Inspire

Science Just Discovered Why Travel Makes Us Happy, And it’s Not About Exotic Locations

The phrase, ‘explore the unknown’ probably has you thinking of far-flung destinations or remote locations to visit, not your own city. But a new study has found that you can improve your mood by treating a local trip like you would an overseas holiday.

We all know that when you travel, the world is your classroom. It’s mind-opening, gets us out of the banality of routine and gives us insight not only into how others live, but into ourselves.

A new study has now found that all those benefits don’t need to come from hopping on a plane for six hours or more.

So what’s the deal?

Findings from a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience discovered that exploring the unknown on a daily basis has a powerful influence on mood – even if the ‘unknown’ happens to be your own backyard.

In other words, your brain doesn’t care where you’re travelling to so long as you take to exploring your surroundings like you would as if you were on a trip away.

It’s just as happy heading to a different set of food markets this weekend as it would be dancing on tables at Scorpios in Mykonos, as long as there’s “experiential diversity.”

Great news for our current pandemic-affected state of affairs, where international travel is largely off the table. Our government will be thrilled.

The study saw researchers track the location and emotion fluctuations of over 122 people across New York City and Miami for several months. The results found a clear link: those who had more new and diverse experiences on a daily basis had an overall boost in positive emotions, including increased happiness and feelings of satisfaction.

And if heading to museums or trekking across town to new restaurants sounds like a lot of effort for your own city, the research also found there was a snowball effect at play: the more you experience something new, noteworthy or different, the more happiness and motivation to explore you feel. It creates a cumulative positive feedback loop.

“We feel happier when there’s variety in our daily routines, and in turn, we are more likely to seek out novel experiences when we are in a more positive mood,” study co-author and professor of psychology at New York University, Catherine Hartley, told Lonely Planet.

The experiences don’t need to be life-changing – they can be as simple as finding a different walk or hike to do on a weekend, taking an alternative route home, checking out some tourist attractions in your own city or trying a new cafe in a different suburb.

It’s not about the distance you travel, either.

“What appeared to be most critical to positive mood was simply going to a diverse set of locations, not the distance one travelled on a given day,” Hartley adds.

While it’s nice to know we can tend to our mental health by ‘travelling’ our very own suburbs and cities, as state borders slowly reopen, it’s also nice to have the option of putting a bit of distance between us and home.

So if you’ve been feeling a bit blah, one thing is for certain: travel is always just what the doctor ordered. It’s just that now, you can do it differently and still get the same results.

To get your creative juices flowing, here’s the best restaurants, cafes and bars open in Melbourne and Sydney; how to walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 35% off; and how to make the most of your Queensland holiday now borders are open.

(Lead Image: Pexels / Marley Clovelly)