It doesn’t matter if you’re taking the cheapest bus over state lines or if you’re on a red-eye across the Atlantic: travel affects our mental health in some really great ways. Seeing new things and being in new places overall just feels good! But don’t just take my word for it -- many studies published in the last two decades are proving that a change of scenery and exploring is great for our brains. Here are just a few of the many ways in which travel affects mental health.
Adrenaline keeps you on the edge of your seat
Suddenly, you feel it: your heart starts beating fast, your palms are a little sweaty, your muscles start to clench all over. Are you getting ready to fight for your life? No, you’ve just heard your boarding number has been called; it’s time to fly. Adrenaline is very common for most people afraid of flying, but it’s not really a bad thing. The “fight or flight” feeling is basically your brain telling you to keep on high alert. Having a rush of adrenaline keeps our bodies ready for action, whether it’s a roller coaster or a math test. Traveling anywhere for the first time gives a great rush of adrenaline. While your senses are heightened, your memory retains for information better than usual. This is crucial for staying safe; when getting off the plane in a foreign country, it’s essential to pay attention to your surroundings so you don’t get lost. As your adrenaline slows down, your brain gets flooded with secure feelings of relief. Next time you’re worried about stepping foot abroad, remember to take a deep breath -- the adrenaline coursing through your veins is the necessary way your brain is keeping you alert and safe.
Travel is mentally freeing
The feeling of mental freedom is exhilarating. You feel like you can climb on top of the world, like you can go anywhere and do anything. The act of traveling can lift your spirits and lower stress levels. Wellness trips are becoming more and more common. All over the world, people search for the best natural getaways, cottage trips, yoga retreats, nature hikes, and more. If you feel cramped in your home life, taking a small weekend getaway to the next town over might be just what the doctor ordered. It’s a common assumption that you have to travel across the world to feel free and accomplished. Of course, this would be totally awesome, but definitely not the easiest financially. Taking a short trip by bus or train means you can enjoy new sights with minimal stress about your bank account. It’s fairly common for museums and tourist centers to partner up with a local hotel -- this is a great way to experience new culture and art in a city near you.
Good conversations are actually brain-fuel
Now, I realize everyone’s mom warned them about talking to strangers, but bear with me for a moment. Having a really great conversation with someone gives us equal parts mental and emotional stimulation. Being deep into discussion releases a wonderful neurochemicals cocktail of dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins — a.k.a., the happy hormones. I distinctly remember having an incredible conversation with a woman two years older than me in a hostel just outside of Paris. She was about to start her Master’s in Germany and just wanted to check out France for the week. We sat in our bunk beds and chatted about education, Europe, art, history — you name it. Having passionate conversations with people around you (whether they’re locals or not) releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. They also help develop your cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence — all super beneficial to your mental health.
Self-discovery is essential to personal development
Remember that scene in the beginning of "Eat Pray Love" where Julia Roberts is screaming about how her excitement for life is totally gone, how she has no idea who she is anymore, how she has no pulse? Corny as that movie can be, it’s based on some truth. Movies like "Eat Pray Love" show us that travel can help with self-discovery and that having a passion for life is essential. The idea of traveling spur-of-the-moment to Italy, India, and Indonesia to discover yourself isn’t necessarily rooted in practicality for most people, but experiencing a new way of life allows us to grow as people and to discover new passions within ourselves. Traveling can help us to learn about our personal values, our natural talents, our abilities and the capabilities of growth. If we can better discover who we are, we can better grow as individuals.
Travel can enhance your natural creativity
It goes without saying that seeing inspiring things keeps us motivated to create. If you’re a creator yourself, you’ll know how tough it is to pull yourself out of a creative block. One of the most effective ways to push through a mental clock and find your natural creativity again is to step back and look at other incredible creations. This can come in many forms: art, music, writing, photography, sculpture, painting, even listening to another creator speak. Seeing a local museum or art gallery when you travel can help get the creative juices flowing again. Even if you aren’t able to visit a gallery, exploring a new city and seeing new architecture can motivate you to capture a beautiful moment in a creative way. If you’re a nature-lover, take a camera or a sketchbook with you on a hiking trail. Seeing natural beauty in the environments around you can help you stay inspired, and you might even discover a new creative outlet while you’re there.
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Asha Swann is the Spring 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at Sheridan College.