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How planning travel can be a bona fide mood booster

Oct. 10, 2022
8 min read
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All it takes is a glance at the news to be confronted with issues great and small to worry about each and every day. Roll in a few years of pandemic isolation and stress, and it's easy to feel mentally exhausted and overwhelmed.

If you've experienced feelings of anxiety recently, you're not alone. More than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders in any given year, according to the Boston University Medical Center. While you can't control major global issues, there are some ways to relieve stress, practice self-care and improve your mood, including, according to researchers, travel.

Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, an initiative led by the World Health Organization with the objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.

As part of today's focus on mental health, we at TPG decided to look at how travel affects mental health, and the ways that you can relieve some everyday stress by planning a trip, even if you're not traveling anytime soon.

Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) people surveyed believe vacations are important to their overall health and well-being, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Also, avoiding burnout was the top-rated motivator to book a trip in the next six months — ranked even higher than travel discounts and deals, in findings the association shared earlier this year.

It's not just the act of being on vacation that can relieve stress. Pre- and post-trip planning are equally good for our mental well-being.

"I have a firm belief that the experience of travel, looking forward to travel and post-travel recollections can all greatly enhance the mental health of the traveler," said Dr. Lori Lawrenz, a licensed psychologist who works with Healthline (a Red Ventures subsidiary).

Here's how travel can boost your mood.

The 3 stages of travel

Alexis Bowen, founder of travel planning company Elsewhere (part of Red Ventures, TPG's parent company) is enthusiastic about travel's ability to create happiness.

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From research Bowen has seen, there were surprising revelations about when travelers are happiest.

“If you break down happiness into three categories — pre-trip, on-trip and post-trip — most of us would assume that our greatest joy occurs on-trip, while we’re actually on vacation. In fact, this isn’t true.”

Instead, she explained, studies have shown that the greatest amount of happiness occurs outside the trip itself, with the majority of this happiness occurring before the trip even takes off. Pre-trip happiness is estimated at 50%, being on-trip at 15% and post-trip happiness at 35%.

“We feel joy just by anticipating and planning; it’s a layered experience — it's the journey, but also the preparation beforehand and then finding ways to incorporate our new experiences into our lives after that all have a positive overall effect on our mental wellness,” agreed Rona Berg, a wellness expert and best selling author.

The science of mood-boosting travel planning

Fully engaging with an activity is one way to deal with stress, according to WHO. That's one reason just planning a vacation can help with relaxation.

“Planning travel allows one to move from left brain activities to more right brain creative ones, a means of engaging in the world where anything is possible,” said Lawrenz.

“And planning kicks in a Pavlovian response — we know that vacation makes us happy, so we're happy to start planning,” Berg said.

That happy anticipation you get when a vacation is coming near? That's the result of dopamine, a hormone associated with motivation and rewards. In this case, the reward is travel, and as you approach your motivation (trip planning) more dopamine is released, making you feel happier.

That likely explains why three-quarters (74%) of travelers surveyed by the USTA reported being extremely or very happy anticipating and planning vacations in the next year.

The happiness of travel

Of course, planning a vacation comes with another reward: actually taking the trip you've been dreaming about.

The World Tourism & Travel Council calls travel a great stress reliever, citing a 2013 study where 80% of respondents said travel improves their general mood and outlook on life, and 75% of respondents also said travel helps them reduce stress.

“Travel is the door to open the soul to new experiences,” said Lawrenz.

“Immersing oneself in another culture, particularly if it is a different culture where different languages are spoken, enables us to engage differently than we do in our regular lives. Being different and acting different in this new and different environment will allow us to reinvent and retool the ‘me’ we want to be,” she added.

“In other words,” said Lawrenz, “travel gives us the opportunity to practice being the self that we envision ourselves to be.”

Briana Masson, a travel advisor with FORA travel, shared a recent travel experience she helped plan that brings this to life.

“I had a client — a friend of a friend — reach out to me who was scared to travel post-[pandemic]. She was feeling emotionally overwhelmed and said straight out to me ‘I need help,’” recounted Masson about a trip to Spain she helped plan this past summer.

There was a lot of trepidation at the start she remembers, but creating a highly detailed itinerary helped her client visualize the trip in advance, helping her get over her fear of flying after COVID-19.

When she arrived, said Masson, “She was happy from the moment she landed, sending me photos of the food she was eating and the places she was visiting — she told me she felt safe due to having a plan and from having an itinerary arranged — which was incredibly rewarding.”

Masson also said she built in activities to get the traveler outside her comfort zone, including riding horses, which gave her a fresh perspective both on the trip, and in her life.

“She felt brave going on the trip by herself and these new experiences built her self-confidence,” said Masson. The result was an “afterglow” of an improved mental state and overall feeling of well-being.

Post-vacation afterglow

This brings us to the last, and most impactful part of travel in many ways: how the activities and environments we experience when we travel stay with us after we return home. That could include the memories of spending time on the beach or the image of a beautiful painting in a gallery.

“When you come back — you feel a light inside afterward, the lingering positive energy or effect of the vacation,” said wellness expert Berg.

Berg also pointed out that many hotels and resorts now have spas that incorporate wellness experiences. They can provide you with tools and tips about everything from meditation to breathing techniques that you can bring home with you and help you extend the positive feeling.

You can re-create that picture in your mind of that babbling brook or infinity pool, and summoning the visual in your mind can bring back that feeling and form the kind of connective tissue that is transformative to our lives, Berg added.

Our commitment to mental health and The Jed Foundation

At TPG, we take the topic of mental health seriously and are thankful to have the ability to share the transformative power of travel with all of you.

In honor of World Mental Health Day, TPG is making a donation to The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on the nation’s teen and young adult population, working with this population to protect their emotional health and prevent suicide.

You can read more about The Jed Foundation on its website, or donate here.

Looking for ways to destress with travel? Start with these stories:

Featured image by JOHN P KELLY/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023