ TIME
Traveling gives us breathing space that is often lost in our usual day-to-day existence. Having a moment to take advantage of peace and quiet and to simply ‘be’ allows us to let go of stress and tension and just enjoy being in the moment — a key focus of meditation and a practice you can take home with you. If you’re traveling with a partner, it’s a chance to spend time with only each other for company, which is a thought that probably shouldn’t fill you with dread.
7. EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION
Whether it’s learning a new skill such as cooking Thai food or learning a new language, travel presents ways in which we can further our knowledge and education. Learning makes our brains more active, which psychologists have found increases our level of happiness – particularly when learning something we find enjoyable.
8. GET A VITAMIN D BOOST
Whilst it’s a bit of myth that you need to be on a sun-lounger for twelve hours to feel the full effects of vitamin D (20 minutes of exposure to sunlight is enough), there’s no doubt that in the same way that the cold and dark of winter makes us unhappy (feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder or SAD), sunshine and warmth generally put us in a much better mood. A beach break is a great way to relax and enjoy the health benefits of a warm climate. Admittedly, this is more of a short-term boost, but a healthy glow makes everyone feels better and lasts for a few weeks after your trip is over.
9. YOU’RE MORE INTERESTING
You don’t need to be a ‘travel bore’ to have a few interesting stories to tell. Traveling throws up a lot of bizarre, funny and sometimes serious situations that relating back to people will make you — at least — feel interesting. Making someone laugh is an easy way to instantly bump up your self-esteem, so hold on to those embarrassing memories — no matter how much they might make you cringe.
10. NEW EXPERIENCES GIVE US MOMENTS TO REMEMBER
For most people, travelling is about the new experiences. I will always remember that moment of awe when I stood watching the sunlight leak out over the rainforest around the ancient temple of Borobudur in Java at sunrise, the sky turned a striking shade of violet: it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Recalling memories of happiness can sustain a feeling of contentment long after the moment has passed, and new experiences are memories that can stick with you forever.
11. THE EFFECTS OF TRAVELING AREN’T JUST SHORT-TERM
Aside from making you happier in the short-term, traveling can make you a much more contented, happy and relaxed person in the long run, too. Of course, most travel enthusiasts are constantly planning their next trip, but when we’re at home or past a point of being able to jet off whenever we like, past travels leave us with the memories and personal skills – such as confidence, broad-mindedness, friends and a more worldly perspective — that make people happy. And that’s why travel makes you a happier person.