Four Ways Traveling Can Improve Wellness

How can our experiences abroad impact our wellness? What is “wellness” and why is it important to understand before, during and after studying abroad?  

At a glance, wellness is commonly considered anything pertaining to self-care, reflection, and current states of emotions or physical capacities. In this context, we are going to explore the idea of wellness and how it relates to the experienced emotions that come with traveling. 

DEFINING Wellness

It’s important to keep wellness in mind, whether you’re planning a trip or returning home from a crazy time abroad. Our busy schedules are filled with time restraints, stressful due dates, and challenging decisions. With all that said, self-care allows us to take the time to focus on ourselves to figure out what makes us want to embrace life as is. 

It’s easy to think of self-care as something that is just to pamper oneself or be self-indulgent, but it is so much more than that. Taking care of one’s body and mind essentially affects every aspect of someone’s life for the better. And yes, this can even include travel, especially if you’re allowing yourself to grow and relieve stressors! Keeping your well-being in mind during your time abroad can alleviate stress and allow you to prioritize what makes you happiest.  

You may have heard of wellness being linked to travel, but how does travel affect us specifically, besides the initial anticipation and excitement when we arrive in a new city? Are there long-term advantages to going abroad? 

An Attitude of Gratitude 

For starters, De Vos & Witlox, researchers who conducted a study on travel satisfaction in 2017, suggest, “satisfaction with travel in general–is affected by a wide range of elements (including mode choice, trip duration and travel-related attitudes)” (365). As a result, passionate travelers can have a greater satisfaction for their lifestyles and time abroad, but also for the positive attitudes that come with those experiences. 

Traveling encourages human interaction, which in turn, builds connections with others and enlightens feelings of admiration or respect. When we feel encouraged, we boost our own happiness and productivity, which is why many times we end up trying to ‘maximize’ the days abroad with activities that will increase our own satisfaction.

Another component that is impacted by travel is gratitude. Incorporating gratefulness from challenges experienced abroad can seem challenging, but it’s all about creating a positive mindset. We can actively choose to practice gratefulness, which is another way of boosting happiness. 

There will be moments abroad that are frustrating or confusing. The flustered feelings that may come with those situations can be overcome by gratefulness, because at the end of the day, you have the freedom to travel. The feelings of accomplishment fueled by the passion to explore new things is another reason to be grateful, for these are moments for self-realization and growth. 

When students travel abroad, they are able to open their mind up to new cultures and appreciate a country for its beauty reflected in history, natural surroundings, and morale. Traveling opens the door for thankfulness and not taking for granted even the simplest things we experience! 

How We Unpack Experiences Abroad With Students 

It’s essential to unpack observations and embrace how we feel during short-term immersion programs and study abroad semesters. During short-term programs (1-4 weeks), the group of teachers, administrators and students should feel encouraged to share observations and feelings. 

EdOdyssey’s current study abroad students pose for a photo during their first few weeks acclimating in Lima, Peru.

EdOdyssey’s current study abroad students pose for a photo during their first few weeks acclimating in Lima, Peru.

For longer term study abroad programs, students need to feel that they’ve had enough time to get acclimated to their new home. As EdOdyssey educators, we like to have reflections to build trust and to learn from each other for short term programs. 

During the semester, EdOdyssey’s study abroad students have a month-long orientation to boost their Spanish, make new friends and gain a good relationship with their classmates and our staff so together we can support each other and encourage a great start an amazing semester. 

Too Impressed to be Stressed

Let’s face it, planning a whole trip by yourself can be frustrating and tiring, so how would travel possibly relieve stress? A research study conducted in 2015 by Eric A. Morris, an assistant professor at Clemson University who uses statistical methods to analyze traveling, agreed that travel does come with a few cons.

Travel may have some disadvantages in terms of fatigue and uninviting stressors, but according to Morris, “these [disadvantages] can be offset by things like novelty, adventure, satisfaction, the thrill of moving at high speed, mastery, autonomy...and activities undertaken while traveling” (520). 

Though travel can develop some emotional costs, it has a positive impact on the overall quality of one’s life. Have you left a trip feeling content, or longing for more monumental adventures? That sense of a greater satisfaction in life is partly due to the emotional well-being related to traveling, and reflects how one feels about their adventures abroad. 

Morris states that travel promotes wellness and emotional well-being, in terms of self-realization, enjoying accomplishments, and exercising expressiveness (520). Travelers value any time spent abroad, and yearn to continue achieving fulfillment through experiences undertaken when overseas.

Travel Allows For Individual Growth 

Many times, we understand that people come back from their time abroad with exhilarating stories and talk of the profound impact a specific person, place, or activity had on their life. Seeing beautiful places and meeting people who are different from ourselves grants moments of self-reflection, which allows time to look into one’s own self and assess where they are now and where they want to be. 

Travel allows us to access destinations that make us feel fulfilled, which is a huge motivator when reflecting on past trips and planning for the future, according to Morris (519). The satisfaction that comes from traveling, “can also help people to achieve personal growth and realise the best in oneself” (De Vos & Whitlox 365). Growth doesn’t happen overnight, but the empathy that travel brings surely makes a difference to a person’s outlook on life. 

It’s important that students normalize their struggles regarding challenges and obstacles that may arise during their time overseas. Reflecting on yourself, such as what you’ve accomplished and overcome, is the greatest gift that travel can give us. When you think about the novel situations that have transformed your outlook on life, you’ll see that taking the opportunities to travel increases our life’s satisfaction, which assists with maintaining wellness within ourselves. 

Traveling not only promotes your emotional well-being through activities during your expedition, but promotes your mental health by expansion of the mind and inspiration from impactful moments. When travelers allow themselves to experience different cultures, and expose themselves to other aspects of the world, they are able to embrace truly their curiosity. 

One thing is for sure, we don’t return home as the person we were before. Our blog, Five Ways to Work Through Culture Shock, discusses tips on managing the cultural impact of an unfamiliar environment that comes with studying abroad! Check it out!

References 

De Vos, J. & Witlox, F. (2017). Travel satisfaction revisited. On the pivotal role of travel satisfaction in conceptualising a travel behaviour process. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 106, 364-373. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2017.10.009

Morris, E. A. (2015). Should we all just stay home? Travel, out-of-home activities, and life satisfaction. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice,78, 519-536. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2015.06.009