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Can Slow Travel really improve your mental health?

It’s been known for a while now that travel has a positive impact on our mental well-being and even our physical health. As the trend and focus gears more towards slow travel, we wondered if the benefits were amplified by spending longer in a new environment, away from routine, work stresses, or even comfort.

Turns out, there’s been a lot of research into the topic. Here’s what we found out about the benefits of travelling and how you can reap the rewards by travelling more slowly and, if possible, for longer.


Having new experiences is good for your cognitive function

To experience something new and break away from your routine, even in a small way, can push you out of your comfort zone. Pushing boundaries causes growth, whether emotional, creative, or even intellectual. Overcoming even small discomforts stimulates parts of our brain that may not usually be stimulated when staying in the same environment for a long period.

By travelling somewhere new, we become exposed to unfamiliar cultures, scenery, food, modes of transport. The possibilities are endless so no matter your travel style, you can still benefit from this growth.

You don’t need to start base jumping and throwing yourself into adventure sports to reap the rewards – simply waking up in a different place and interacting with different people can help start the process. The longer you travel for, the more growth you’re likely to experience so that’s a win for sabbaticals.


Travel helps you combat stress

Everyone has different stress triggers but feeling overworked, overstimulated, or under pressure are three big causes of stress that occur in everyday life. While stress is a normal feeling, excess exposure has a negative impact on our mental and physical well-being and can cause serious health conditions.

While removing ourselves from stressful situations is not always possible, taking a break from these triggers can help our brains to heal and reset. Imagine how you feel when you step away from your desk to go for a lunchtime walk – now think about how that feeling can be amplified over a longer period. Many of us don’t start to truly relax on holiday until after two or three days so it’s healthy to allow ourselves time to feel fully removed from a work environment for a prolonged period.

Removing yourself from stressful situations also helps to distract you from the stresses that come with it – and travel is a great way of doing this as being in new surroundings provides your brain with plenty of distractions. This means that you don’t need to speed a week lying on a beach to help you relax – good news for all those that like to pack in new experiences when travelling.


It can help you keep active

Whether you’re heading to mountains or beaches, cities or historic landmarks, there’ll likely be plenty of opportunities to get active. Why not pick up a surfboard the next time you head to the beach or try hiking to nearby viewpoints? Even wandering around markets and exploring new neighbourhoods can give you a boost.

Moving boosts endorphins and produces serotonin, which in turn makes us happy and reduces the impact of stress and anxiety. If you’re taking a complete break from work while you travel, you’ll also have more time than usual to fit these activities into your day.

Being away from our usual environments makes these activities feel like less of a chore than when at home. So even if you don’t plan to use the gym in your hotel, there’s still plenty of creative ways to keep moving. And you never know, you may find a new passion in the process.


Even just planning a trip can be good for your mental health

A 2014 study by Cornell University found that the anticipation of an experience had a more positive impact on a person’s happiness than the anticipation of receiving a material possession.

Scientists believe this positivity stems from the human connection travel provides. Not only does it enable us to meet new people but it also gives us stories, future plans, and interesting facts to share with others at home.

The moral of the story – even though travel may still be restricted, your mental health may benefit from planning your next trip. And if you’re feeling stressed from overwork or not taking a break then getting away for longer may actually be the perfect way to combat that.


Tips and tricks for staying inspired, even now it’s hard to travel

  • Buy a copy of your favourite travel magazine (ours is Wanderlust), read a new travel book, or watch some old travel documentaries. Even the act of learning about new places can help us to feel some of the benefits of travelling, without actually travelling.
  • Call a tour operator and talk through some ideas. Tour operators offer strong financial protection in these uncertain times so even if your plans need to be cancelled, you should be in safe hands. Always check the Ts&Cs and latest government travel advice before you book and make sure you purchase insurance.
  • Learn a new skill and plan a trip where you can practise it – you may have always wanted to learn how to navigate using a compass, learn to speak Spanish, or learn a specific craft – now’s the time to prepare for that all-important trip.


Ready to feel the benefits? Here are our top tips on how to start planning a sabbatical.


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