Published: 7 June 2021. Written by: Sophy Grimshaw.
As the holiday market begins to open up, travel and culture journalist Sophy Grimshaw explores some of the surprising benefits of travel that we’ve all been missing.
With summer sun on the horizon, vaccines being rolled out, and an end to the international travel ban (sort of – see the government’s ‘traffic light’ lists here), many of us have holidays, long or short, back in our sights.
And whether it’s a weekend break close to home or even planning an overseas trip, the reality of going somewhere that’s not within a one-mile radius of the sofa is now with us.
We all know that we’ve missed travel, but do we know why, exactly? As it turns out, the mental and physical health benefits of all those breaks we’ve been losing out on are remarkably varied: from a love-life fix to a way to cope after a bereavement; from a creativity boost that gives us new and better ideas, to a chance to share in the proven health advantages of seaside living.
Here are just some of the reasons to pack your case:
1. We benefit from blue spaces
For anyone who doesn’t live on the coast, a holiday is often the only way to spend prolonged periods of time in, on, or simply looking at, the sea. That matters, because the science is increasingly clear that time in or near ‘blue spaces’ has tangible health benefits. In the UK, the Blue Gym research initiative has been created in part to understand why ‘individuals living near the coast are generally healthier and happier than those living inland’. In the States, marine biologist Dr Wallace J Nichols coined the term blue mind, in a book of the same name, for the state of being we relish when we are in or near water.
Nichols attributes water’s health benefits partly to the absence of stressors such as screen time and noise pollution. Research is under way in the UK to analyse the many anecdotal claims that sea swimming, and the enhanced levels of minerals in seawater, help to assuage menopause symptoms.
2. Travel can help us navigate grief
‘A holiday can be really beneficial following loss,’ says Lianna Champ, a bereavement counsellor who is the author of How to Grieve Like a Champ. ‘People do change towards us when we are grieving, so it’s refreshing to be surrounded by people who don’t know what we have gone through. There is no expectation [when we’re travelling], so we can just “be”.’ Champ recommends taking a journey that reminds you of a lost loved one, such as one that you planned but never completed together. ‘We do continue our relationships with the people we lose,’ she says. ‘And doing some of the things that we would have done together can bring a sense of closeness to them.’
Here are some more ways to support someone who is grieving.
3. We need plans to look forward to
If you’ve ever felt butterflies ahead of a date, or dreaded an awkward work meeting, you know just how potent a sense of anticipation can be. So perhaps it’s unsurprising to learn that the buzzy, happy feeling of looking forward to a holiday can even trump the trip itself. Anticipation of a holiday has now been shown by researchers to be more enjoyable than remembering your holiday afterwards. And if you feel that that’s just what you need after the tumultuous world events we’ve all recently lived through, you’d also be right. A separate study showed that looking forward to planned events helped people to cope better with pandemic-related stressors during 2020.
4. Travel helps your love life
‘Time away from the daily grind and a break from current pressures at home is important for relationship quality,’ says Dr Jacqui Gabb, Professor of Sociology and Intimacy at The Open University, and Chief Relationships Officer at the Paired couples’ app. ‘But couple quality time doesn’t need to be sensational or include overseas travel: it’s the thought behind a gesture that makes it personally meaningful for the couple. Establishing a routine, returning to the same place every year, is more likely to have a lasting positive impact on the couple than a bells and whistles overseas trip.’
5. Holidays improve your physical health
When gripped by the panic of being unable to find your passport in your hand luggage at 6am, you may feel unconvinced that travel reduces stress and extends life expectancy. But once settled on your sun lounger, it’s easier to accept the findings that going on holiday has been shown to reduce stress and benefit our overall health. One study showed that in the days immediately after a holiday, 89% of people reported a significant decrease in stress, which lingered long afterwards. Moreover, it found significant overall health benefits from leisure travel, including the fact that men who did not take an annual holiday had a 20% higher risk of early death.
6. Travel boots your creativity
‘Travel is about so much more than taking our body through space; we explore on so many internal levels when we explore externally,’ says counsellor and self-development specialist Jana Nightingale. ‘In many ways, travel resets us; we reconnect to our sense of natural curiosity and awe.’ This, Nightingale explains, is because ‘our brains and bodies get used in different ways when we encounter new places, people and experiences, and we become more connected to our empathic network in the brain. This is where our capacity for generating new ideas, being more creative and empathising with others come from’. So, we really do open our minds by travelling.
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