Your Brain on Holiday

Dan Murray-Serter
Co-Founder

Going on holiday holds many benefits. It gives you a break from the norm, the chance to tuck in to new food, try new experiences, sleep in, switch off from work, top up your tan, and maybe even dust off your seldom-used language skills. But amongst all that, what effect does going on holiday have on your brain? Can it improve your mental health? And even increase neuroplasticity?

There’s growing evidence that yes, it can do all those things. Your brain really does need a holiday. Science says so.

How travel increases neuroplasticity

According to Heights Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart, travelling throughout your life is one of the best ways to encourage neuroplasticity —the brain’s ability to grow and adapt as we age. The act of stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the unfamiliar keeps neurons firing in new ways, and can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

In Dr Tara’s Work In interview she said;

‘There's so much that you can do to keep your brain flexible and to keep it learning, growing, and changing. If you learn a language, or if you travel… these are classic examples of things that are attention-intense enough to physically change your brain. For some people it might be cooking, or it might be coding. It's (the act of) pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and having to make such an effort, that it actually builds up new neural pathways in your brain.’

How travel can help mental health

In this report published by Expedia, over 81% of people said they took a holiday for mental wellness, and 91% use holidays as a way to help with stress and anxiety. 

Just the act of having a holiday booked to look forward to can help you to have a better sense of well-being, and be more positive about your life in general.

And, when people get back, the benefits of a mental health holiday continue as their happiness levels stay higher than usual for up to a month afterwards. (So, if you think about it, your holiday high encompasses the preamble, the time during, and the aftermath—so booking your next holiday a month after you get back should mean you can ride that wave all year!)

Regular holidays can also help with your wider mental health. In this study, women who went on holiday twice a year over five years were less likely to suffer from tension, depression, or fatigue, and were more satisfied with their marriages.

How travel can impact personality

The benefits of taking a holiday can even extend into what kind of person you are. In this study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, university students over the course of a year were studied to see what effect travelling had on their personalities. At the end of the year, the “big five” personality traits; extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and emotional stability were all higher in those who had spent time abroad.

The researchers attributed this to increased social networks and interactions as a result of travel.

How to travel during a global pandemic?

The main thing to consider here is that the benefits of travel on the brain come from the different experiences it offersSo your holiday may have to be adapted this year, but as long as you’re looking forward to it, it’s a break from the norm, and you try new things—your brain will still get all the benefits.