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Traveling for Health & Happiness

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Traveling for Health & Happiness

Al Waller: If someone offered you a way to improve your health and well-being, you would take it, right? I'm thinking most of us would in a New York second, and in this case, I'm pleased to report that research has found that traveling may do more than just give you a break from reality, it may boost your health and overall well-being. Thankfully, as COVID-19 restrictions relax, now may be a good time to dust off the old passport or plan a day trip somewhere new.

Welcome back to ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller, and joining me today is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, and today, she’ll be discussing three health benefits of travel.

But before we get started, I want to remind you that we would love to hear from you and learn what topics you would like us to cover. Please drop me or Mihaela a note at [email protected].

Mihaela, I know both you and I really enjoy traveling and certainly look forward to future adventures, exploring some new destinations locally and globally. But what makes traveling so special?

Mihaela Vincze: Those who are avid travelers know how exciting it can be. Traveling helps you rediscover what you love about yourself as it can invigorate you and boost your mood. It also forges the ability for you to enjoy the beauty that the world has to offer—which we tend to forget about as we tread through day-to-day life. Some of the ways exploring the world can enhance your well-being are quite intriguing, surprising even. In today’s episode, I’d like to dive into three health benefits of traveling.

Al Waller: That sounds enticing. What would you like to start with?

Mihaela Vincze: Regular traveling can make you feel happier. A study published in Tourism Analysis has found that frequent travelers tend to feel more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t take vacations often. The researchers also found that life satisfaction from traveling had more to do with the “frequency of satisfied travel” rather than how often someone took vacations.

So, it’s important that the trip you take leaves you feeling pleased—not stressed. Spending a week in a conference room in another country, for instance, may not lead to feelings of happiness even though you’re in a new location.

Al Waller: Been there, done that – and not only in the states but abroad as well. So, I'd really be interested in getting your take on what it is about traveling that can make people happier.

Mihaela Vincze: Good question. A 2020 study published in Nature found that people who see more changes in scenery daily tend to be happier. This could be because travel offers novel experiences which can help act as a buffer against stress. Perhaps breaking up your week with new locations can really help you feel happier overall. This is especially important for those who work from home since it can be particularly challenging to see new places on a consistent basis. Intentionally planning trips—even for just the day—can be really helpful for boosting your overall well-being. Think oceans, mountains, or even museums when deciding your next excursion.

Al Waller: I'm really liking the sound of this. How else can traveling benefit us?

Mihaela Vincze: Traveling can strengthen your relationships. The more positive vacation experiences you have with your partner — like communication, activities, and affection — the better your daily functioning at home will be post-vacation, noted researchers in a study published in the Journal of Travel Research. This could be because vacations can help bring people together, promote relaxation, and they provide relief from daily stress.

Al Waller: Well, I suspect possessing a healthy, compatible relationship with your travel partner would be absolutely key, if not essential. But seriously, I recall reading how travel may also have important implications for brain health and cognitive benefits. How does that line up with your understanding?

Mihaela Vincze: Traveling does have cognitive benefits. A study published in Tourism Management in October of last year found that travel may be beneficial for mental well-being and may have several elements that can positively impact brain health, especially for those with dementia.

Al Waller: I find this fascinating given that dementia impacts people's ability to think, remember, and function – and regrettably, there's no cure. So, tell me what exactly did this study uncover?

Mihaela Vincze: The study concluded that tourism may have a potentially positive impact on five areas:

  • Cognitive and sensory stimulation: Travel stimulates thinking which may benefit people with dementia.
  • Environment: Travel allows people to explore a new environment and can increase social connection, which can promote brain function for people with dementia.

Al Waller: Its fascinating because I have learned these are important for brain health – I just never considered how traveling includes all these activities! What are some of the other elements with which traveling can offer positive impacts on the mind?

Mihaela Vincze:

  • Exercise: By nature, travel includes movement. Being active can help people with dementia.
  • The use of musical therapy: Travel that has more of a musical focus could be beneficial for those with dementia because music can improve brain function and boost mood.
  • Reminiscence: Recalling previous memories can be helpful for brain health. Tourism also may help stimulate memories in people with dementia.

With all this being said, literature supporting travel in the treatment of dementia is limited.
Al Waller: It sounds to me that further research in this vein is definitely in order – and will hopefully and ultimately lead to the development of more diverse treatment options for people with dementia. Now, what would you advise our listeners to keep in mind as they set their course for future travel?

Mihaela Vincze: Remember, when it comes to traveling, it’s important that you do your homework and due diligence before taking that trip. This is because traveling only has health benefits if you feel satisfied during your trip—not stressed out. You also don’t have to do anything fancy – a staycation can also reduce stress and improve your mood, without straining your finances.

Al Waller: Absolutely, sometimes just letting your feet touch the ground at home, as is the case with staycations, can be stress reducing or just relaxing in general. Thinking of it, staying in the comforts of your own home and community without commitments to work or going to related appointments, could actually feel, in the end, kind of liberating.

But getting back to travel in terms of research, how do you recommend people go about their fact-finding preparation?

Mihaela Vincze: I have a few tips:

  • Plan your trip. Begin by thoroughly searching your destination—find the best deals on flights and accommodations. Be aware that certain times of the year are more affordable to travel than others. Also, certain days of the week are typically less expensive for flights and hotel check-ins.

Al Waller: Good points – upfront planning can definitely go a long way in determining whether your trip will be stressful versus successful, right? Have you got any other tips you'd like to recommend as we prepare to visit some place new?

Mihaela Vincze:

  • As a part of being a responsible and culturally sensitive tourist, learning about the dos and don’ts prior to arriving somewhere is advisable to avoid causing any conflict to the local people of the place you plan to visit.
  •  Check the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination before booking any trips to check travel restrictions.

Al Waller: Those are all great tips to consider before traveling. Thank you for showing us how traveling can improve our lives cognitively, strengthen our relationships, as well as make us happier.

If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

We hope you'll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episodes on the Saver’s Credit and how to be there for others in the aftermath of a disaster. Also, in case you missed it, check out our previous episodes on healthy habits for 2023, and the importance of candid conversations on tough topics.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

If you have comments or feedback, please reach out to [email protected]. Have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Send us ideas.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.