Planning a fun-filled vacation may not include thoughts of improving your health. In fact, it may have more to do with taking back fruity cocktails and late night dancing.
But while a vacation can be about cutting loose, long-term travel becomes something different. It’s virtually impossible to keep staying up all hours while following a grueling day schedule that includes hiking Machu Picchu or navigating the bus system in most African countries.
Your body will eventually give out if you don’t start to take care of it when traveling for more than a couple of weeks at a time. For me, travel has actually brought some pretty magnificent improvements to my health and well-being that may not have occurred otherwise.
Traveling can impact a whole lot more than just your state of mind. Photo by antwerpenR.
Here are 6 ways that travel helped improve my overall health after dealing with a chronic illness when I was in my early 20s:
1) Stress Reduction
Maybe the most important thing that travel has done for me, and continues to do every time I go on a trip, is reduce stress. Travel is a natural stress reducer because it gets you out of your everyday worries.
This might be one of the reasons that Europeans tend to be healthier than Americans—they generally have (and take) many more vacation days a year.
Most of us have a hard time disconnecting from our phones, computers and other gadgets, making it impossible to connect with our own brains. This causes a constant feeling of being up, which is really a stress reaction, whether we realize it or not.
Traveling often forces us to disconnect and to be in the moment. This naturally calms our mind, and as an extension, our adrenals, which are extremely important for proper immune function.
Traveling can help reduce stress because it takes you away from your everyday worries. Photo by Andrew Turner.
2) Helped Me Escape a Bad Job
Yes, more than one of us has used long-term travel as an excuse to leave a bad job. Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.
Sometimes we need something big in order to get us out of a place we feel stuck, mistreated or just plain bored.
Even the adventure of planning my first big trip to London, Africa and Germany for four months got me through some pretty trying days at one job. Heading to visit a friend in Australia gave me an excuse to bail out of a work situation that was sinking like the Titanic.
Travel isn’t just about seeing new places. Sometimes, it’s about escaping old ones.
Saving up to go on an adventure is often an acceptable way to leave a job. Photo by Bhaskar Banerji.
3) Upped My Nutrient Intake
It may seem counter-intuitive to eat better and take more supplements when traveling, but that’s what happened to me.
When I studied abroad in Florence in college, I went a little crazy with the pasta and the cheese and the bread and the wine. I didn’t end up feeling very good, and it showed at the end of my semester abroad.
So the next time I went on a long trip, I recognized that I had to take better care of myself. I know that the constant moving around, not always getting the best sleep, and consuming all kinds of different foods means I better be taking my supplements and probiotics to stay on track.
Sure, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world to carry around a big bag of supplement bottles, so when I go to places I know I’ll be carrying around a small backpack, I only bring enough vitamins in a plastic bag to last me during my time there.
Most of the time, I’m able to buy more when necessary.
Sometimes we take better care of ourselves on the road than at home. Photo by shannonkringen.
4) Learned About Other (Better) Ways to Live
Possibly the thing most loved about travel is that we get to see how other people live. It’s always so interesting to note the discrepancies or oddities, that I find I learn about better ways to take care of myself when I study other cultures.
Massage is an integral part of many Asian cultures, while in the United States, it’s still thought of as a luxury.
Going to bed as the sun goes down and rising as the sun does is how most Africans in the bush live; there is no late-night partying or alarm clocks to get them up in the morning. Instead, they follow their bodies’ natural rhythms.
Australians generally say (and believe) “no worries” to anything and everything.
While many Americans think that working toward a high-paying job and a big house are the most important things in life, you’ll find a completely opposite take on life’s purpose throughout the world.
Traveling shows us how other people live, and we can take the best of what we find. Photo by david_shankbone.
5) I Became Smarter
Becoming smarter may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about health and well-being, but I would disagree. All of the learning I did in elementary, middle and even high school about foreign lands didn’t stay in my head a moment past the end-of-the-year exam.
Hands on intellect = better outlook = happiness = better health.
Seeing places firsthand instead of reading about them in a book has made me smarter and healthier. Photo by Amber Guillory.
6) Deeper Appreciation for My Intuition
Traveling forces you to connect to one of the most important things each of us has: our intuition. Intuition is the guiding force that tells us which direction we should go in any given situation.
It can be as simple as your stomach churning when someone else forces you to do something, or it can be when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as someone creeps by you late at night on a deserted road.
Our intuition ends up being covered a lot of the time in our Western work-focused society. We rely on our brains for most of what we do day to day.
But when you travel, that work-focus is dropped, and so you are better able to connect to your intuition. Sometimes, you are forced to rely completely on your inner voice as you are thrown into new situations where you don’t know the people or the language. Intuition might be all you have.
It plays an extremely important role in our health. Some think of it as our soul at work. After I finish traveling, I try and hold on to that intuitive connection in my everyday life.
Intuition kicks in when our minds are quietened, and we know what road to follow. Photo by author.
How has travel influenced your health and well-being? Share your experiences in the comments below.
If you liked this article, you might also like: 15 Things I’ve Learned from 10 Years of Living and Traveling Abroad.
Main photo: Traveling improves not only your outlook, but your body, mind, and spirit by Celso Flores.