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5 Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Traveling Abroad

Image: A woman smiles inside a train station

Need an excuse to get out of dodge? Travel can make you healthier. Paul Bradbury / Getty Images/Caiaimage

When was the last time you traveled abroad? Traveling for business is one thing, but I'm talking about packing your bags, logging out of your email account and disconnecting from your normal routine for a week or more.

Traveling the world isn't just fun and exciting; there's ample research to suggest it's highly beneficial for your physical, mental and emotional health as well.

Check Out These Five Proven Benefits

Americans may say they like to travel, but most don't venture abroad very often. According to a study published in the Hostelworld Global Traveler Report, Americans are half as likely as Europeans to go abroad and visit more than one country.

The average resident of the UK has visited 10 countries, Germans have seen eight, and the French traveled to five nations on average. But Americans? They tend to visit just three. In fact, 29 percent of American adults have never been abroad!

When citizens of the U.S. do move past the border, most visit Canada or Mexico. Affordability is evidently a big factor — about 71 percent of Americans say it's too expensive to leave the country — but that's hardly the whole story.

Given what all the travel and deal sites have to offer today, you can travel abroad without ransacking your piggy bank. Perhaps many Americans don't grasp the benefits of traveling abroad — and there are many!

Let's dive in and take a look at some of the health benefits that researchers have explored and verified scientifically.

1. Travel Makes You Healthier

According to a joint study from the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association, traveling actually keeps you healthier. The study found that women who vacation at least twice a year show a significantly lower risk of suffering a heart attack than those who only travel every six years or so.

The same is true for men. Men who do not take an annual vacation show a 20 percent higher risk of death and 30 percent greater risk of heart disease.

2. Travel Relieves Stress

Although missing a connecting flight or losing baggage in a foreign airport is sure to boost your anxiety, traveling has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels, and rather dramatically.

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According to one study, three days after taking a vacation, travelers report feeling less anxious, more rested and in a better mood. Interestingly, these benefits tend to linger for weeks after the trip has ended.

3. Travel Enhances Your Creativity

"Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms," explains Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School who has authored a number of studies that investigate the concrete links between creativity and international travel.

Travel alone isn't enough, however. Galinsky has found that international travelers have to be purposeful about engaging.

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"The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion and adaptation," he continues. "Someone who lives abroad and doesn't engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment."

4. Travel Boosts Happiness and Satisfaction

Most people tend to be happier when they're traveling and don't have to worry about work, of course. However, one of the more interesting takeaways from a Cornell University study is that people also experience a direct increase in happiness from just planning a trip.

The study found that the anticipation of taking a vacation is far greater than the anticipation of acquiring a physical possession. Thus, the benefits of traveling abroad begin well before the trip does.

5. Travel Lowers the Risk of Depression

While people tend to avoid the subject in our society, depression is unfortunately a major problem. Millions of Americans struggle with depression on a regular basis and it's not uncommon for doctors to overprescribe medication for depression.

Luckily, healthier alternatives are available for escaping the hopelessness of a depressed state. According to research, travel may be one of them.

A study from the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who vacation at least twice a year are less likely to suffer from depression and chronic stress than women who vacation less than once every two years.

Where Will Your Travels Take You This Year?

So there are clear, scientifically-backed health benefits of traveling the world. Mentally, physically and emotionally, you can gain a lot from packing your bags and visiting places you've never been.

Image: A bus on Westminster Bridge with Big Ben in the background in London
If you’re new to international travel and want to get your feet wet, there’s probably no better destination than London. Sylvain Sonnet / Getty Images

But where will you go? Thousands of places across the world are worth visiting. Here are a few that should be on your radar:

  • London, England. London is a must-visit city. If you're new to international travel and want to get your feet wet, there's probably no better destination. Not only is there a lot to do in London, but it's cheap and easy to get to from most major U.S. cities. There's also no language barrier, which is a bonus for people who get nervous about that.
  • Cape Town, South Africa. The beauty of Cape Town is astonishing. Not only is the landscape unique, but there's wildlife galore, including the Big Five (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino). There's much to see; whether you prefer a fast pace or slow and easy, there's an itinerary for you.
  • Lucerne, Switzerland. If you've never been to Switzerland, Lucerne is a fantastic first city to experience. Conveniently near to the Zurich airport, the town is compact, yet lively. Not only are there lots of attractions in the city, but you can enjoy an array of hiking trails just outside of town.
  • Auckland, New Zealand. Whether you want to kayak to a volcano, abseil down a waterfall, swim with sharks, or tackle challenging trails on a mountain bike, Auckland has everything an adventure lover could ask for. Oh, and it's also a city that teems with good food and entertainment.

For many, the notion of international travel isn't as mysterious and thrilling as it used to be. In a world accessible via YouTube, Google Earth, and virtual reality, many think they've already seen all the world has to offer, when they've really only stared at a screen a few inches in front of their face.

If you want to enjoy the scientifically proven health benefits of travel abroad, you should start planning a trip. Whether you go to London, Cape Town, Lucerne, Auckland, or somewhere entirely different, boarding a plane and flying to a foreign destination where you're equal parts excited and intimidated is great for your growth and development.

Where will you go?

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