How Travel Benefits your Life and Your Soul 

by Francesca Montillo | Lifestyle, Travel

“The greatest moment in a man’s life is when he sets out for an unknown land.” – Sir Richard Burton

One important lesson that the Covid pandemic taught me is that I need to be able to travel to be happy. My business was on hold for two years, but that wasn’t even the worst part. Like many, I felt stuck for those two years, literally and figuratively. As an immigrant, travel has always been part of my life. Most of that travel has been to Italy, so being unable to get on a plane for two years felt odd, sad, and unhealthy. Even if I didn’t have a business to worry about, it was evident that being unable to travel was unhealthy for me and my state of mind and well-being.   

Finally, after two years, returning to the world, or in my case, to Italy, felt amazing. And it’s good news because the benefits of traveling are immense. It is scientifically proven that travel improves our lives. We need it, and even science says so. Life satisfaction and well-being increase even before leaving home because just starting to plan a trip makes one feel good. It’s an anticipatory pleasure that helps you live your daily life better while waiting for the vacation as your reward.

With this in mind, and with science to prove it, I wanted to highlight the benefits of traveling, for our health and our life in general. 

Salute! A toast to travel, to Italy, to life! Puglia 2019. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Boosts Our Immune System

The benefits of traveling go far beyond visiting a new destination. Travel exposes us to different environments that create more potent antibodies and significantly boost our immune system. Antibodies are small proteins that protect the immune system from harmful pathogens. When we travel, our body adapts to thousands of new bacteria, making it much more robust. 

Great food, great wine, and great new friends. What more could we ask for from travel. Chianti 2022. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Has Long-Term Benefits 

Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Columbia University in New York, has researched the connection between travel and cognitive activity, discovering that traveling helps the brain work better and makes us more creative. “Experiences made away from one’s daily life increase cognitive flexibility, depth and integration of thought: that is, they make us more capable of seeing and finding connections between very different elements and therefore favor “lateral” thinking, the one that goes beyond the usual and is, therefore, more creative.” 

Sharing a meal with strangers will surely turn into friendships. Especially if Sicilian wine is involved. Sicily 2019. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Leads to More Exercise

Leaving aside the movements that force us to sit for hours and hours on trains, buses, and at desks, traveling by default also means being more active. When traveling, there is an obvious great desire to try new things, and see everything there is to see in a new destination. You will walk a lot more than you would at home, and will want to discover as much as possible. My business name may have the word Lazy in it, but we walk a lot, see a lot and do a lot on our tours!

For example, not long ago, I was in Florence for just a few days while in between tours. I wore my trusted Apple Watch, and during one day alone, I clocked in over 25,000 steps, almost 12 miles! The best part, of course, is that it didn’t feel like a workout at all. Unlike walking for exercise at home, I walked all day, and didn’t even check my step numbers until the end of the day. I check them almost obsessively when I’m at home, and it feels like a struggle to get to half that! Not to mention that along the way, I saw some world-famous sites!

One of my all-time favorite pictures from a past culinary tour: A visit to a Parmigiano Reggiano producer. October 2018. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Reduces Stress 

It may not come as a surprise, but one of the many benefits of traveling is a reduction in stress. Travel has been scientifically proven to increase happiness, decrease depression, and help us relax. One study found that after three days of vacation, the travelers surveyed felt well-rested, were less anxious, and were in great spirits. These improvements didn’t disappear when they got home, they were felt for weeks afterwards. People who leave home for a short vacation are generally less stressed and anxious or at least willing to take a break from stress. For this reason, the Framingham Heart Study found that men and women who traveled each year were less likely to suffer a heart attack or develop cardiovascular disease. When the most challenging decisions of the day are whether to have pizza or pasta or what gelato flavors to pick, stress will seem like an unknown entity. And the best part is that the sentiments last for weeks afterward! 

Cooking class under the lemon groves in Amalfi is sure to leave a lasting impression. Amalfi Coast, 2022. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Opens Up Our Minds

Enrico Zanalda, president of the Italian Society of Psychiatry, notes that “The greatest benefits are obtained when one travels elsewhere which is very different from our usual context; however, even a “change of scenery” in a less drastic way is always helpful. Traveling and leaving one’s home always means questioning and testing oneself a little and leaving the usual routine and relationships to deal with other habits, and other people. In addition to enriching ourselves as human beings, this helps us reset our lives, see it in another light, and understand how issues we may have experienced are addressed elsewhere, providing us with ideas for change. Traveling increases the ability to solve problems through new solutions and makes us more resilient.” And like many other noted benefits, they last long after we return home. 

A special tour to my native region of Calabria. Calabria 2022. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Builds Relationships 

Building new meaningful relationships has been linked to improved overall health and well-being. The most impactful “side effect” of traveling is meeting new people and bonding over shared similarities. Each of us can benefit from different experiences. However, taking a break from the usual routine, visiting other places than the usual, and taking part in new experiences improves the quality of life. When traveling, you’ll meet like-minded individuals with similar values and interests. If you join us on one of my culinary tours, you’ll meet folks who have a love for Italy, like to cook, enjoy great wine, and delicious cuisine. You will immediately bond over these similarities and appreciation over all things Italy. Many former clients have created friendships that have lasted long after our tour is over. And they even plan future travels together! 

Lunch under the pergola in Capri is a great way to reduce stress! Amalfi Coast, 2022. Photo Credit: LICA.

Travel Builds Confidence 

Growing up, my family and I frequently returned to our native Italy. One year, it became apparent that the annual “family” trip would need to be postponed to the following year. Being young and rebellious, I decided to go by myself instead. I was in school and had the summer off, so I went alone for six weeks! The reality is that it was a fantastic trip. I visited places I had never been with my family, lingered under the summer sun at the beach, and made gelato my dinner more than once. It was liberating and freeing and built up my confidence. What else could I do if I could travel alone as a young teen? Was I anxious about traveling alone for the first time? Yes! But not enough to stop me from going.  

All smiles when there’s wine involved! Sicily 2022. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel Promotes Joy 

Unlike material objects with a fleeting effect of temporary joy, travel has an anticipatory and lasting impact. It’s not just the actual trip but also the anticipation of it that makes the daily grind more bearable. The countdown to the first day brings almost as much joy as the trip itself. And just like the stress reduction benefits, the pleasure is felt for weeks before and after the trip. 

Travel for Improvement of Quality of Life 

Traveling helps to condition the quality of life positively. By coming into contact with new cultures, we learn about new horizons and different ways of thinking. Traveling expands the mind. You meet new people, and experience new situations. You become more culturally aware. All of this is good for your health because new experiences increase cognitive flexibility, keeping your mind sharp. Some studies have shown a connection between travel, improved creativity, and a more profound sense of cultural awareness and personal growth. And according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, those who travel and study abroad tend to be more open minded and emotionally stable.

Making new friends during our travels is one of the greatest benefits of small group tours! Sorrento, 2023. Photo credit: LICA. 

Travel is in Our DNA 

According to the study conducted by David Dobbs of National Geographic, the travel gene, DRD4 7r, is in our DNA! According to the researcher, there are high levels of this compound in the genetic makeup of some individuals. I must be one of them! The DRD4 7r would be directly responsible for the passion and attraction towards craving new experiences. I suppose not traveling would be going against own on DNA!

Travel allows us to “go back there in our mind.” I think that must be one of the greatest benefit of all. Sorrento, 2022. Photo credit: LICA. 

Brain Growth 

Travel makes your brain larger! Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, says, “When you expose your brain to an environment that’s novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts.” And “travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that’s novel and complex. You’re stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deeper level.” Travel sticks with us and brings back positive memories and experiences,” he said. “You have the ability to go back there in your brain.” I especially love, as Dr. Nussbaum noted, “the ability to go back there in your brain.” You will often find me daydreaming of past trips, both with family and with clients. I believe these memories are what get us through difficult situations. 

Travel increases your brain power! Here we are graduating from “Gelato University.” Bologna 2023. Photo credit: LICA. 

In Conclusion 

The benefits of traveling are long and vast! Traveling not only leads to the discovery of unknown places but allows us to get to know sides of our character that we didn’t even know we had. It also has many physical and mental benefits. 

So are you ready to travel? Join us on a future culinary tour, or allow me to plan your own private custom adventure. Because travel has so many lasting benefits that stay with us long after we have returned home. It’s literally good for you!

Francesca Montillo
Owner & Founder at Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures

Francesca Montillo is a native Italian cookbook author, culinary instructor and tour escort. She founded Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures in 2016 and has since led sold-out food-focused adventures to Italy. She plans all activities and escorts all groups herself. She is fluent in Italian and has three traditionally published cookbooks under her belt.

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