As the saying goes, travel broadens the mind. It should also be enjoyable, with plenty of interesting sights, tempting local cuisine and a break from the daily grind providing pleasure for the body and soul. But what about health? To answer this question, there are two things to consider.
Firstly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health “as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. A healthy person is therefore not only someone who doesn’t feel ill, but who also feels well. Research into the impact of travel on health tends to focus on mental health benefits and these are often easier to measure.
Secondly, studies of life satisfaction or fulfillment are based on analysis of the respondents’ statements. It’s difficult to accurately quantify someone’s happiness, other than by asking them relevant questions. However, surveys can have different methodologies (e.g. different sets of questions,) and therefore produce quite different results.
Charge your batteries
So is there a consensus among scientists about the benefits of travel? The short answer is yes! A review of research literature published between 1986 and 2012 clearly shows that the vast majority of studies on travel point to a positive impact on health. More recent research also supports this hypothesis.
Travel makes you happy
So, is it possible to measure the impact of travel on your happiness? The results of a study published in 2021 in the journal Tourism Analysis suggest so. People who regularly travel away from home are, on average, 7% happier than those who travel occasionally. And while 7% may not sound like a lot, it’s clear that the positive impact of travel on happiness is certainly measurable.
Interestingly, the study found that even relatively short trips had a positive effect – travelling just 120 kilometres from home was enough to feel the benefit. Another publication, this time from the Netherlands, suggests that the positive effects of travel actually begin before the trip. A trip gives us something to look forward to, so the mere prospect of it makes us happier with life.
Travel (even short trips) reduces our stress
How long should a holiday be in order to return truly rested and de-stressed? On this, science has no clear answer. Some people need a fortnight’s holiday because it takes them a week to fully switch off from work. Others prefer shorter, but more frequent, travels. Studies of post-holiday wellbeing tend to look at people who have had at least a week’s rest and until recently, shorter holidays received little attention. We are now more inclined than ever to use short trips of just a few days as a way to step away from our everyday responsibilities. So is a city break an effective break? If we trust the research, the answer is clear: most definitely!
Take a break from everyday life on a short trip
In 2018, Austrian researchers published the results of an experiment. They divided forty middle managers exposed to stress at work into two groups. The first stayed at home, but did not work. The second group went to a spa hotel for four full days. According to the study, members of the second group were required to take part in a session of moderate exercise, for example swimming, and active relaxation such as yoga classes. The rest of their time was free.
While both groups reported reduced stress levels – the effects of which lasted up to 45 days – resting away from home was found to be clearly more effective in reducing perceived tension. Further research is needed to establish the exact cause however a change of environment to one not associated with daily chores may have been beneficial. Training and relaxation sessions led by professionals may also have had an effect.
However, the Dutch study mentioned above did suggest that travel does not always reduce stress and can actually sometimes be a source of stress. This mostly depends on how you go about planning your trip. The better prepared you are, the less likely you are to let the unexpected raise your blood pressure. When you start planning your trip is also important and it seems that the earlier, the better is the rule when it comes to the quality of the experience and its impact on stress reduction.
Spend holidays your way
How can you get the most out of travelling?
You may be thinking: “Well, what does this research mean for my travels?”. We’ve put together five tips for you on how to get the most out of your travels, based on both the research analysed and our own experience.
1. Prepare for your trip
It’s a good idea to think about logistical factors in advance. For example, plan your airport transfers, check the weather forecast and see if your bank has an ATM at your destination. Better preparation means a more rewarding trip.
2. Focus on leisure
Don’t succumb to the temptation to turn your holiday into just another tick on your bucket list. Choose places you really want to see, rather than just photograph for Instagram. Make sure you take the time to soak up the atmosphere.
3. Take care of the paperwork
Remember to get your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in advance and always make sure you have adequate insurance. Don’t leave packing and airport check-in until the last minute. Clear advance planning means a better holiday!
Remember about the insurance
4. Travel actively
Try to plan your trip with plenty of time for exercise that is tailored to your interests, needs and abilities. There will be plenty of culinary temptations on your trip, so a healthy dose of activity will be more than welcome.
5. Have something to look forward to
Planning the trip itself is good for you – it gives you something to look forward to. If you can, try to plan several long or short trips a year. Nurture your travel dreams – make your own bucket list.
Rest is essential for your health and wellbeing. Work is an essential part of life, but you won’t be able to do it properly if your batteries are running low. Find your own way to take a holiday that will allow you to face life with renewed energy. And remember, even a short trip is enough to boost your health.
Hop on a rejuvenating city break
We already know that even a few days away can have a positive effect on our wellbeing, but the question remains: where should we go? Independent sources tell us that a city break in one of these three cities never disappoint.
Refresh your mind with art in Amsterdam – the Rijksmuseum houses all the most famous works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. Free your mind on a bike ride, passing by colourful canal-side houses. Be sure to stop at a market and try a delicious stroopwafel – a caramel waffle with a hint of cinnamon.
If you’re drawn further north, head to beautiful Copenhagen. Experience l the calming influence of green spaces, sea breezes and peaceful strolls along the colourful façades of Nyhavn. And if you want to lure out your inner child, head to Tivoli Gardens, one of Europe’s oldest amusement parks. Take in the city’s panoramic views from the world’s tallest carousel, the Himmelskibet.
If you prefer a Mediterranean climate, choose Malaga. Get your bones moving and your mind stimulated as you follow in the footsteps of the Moors at Gibralfaro Fortress or admire Malaga’s stunning Andalusian Renaissance cathedral. Get away from it all for a few days, relaxing on sunny beaches and chatting in bustling chiringuitos.
Recharge your batteries on holiday
Yes, short breaks are nice, but for real rest and rejuvenation we definitely need a little more time. In our experience, these two destinations guarantee a real holiday.
From tropical gardens in Funchal to rugged mountain trails, Madeira’s mild climate and biodiversity offer the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. To recharge your batteries and soothe frayed nerves, take a dip in the natural volcanic pool at Porto Moniz. If you’re lucky, you might spot a pod of dolphins or even a whale!
For a longer break, Catania is also an excellent choice. You won’t need much to keep you happy here, spending your days strolling through baroque streets and bustling markets like La Pescheria. For the more ambitious, a hike up the slopes of Mount Etna is just the thing to get a sedentary body moving, and in the evenings you can relax guilt-free with a glass of Sicilian wine.