Why the Best Mental Health Day Is a Vacation


By Loes Daniels, Founder, HotelGift.com

It’s easy to spot the deep tan that marks someone recently returned from vacation. But the most important and long-lasting effect of travel may be one of the least visible. Books like Eat, Pray, Love and Wild have become international bestsellers by describing it: that sense of renewal, satisfaction, and well-being that can come from “getting away from it all.” As vague as that might sound, there are concrete reasons why traveling can foster better mental health:

1. Travel relieves stress.

It makes sense that a break from work would be relaxing. But you can multiply that relaxation by getting out of town for a few days. Experts say that “active” leisure pursuits–including vacations–can reduce job stress more than just taking time off. (The effect is so strong that one researcher recommended companies provide financial aid to help lower-paid employees get out of town.) Immersion in a new experience helps the brain refresh and reset, so that you return to your old environment in an elevated mood.

2. Travel encourages family bonding.

Bringing the kids along on vacation might seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But experts say travel as a family can promote bonding by forging shared memories. Long after it’s over, families can relive their time together by retelling stories from the trip. That’s true even if the logistics of the vacation are stressful, or the family isn’t particularly close. In difficult situations, parents can model good problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills for their children–skills that will come in handy when the kids are finally ready to travel on their own.

3. Travel strengthens romantic relationships.

Chores, errands, work obligations, plain old-fashioned stress — in everyday life, all these things eat into the time couples spend together. On vacation, by contrast, there’s much more time for intimacy and sex. The effects of such intense bonding can linger long after the holiday itself is over. In one 2013 survey, 40% of couples interviewed said that their sex was permanently better after travel together, whether that was a weekend getaway or an extended honeymoon.

4. Travel can trigger epiphanies.

Many people turn to friends for an outside perspective in times of crisis–but travel can work just as well. It’s hard to solve your problems when you’re stuck in the middle of them. (Just ask Wild’s Cheryl Strayed, who struggled with the death of her mother and a heroin addiction before heading out on her solo hiking trip.) Getting away from it all can help you see creative solutions to an issue that you might have missed. Travel is a journey of not just physical, but also emotional distance. That’s probably why so many people experience personal epiphanies while on trips.

5. Travel helps you appreciate home.

Travel has a way of making you look at the world with fresh eyes. Think about all the photos you take on vacation vs. on a normal workday — being in a new place makes you more likely to notice sensory details. You’ll get a big boost from your vacation if you can take this openness with you when you return home. Look more closely at the faces of subway riders on your morning commute. Take a long, slow walk through the streets of your neighborhood. Once you start treating your hometown as a vacation destination, who knows what you may find?

With contribution by Nathalie Lagerfeld of Hippo Reads.