top of page

How Travel Is Therapeutic

Jeff manages his travel business, Outcast Vagabond, where he provides marketing and consulting services to travel-related brands and individuals. He has been to over 100 countries and aspires to travel to every country and territory in the world.

 
Executive Contributor Jeffrey A. Epps, MBA

According to psychologist Dr. Rich Walker, people who engage in a diversity of experiences are more likely to feel positive emotions than negative ones. I can tell you from my experiences as a world traveler, that is absolutely true. Although travel should never be a substitute for traditional methods that help treat mental and physical health issues; including counseling, exercise and medication, I do believe that travel can and should supplement it all. Allowing yourself to naturally heal your mind and body with travel provides life-long benefits that pay dividends.

Executive Contributor Jeffrey A. Epps, MBA

Travel is a privilege with multiple benefits

Since only a very small population of the world is able to travel, I don’t want to come off as sounding as an elitist who lives a privileged life. Nor is this article, or any of my articles, used as sales pitches to get people to pay me or anyone else money. I didn’t grow up with money and I didn’t have the ability to travel until I was in my 30s.


However, today, travel is my life and I’m always trying to find ways to share my wisdom with others through what I’ve learned from traveling to over 100 countries and having lived in 4 of them. As much as I love my Country, the United States, I feel that most Americans who think their lives are difficult in the States would think otherwise if they were able to see more of the world. People who experience other cultures in other places, even in their own countries, often learn about other people’s problems and discover that they themselves are living blessed lives compared to most of the rest of the world. I learned these kinds of lessons myself once I moved to China in 2012, and more so when I starting traveling the world in 2017.


Understanding the privilege of it all is one of the first lessons that I learned; as I learned just how lucky I am to be an American who has always had enough to eat, a place to sleep and a formal education that has given me numerous opportunities.


11 benefits of travelling

Travel comes with many benefits which include everything from sunny beaches to mountain retreats, cultural education, a more broad understanding of the world, a more diverse social network, endless adventures, ethnic cuisines, world-class wine, and so many other things. But one benefit that many people don’t really have on their list when they book their trips is how their travels are going to make them feel better, overall, given all of these experiences together. And the good news is that the therapeutic nirvana that comes with traveling can last longer than the trips themselves. With the memories made and captured in people’s minds and on camera, the souvenirs, therapeutic benefits of travel can even last a lifetime.


I always make sure to capture as much of my travels as I possibly can with photos and videos, so that I can relive these moments while I’m producing travel media content for myself or for one of my clients. In fact, I like to blow up (enlarge) my favorite photos from my favorite journeys and laminate them at print shops, and hang them around my apartment. This way, I’m constantly surrounded by my favorite travel memories and this helps me start my days in a very positive way.


Whether people are battling mental or physical illness or not, the therapeutic benefits of travel can positively affect everyone and again, the benefits can last a lifetime.


1. Travel is great for relieving stress

The simple act of planning a trip alone will reduce stress and make a person feel better. When a person travels, whether it be alone or with others, they will become more sociable with new people that they’re not used to talking to, which will help them become more acquainted with different kinds of people and also learn how other people live and think. They’ll also discover new ideas. These social activities will boost levels of dopamine; a happiness chemical in the brain which also helps to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. When people get excited while planning a trip and embarking on one, it can increase serotonin levels which helps fight depression, anxiety and even PTSD. It can also lower cortisol levels, which decreases chances of getting diabetes. When people travel, they are more than likely going to experience something new every day and this will produce more positive emotions as people are feeding their brains with new and amazing experiences.


A 2013 study confirmed that travel decreases risks of heart attack and depression, and even promotes brain health. See here.


2. Hiking in scenic areas can make people feel better

There are an infinite number of hiking trails around the world, some are established and some can be created by people. With hiking, the scenery is ever-changing and there are constant surprises to be discovered along the paths. It’s been said that hiking helps people to feel more hopeful. Hiking also helps to oxygenate your heart, sharpen your mind and helps keep you calm. Hiking can even help people become more creative. The organic compounds in trees can boost better moods in people and they strengthen the retrosplenial cortex and the hippocampus, which aids memory. It’s also no secret that hiking is great for your physical health.


The best part about hiking and the health benefits that come with it is that it’s all almost always free. Most national parks, state parks, international parks and random recreational areas worldwide offer an abundance of hiking trails in which visitors can easily access. Although I love my road trips, I also enjoy hiking because it is slow-paced travel that allows you to enjoy scenic areas longer and allows these visual images to be recorded in your mind, aside from your digital devices. Hiking trails can take people through parts unknown in some of the most beautiful places on earth.


For a list of the best hiking magazines, check this link.


3. Travel helps your brain function better at multiple levels

According to American social psychologist, Adam Galinsky, “foreign experiences increase cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought.” In other words, traveling can help people use their brains in ways that they’re not used to. This is especially true for people who don’t travel much, and are used to the same old everyday routines of their lives. When people travel, they are forced to think outside the box and be creative in order to figure things out. And when people travel, their brains are constantly processing new information which requires them to stretch their minds in ways they’re not used to.


Making your brain work in these kinds of ways is a form of exercise known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is used by psychologists to help alleviate anxiety and depression in people, but is usually done in the form of verbal treatment, though visual treatment can also be used. Neuroplasticity helps to rewire people’s brains and it forces people to think in ways they’re not used to, which is beneficial.


With respect to travel, the constant new and ever-changing visual scenery, the unique decision making skills that are learned, and the new social acquaintances that are made all help travelers exercise their brains, which all is a healthy form of therapy.


4. Travel helps people reinvent themselves

Among the many reasons why people travel, the ability to reinvent themselves is among them. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, reinvent is defined as to remake or redo completely. In the context of this article, I use this term to refer to people who change their lives due to how travel has influenced them in positive ways.


Some people are literally working jobs that are killing them one day at a time. There is a story about a man from Connecticut who was making about $200,000 USD/year with his job and he said that it was killing him. He had no complete days off, he was working 60+ hours/week and it had already cost him his marriage. He had incurred numerous health problems and he wasn’t getting any younger, as he was in his mid-50s. So what did he do? He quit his job, sold everything and moved down to Key West, Florida, bought a houseboat to live on in the bay, and started working a part-time bartending job on Duval Street. He said this has enabled him to reinvent his life and have peace of mind while living on Key West time. His decision most likely saved his life as well.


There are millions of stories like this; people dropping everything to save themselves from lifestyles that are shaving years off of their lives. You don’t have to be like the man who moved from Connecticut to Key West to benefit from a travel reinvention, you can continue to be you, do what you do, and just travel more than what you already are and these travels can be local trips.


When people need to get away due to the overload that is killing them, it can be a temporary one that enables them to focus on what’s going on without all the distractions. Perhaps a two-week retreat to Bali with yoga, snorkeling and sailing as part of their itinerary or month-long hiking excursion in Patagonia. Or a cross-country road trip around the United States. There are so many different kinds of customary trips that people can take, depending on their interests that can help them assess their current states-of-mind and complex livelihoods. Being in a place that allows one to think freely without the constant noise allows them to figure out how they can better prioritize their problems, develop a better life balance and focus on how to have a better social network and this includes family members. A person can’t study their lives so easily when they’re in a constant grind, which is why taking trips to assess their lives will help them develop a much-needed reinvention. Not to mention, when you get around strangers who don’t know you, they will most likely see you differently than your family and friends do back home, and this can give you a new perspective of who and what you are. Some people really need a fresh identity.


It took 7 years of me living and working in China to reinvent my life. That’s how I became a world-traveling digital nomad. Sometimes we need to spend enough time in other places to start over.


A Harvard Business Review study of over 400 travelers found that 94% of respondents had as much or more energy after coming back from a good trip: see here.


When people travel, they have to think and act differently than what they do back home where they’re familiar with the lifestyles and the environments. When exploring new places, people are forced to be creative and try new experiences like foreign cuisines, or learning a new language or taking up new hobbies and trying foreign customs. These new experiences allows for people to get to know a side of themselves that they never knew existed. They unlock new interests and skills that they may decide to bring back home with them. When people incorporate new elements into their lives, this gives them a chance to become different people and even reinvent themselves. They can say goodbye to the old and outdated version of themselves, and say hello to the new and improved version of themselves. I’ve said before that the best kind of education is a cultural education, which can only really be acquired by immersing oneself into new cultures, and this can only really be done by traveling outside of one’s comfort zone of familiarity.


Examples of how travel can help people to reinvent themselves would be someone traveling to Southeast Asia and becoming Buddhist and practicing yoga, or learning another language like Spanish in Costa Rica and then making new Spanish-speaking friends in Latin America, or even becoming certified in scuba diving and then globetrotting the world in pursuit of all the world-famous diving spots. Basically, travel helps people incorporate new ideas into their mind, encouraging them to think and act differently, and it inspires them and teaches them new skills that they can use for new hobbies, or a new line of work. All of this defines examples of how travel reinvents people. Some people need a new lover, new friends, new hobbies and a new environment because what they currently have is sucking the very life out of them.


And this is especially healthy for people who need a serious change in lifestyle, due to stress that seems to be inescapable and is shaving years off of their lives.


5. Travel creates life-long memories that pay dividends

When people travel, they create memories that last a lifetime. And when they return home from their trips, they can always ponder on their past adventures with memories, videos, photos and other people who shared those times with them. I personally use Facebook to do this for myself. Since I travel so much, I have a great deal of travel media content on social media, especially Facebook. Every day when I get up, the first thing I like to do is share my Facebook Memories of my travels that date back a year or more. When I do this, I get to relive those memories and I get to share them with everyone who follows me. These are feel-good moments that I like to start my days off with while I drink my coffee and it all sets the pace for a good day, overall. As I mentioned earlier, I like compiling collections of my favorite travel photos from my favorite trips, and enlarging them into laminated posters that I can hang on my walls at home. I wake up in the mornings and the time I spend at home I am surrounded by some of my best travel memories. This all helps to keep me in a more positive mood.


Travel memories don’t have to be limited to honeymoons, gap years or corporate retreats. Travel memories can be abundant, whether you travel a lot or not, with the intangible memories that you have in your mind with tangible memories that you surround yourself with; in the form of people, photos, videos, souvenirs or whatever.


The fact that travel memories last a lifetime also offers incentives for people to travel more, to the same places and to new places. It’s the feel-good aspect of it all that is the greatest contributing factor. So when you do travel, make sure that you capture as many memories of it as you can and find a way to remind yourself of all the great times you had during your trips. Obviously, if it was a bad trip, nobody wants to relive a nightmare as these are memories that people don’t want to remember.


6. Travel helps people feel grateful for what they have

If you’re from a developed country like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia or elsewhere, then you know that you live in a place where even a homeless person can get access to three meals a day, healthcare, shelter, etc. due to government programs (local and federal) that provide welfare support to these people. However, most countries around the world do not offer the same benefits as more developed countries do and therefore, the poverty tends to be much more of a problem.


Many Americans, Canadians and British travelers have come to places like Mexico, or somewhere in the Caribbean, and have stayed at accommodations of various levels and enjoyed sunny beaches, tropical concoctions and aquatic and land-based excursions. Though these places thrive on tourism revenue, there is omnipresent evidence of widespread poverty and subpar standards of life that tourists witness when they visit. If a person from a developed country spends enough time in third-world countries, they will most likely learn to appreciate what they have back home. If not, then they should. Perhaps they’re not looking hard enough because they’re too preoccupied with having too much fun.


When I lived and worked in China, my 3rd country visited, I saw poverty at levels that I’d never even knew existed. There were so many beggars on the streets, some with kids, some missing limbs and some appeared to be on their deathbeds. I learned about the rural Chinese farming communities who lack access to healthcare, education and decent paying jobs. And I also learned about the Chinese people out West who live in caves. In fact, the average middle-class individual in China only earns around $350 USD/month. Although China has over one million millionaires, there is a very sharp income gap there. Spending 7 years there helped me to appreciate being American and learning how many Chinese people want to become American themselves, convinced me to never take it for granted.


Travel helps people to love their lives more, and it helps people to understand that their problems aren’t near as bad as most of the rest of the world. Coming back home from a trip that teaches you this, is priceless, and it helps you return to your “stressful life” with a new perspective and with greater appreciation for it.


7. Travel provides a type of visual therapy

It’s no secret that when people travel, they will witness some amazing scenery. I’ve learned from experience that the best way to benefit from this kind of visual therapy, aside from capturing photos and videos, is to stare at something for a long time and study it. If you do this, the experience is more likely to stick in your mind and you may even have dreams about it when you sleep. This helps you sleep well.


The bird’s-eye views from the airplane windows and the train window views during train excursions are great ways to see places from unique perspectives.


Seeing places on TV, online, in a magazine or from someone else’s camera is never a substitute for experiencing them first-hand. You just have to actually be there to enjoy the full benefit of it all. When I visited both Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the first thing that I noticed was that these attractions are much smaller in real life versus seeing them in the media, which makes them look gigantic. Nonetheless, seeing them in person totally made me appreciate them that much more.


Among my favorite visual attractions that I’ve witnessed are the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower, Great Wall, Golden Gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Hollywood sign, Buckingham Palace, Golubac Fortress, Mount Rushmore, Christ the Redeemer statue, Kaieteur Falls, Statue of Liberty and many others. Just seeing these attractions during my travels have made me feel better and have given me memories that continue to make me feel good.


If you’re witnessing an attraction with a unique history or interesting story behind it, it helps you appreciate it all the more, especially if you can relate to it.


What I really enjoy doing is finding a bar or a restaurant in eye shot of major tourist attractions, because this makes the dining, or drinking experiences so much better.


8. Ethnic cuisines can elevate travel experiences

It bugs me when I’m in the States and people refer to American Chinese restaurants as “Chinese food.” I know they mean no harm by this and I’m probably one of the few people who actually care what they say. But having lived in China for several years, I can tell you that American Chinese cuisines are not Chinese. Don’t get me wrong, I love American Chinese food, especially the buffets and especially the sweet & sour dishes, but they are no match for the hot dry noodles of Wuhan, the roast duck of Beijing nor the spicy dishes of Sichuan. One thing I love about Wuhan that I truly miss about it is the food. I miss eating hot dry noodles for breakfast in the mornings, boazi options for lunch and the zha jiang mian for dinner. Though these dishes aren’t necessarily exclusive to Wuhan, they most certainly come to mind when I recall my memories of the city. Food can seriously impact a traveler’s experience and provide them with some of the best memories of a place.


Just about every major city in the world has their own ethnic cuisines that draw people there. Even if a person isn’t a foodie, per se, they can easily book a trip somewhere in part due to the food they miss, or the food they want to try.


Trying new things is part of what helps people appreciate the therapeutic benefits that come with traveling, and trying new ethnic cuisines are among the best new things that travelers should participate in. Some restaurants are world-famous and can only be found in one location, world-wide, and people will travel from all ends of the earth just so they can have this very unique experience.


Some studies suggest that most people who travel tend to eat food that they’re familiar with, but if you’re going to travel to Paris and eat Big Macs and Whoppers, then perhaps you should reassess your travel plans.


Tasty food is often accompanied with rich socializing, excessive drinking, all-night dancing, lively music and great vibes. Food is just one ingredient to a much bigger overall experience that can help travelers truly remember a place in a positive way, thus helping them return to their normal lives feeling much better with new memories, new culinary lessons and a new appetite.


Good food makes people feel good, especially if it’s a new taste for them.


I feel that ethnic cuisines should be a part of every traveler’s itinerary.


9. Exotic animals can help travelers feel better

It’s no secret that animals are known to help people in a variety of ways, and this is especially true when it comes in the form of everyday pets like cats and dogs. And equine therapy is commonly used to help improve self-esteem, self-awareness, confidence, empathy, lowers blood pressure and treats people with brain injuries.


But exotic animals can also help people in a variety of ways, and not just the ones that are witnessed by visiting public zoos, the ones living in the wild are a real treat.


Hearing howler monkeys and seeing scarlet macaws in Costa Rica during a jungle excursion is an experience that just can’t be witnessed anywhere. Or watching and enjoying the variety of species of monkeys in Southeast Asia mingle with people on a daily basis. And witnessing zebras, hyenas, elephants, giraffes and others run wild on a Kenyan safari, or watching the orange koi fish swim in Japan while hiking, or even being able to walk with the penguins in Antarctica all have potential health benefits.


I mentioned earlier how planning a trip or even embarking on one can affect cortisol and serotonin levels, in general. Well, this is especially true when it comes to interacting with exotic animals. Exotic animals can provide entertainment, education and even reduce stress, offer emotional support and even increase social interaction among people. Knowing these benefits should be an incentive to include exposure to exotic animals while planning a vacation to any place.


Bird watching is very popular in places like Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and numerous islands around the world, and it’s said to encourage mindfulness.


I can remember feeding the monkeys bananas in Kuala Lumpur. You’re allowed to do this in certain parts of the city without being in a zoo. They’ll come right up to you and take them right out of your hand. I thought this was so cool and it’s something that I know that I cannot do just anywhere. It felt good to feed the monkeys and it truly made me feel better to know that I was making the monkeys happy. It was a genuine and positive experience that cost almost nothing, that I can benefit from forever with my memories and travel media content that captured it all.


Everyone has their own travel tales when it comes to interacting with exotic (& domestic) animals and at bare minimum, if these personal interactions do nothing more than provide fun storytelling, then they do serve a simple health benefit.


10. Aromatherapy can help travelers feel better

When people think of aromatherapy, they typically think about massages with plant-based essential oils or some other type of applied treatment. But here I will refer to the medicinal benefits of the sights and the smells of flowers, fruits and plants.


I’m not too proud to say that I’m a big fan of flowers and plants, and when I travel somewhere where there are an abundance of both, I always capture as much as I can with my camera. I love the sights and the smells of flowers and it all contributes to having better travel experiences that make me feel better.


Needless to say, when I travel, I almost always visit botanical gardens.


Probably one of my favorite places to experience flowers is Latin America.


The cherry blossoms in Japan during late March, early April are world-famous.


The tulips in Amsterdam during mid-April to mid-May are also world-famous.


Flowers, fruits and plants produce chemicals such as linalool, methyl benzoate and myrcene which all have medicinal benefits to them. Flowers such as roses, lilies, peonies, freesias, lilacs and tuberoses are among the best flowers for aromatherapy.


Flowers’ scents are known to enhance people’s moods, treat headaches, relieve stress, improve sleep quality and improve overall well-being.


Botanical tourism is a thing, and though it is debatable on which countries offer the best floral experiences, here is a list from www.thetravel.com.


11. The healing power of water

I’m a country boy who loves my lakes, rivers, waterfalls and beaches. I love the outdoors and I love tropical places. Whether I’m road tripping in the Midwest or island hopping in the Caribbean, I look for the most notable (& hidden) places that have water. We all know that water is the most aboundable resource on the planet, and that it has always been a key resource that supports life on earth. But what about the therapeutic benefits of water with respect to travel.


Just being in the water during a shower or bath, a pool, in a Jacuzzi, a river, lake, waterfall or beach is enough to help people to relax and feel better.


Sound therapy, including the sounds of ocean waves, have been used for years to help people with numerous health issues. According to Wellwood Health, sound therapy assists in treating everything from managing stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, sleep disorders, pain and even autism.


I can remember my late mother using subliminal tapes with the sounds of ocean waves that she would listen to, in an effort to quit smoking.


When people lay on the beach, or sit on the deck of an ocean-view room, they can benefit from the relaxation that the sights and the sounds of the ocean waves provide. And it’s the sights and the sounds of the ocean waves that make beaches popular attractions for the most part.


Just so you know, the best beach that I’ve witnessed thus far, in my opinion, is the beach at Seaside Village in Cape Town, South Africa. The waves are just so big and beautiful, and you can see Lions Head and Table Mountain in the distance along with rocks where the huge waves are crashing in to. The sounds of the waves are loud, too. I was so captivated by the experience that I lost a drone while I was there as I had flown it too high and forgot about it, and the wind had carried it away. It was later recovered due to my sticker being on it and the person who found it contacted me.


One fond memory I have is when I was camped out at a small secluded truck stop in Upper Michigan during one of my road trips and it was quiet because there was nobody else there, I had my windows cracked in my rental vehicle. It was perfect late summer Michigan weather and I could hear the waves from Lake Superior on other side of the trees that separated me from the Lake. I slept very well that night.


Similar therapeutic benefits can be gained from waterfalls. I’ve seen a bunch of them and if you’re one who likes traveling to the Caribbean, then you’re in for a real treat. But there are some really amazing ones elsewhere, too, like the ones at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, or Kaieteur Falls in Guyana. I saw a bunch of really good ones while I was road tripping in the Balkans. Gulfoss Falls in Iceland ranks among the best waterfalls that I’ve seen thus far. I’ve yet to see Niagra Falls.


If you’re one who loves to camp like I do, you should pitch your tent near river rapids, waterfalls or beaches with loud waves. I can assure you it will make your camping, hiking and overall outdoors experiences so much better.


The best part about aqua therapy, whether it is visual or audible, it is almost always free to enjoy and the benefits of experiencing aqua tourism can last a lifetime.


What I just mentioned is separate from the water activities such as boating, cruising, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, fishing, kite surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, parasailing, etc. These activities fall more along the lines of water sports and recreation, not visual or audible aqua therapy, but can be included in a traveler’s overall experience that can very well help them cope with mental or physical challenges.


In conclusion

The therapeutic benefits of travel are often overlooked or just unknown among a lot of people. People don’t typically travel due to reasons other than the fact that they just want to “get away” or they “need a break,” or for work-related reasons. I feel that most people who do travel know that there will be positive consequences in doing so, like feeling more refreshed after their trips or they know that they’ll be able to relax during their time away. But I also feel that most people who do travel are unaware of most of the therapeutic benefits that I mentioned above. In fact, to be honest, while researching facts for this article, I learned a great deal of new information myself.


So when you book your next trip, whether you’re doing it for health reasons or not, you should keep in mind that by taking advantage of the mental and physical therapeutic benefits of travel, you are maximizing your travels in a positive way.


And again, the therapeutic benefits of travel can last a lifetime.


 

Jeffrey A. Epps, MBA, Digital Nomad, Marketer, Investor, Educator

Jeff manages his travel business, Outcast Vagabond, where he provides marketing and consulting services to travel-related brands and individuals. He has been to over 100 countries and aspires to travel to every country and territory in the world. Jeff has lived and taught full-time in 3 separate Chinese cities, from 2012 to 2019, and taught online, part-time, from 2020 to 2023, while traveling full-time. Jeff returned to China in 2023 and is teaching full-time again in Wuhan on his 8th year in China. Jeff has been a Florida resident since 2012, based out of Miami. 


As an avid investor, he helps to coach others on money management and with investment advice. He has 3 college diplomas including a Bachelor's in Marketing (SIUC), MBA in Marketing (SFASU) and a MALS degree from the University of Miami.


Jeff is a heritage traveler who likes to create travel media content that focuses on peoples’ ancestry, cultural traditions and ethnic identities. He believes that heritage is sacred and that it should be protected and preserved at all costs, and that forcing a person or people to disown their own heritage is sacrilegious. When he travels he visits places of historical significance and likes to immerse himself into local cultures, in efforts to understand why places are the way they are, why people are the way they are and how these places can be better understood by the world. He likes to discuss topics such as race, race-relations, gender issues, American politics, geopolitics, Sino-American relations, global affairs, human rights issues and informational integrity. He has spent the last 15+ years as a white, English-speaking minority in places such as Miami, Mexico, Philippines and China, which has given him a very unique perspective on race, culture and his own identity as an American world-traveling expat. 


Jeff also manages Outcast U Travel Education, an ongoing video series that highlights wisdom from his last 8 years as a world-traveling digital nomad; emphasizing heritage travel, travel tips, money-saving advice, finance and investing, brand partnerships, improving Sino-American relations, opportunities in China, life philosophies and travel therapy. 


Other video projects that Jeff is currently working on are “Heritage: A Travel Campaign” and “Road Trippin’ USA: A Travel Adventure Series.” 


Comments


CURRENT ISSUE

  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04

CHANNELS

bottom of page