Travel and Mental Health: 14 Pros and Cons

Travel is mainly sunshine and rainbows when it comes to your mental health, but there are some downsides worth knowing about, too. This post covers both the good and the bad…

Traveling can be a powerful elixir that lifts the weight off your shoulders and returns a smile to your face. It can restore your confidence, put the wind back in your sails, and make you feel alive again. In other words, travel can be fantastic for your mental health.

But it isn’t a cure-all. Nor is it foolproof. In fact, for some people, travel has the opposite effect. While you won’t see it advertised in many holiday brochures, there are definite ways it can negatively affect how you feel. With that said, here are 10 mental health advantages of traveling, followed by four of its mental health disadvantages.

1. You Get Time to Unwind

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Going on vacation or an extended trip gives you a much-needed break. You leave the stresses of ordinary life behind. You get to breathe, relax, and feel the stress and tension dissipate from your shoulders. It’s amazing how a short break can make such a difference in how you feel. It’s like night and day. You come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.     

2. You Socialize With New People

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Traveling is a fantastic way to meet like-minded people. Whether it’s at your hotel, hostel, on the beach, or during a sightseeing tour, there are friends to be made everywhere – and it often happens organically, with no effort.

Connecting with others like this can have profound benefits. For example, according to Psychology Today, socializing can reduce depression, boost well-being, and even prolong your life.

3. You Get a Distraction

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Travel provides a fantastic distraction from whatever’s going on in normal life – including your problems. Everything can feel so new and exciting that you stop thinking of anything else.

Of course, you can’t outrun your problems (more on this later). But this temporary reprieve from inner anguish can be a lifeline. Like resting between sets at the gym, you get a breather that lets you keep going.

4. You’re Outside, Often in Nature

Tourist visiting the Alhambra in Granada, one of the best cities in Spain.
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Whether you’re hiking, swimming in the sea, or exploring a new city, travel often involves being outside in beautiful environments. This is well-known to have major health benefits. Among many other outcomes, the American Psychological Association (APA) says exposure to nature can reduce stress levels and boost your mood.

5. You Feel a Sense of Gratitude

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Traveling can inspire gratitude, which is a potent mood enhancer. You realize how lucky you are – you’re having the time of your life, doing things most people could only dream of. Secondly, you get a well-earned break from whatever challenges you usually face at home. And thirdly, seeing the poverty in other places sets your own issues in perspective.

6. You’re More Active

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Many travelers walk tens of thousands of extra steps a day to see the sights. They might hike, swim, cycle, kayak, and so on, too. This exercise isn’t extra effort, either. It’s just a natural part of traveling, and it works wonders for your mental health. Research shows exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting mood and motivation.

7. You Have Fun

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Travel can be an antidote to how serious life often becomes. Instead of worrying about paying bills and making deadlines, you’re exploring ancient ruins, drinking beers in charming town squares, splashing around in the pool, playing games, watching sunsets, and reveling in life’s simple pleasures. In other words, you have fun for a change.

8. You Feel Empowered

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Life can strip your confidence away. Travel can restore it. You face problems, deal with them, and realize everything you’re capable of in the process. You get lost and find your way. You decide what you do and when you do it. You meet new people, make new friends, and learn about the world and your place within it. You can’t help but feel empowered.

9. You Get Space and Find Clarity

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Sometimes, you’re too close to something to see it clearly. If it’s causing you strife, stepping away for a while can be a lifeline. Whether it’s a relationship, a job, or a big decision, travel can give you some physical and emotional space that lets you realize what has to happen. You can end up with newfound clarity, closure, and glorious peace of mind.

10. You Learn About Yourself

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Self-awareness is another indirect perk of traveling, especially when you go away for longer periods. You start to realize who you really are, discover what you like and dislike, and learn when you feel at your best.

Suddenly, you have an explanation for your struggles and a direction for how to handle them. This lets you cultivate an environment more conducive to personal happiness, and that’s less likely to trigger anxiety, depression, and so on.

Travel has its downsides for your mental health, too, though. Read on for four of the main ones…

1. It Can Be Lonely

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Solo travel is a life-enhancing pursuit. But, by definition, it can also be a lonely one. You’re far from home, separated from loved ones by entire oceans, and surrounded by new faces in an alien environment. You don’t know anyone. You might not even speak the language.

This time alone can be profound, but it has its darker side. Some travelers might struggle without the comfort and support of other people.

2. It Can Be Stressful

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It’s easy to romanticize traveling. The movies and Instagram pictures make it look so happy and glamorous. What they rarely show are the lost passports, the delayed flights, the missing luggage, the stolen phones, the language barrier, and so on and so forth. Basically, things don’t always go to plan! You learn to roll with it, but the stress of travel can be very real.

3. Conditions Can Be Uncomfortable

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Stress is uncomfortable. But so are long flights in cramped seats, crazy hot temperatures, strange neighborhoods with dodgy vibes, tourist scams, bad hotels, and crippling tummy bugs. And those are just a short selection of things that can cause discomfort while traveling!

Again, it’s not always as romantic as it looks. When you’re struggling mentally and desperate for a break, that realization can add insult to injury.

4. Problems Travel with You

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Travel can be an excellent distraction from your problems. Yet you can’t outrun them forever – especially when they’re internal. In fact, sometimes you can’t outrun them full stop. You end up feeling exactly the same way just in another country.

Then you beat yourself up, wondering why you can never be happy. Even worse, you’re now cut off from the support of people back home. Combine this with the other problems I’ve mentioned here, and the experience of travel can take a negative toll.


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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including and news sites across the US.