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Where Travel Meets Mental Health: Boosting Confidence and Happiness—and How Hospitality Can Help

By Rebecca Deczynski for Peloton Commercial
19 May 2023
7 min read
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Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki. Image courtesy of Peloton.

There’s nothing quite like a vacation to cast your worries aside and put your mind at ease, and not just because it involves taking time off from work. In spite of all the stressors that can accompany a much-anticipated trip—flight delays, lost baggage, and stomach upsets, to name a few—travel can actually have a significant positive impact on mental health. And what’s more: Good hospitality can go a long way to making travelers feel even more rejuvenated. 

Travel makes us feel good—and there’s a science to it

The impact of a good trip can go far beyond exciting memories, eclectic souvenirs, and a camera roll full of dreamy photos. Traveling can help instill confidence, which helps to bolster self esteem, explains Michael Brein, a social psychologist who specializes in the psychology of travel. “It’s one of the unique experiences in life that provides people with anticipated excitement and the ability to be rewarded for learning,” he says. 

Basically, it all comes down to the power of experiencing new things—which could be something as simple as having a conversation with a stranger, or exciting as successfully ordering a meal in another language for the first time or completing a challenging hike. “At home, you can fall into predictable patterns,” Brein says. “Travel is the opposite of that.”

Those experiences can not only boost a person’s confidence, but also improve their mood. According to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience in 2020, people are more likely to report feelings of happiness when they break free from their normal patterns. “Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines, when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences,” Catherine Hartley, an assistant professor in New York University’s psychology department and one of the paper’s co-authors, wrote in a statement. And it goes both ways: The researchers also found that positive feelings drive people to seek out new, diverse experiences—perhaps a scientific explanation for the “travel bug.”

Other research shows that traveling may even help some people to support their overall mental health. A study of Korean adults, published in the journal Annals of General Psychiatry in 2022, found that those who hadn’t traveled within one year had a 71% increased risk of suffering from depression the following year, which led researchers to conclude there is a “reciprocal relationship” between travel and depression.

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1 Hotel San Francisco. Image courtesy of Peloton.

It’s not one-size-fits-all

Of course, there are countless ways to travel: Spreadsheet-planners who embark on multi-city explorations, yogis who check into month-long retreats, and spontaneous adventurers who travel off the beaten path may all reap different benefits from their trips. 

A trip in which someone finds themselves constantly experiencing new things can have a different impact and set of benefits than a more low-key beach vacation, Brein says—but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. While the former can help boost a traveler’s confidence, a resort stay that involves minimal planning on the part of the traveler can lead to “rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, and recuperation,” says Brein. And that might be just what the doctor ordered, metaphorically, for some. 

According to Hilton’s annual trend report, 50% of travelers in 2023 seek travel experiences that align with their wellness goals and priorities. “Today’s travelers are craving one-of-a-kind offerings, ways to immerse themselves in the local culture, fueling an increased desire to protect the planet and lessen their environmental impact,” says Amanda Al-Masri, vice president of wellness at Hilton. “All these factors, in one way or another, are rooted in wellness.”

Well-designed hospitality experiences can make it even easier for travelers to promote their wellbeing, in whichever way works best for them. At Conrad Chia Laguna Sardinia, a Hilton property on Italy’s southern coast, guests can take part in an anti-stress program that includes yoga therapy, meditation, and a Tibetan singing bowl massage. And at Royal Palm Galapagos, Curio Collection by Hilton, adventurous guests can partake in a 30-day sabbatical that allows them to fully immerse themselves in the uniqueness of the islands, with snorkeling, bird-watching, kayaking, and more. “There is a conscious effort to build hotels, programming, and service experiences that help our guests live their best, most fulfilling lives,” says Al-Masri.

How hospitality can support mental health

All things considered, even a dream vacation won’t be entirely frictionless, but top-notch hospitality can help smooth over the hiccups a traveler might encounter and keep their experience as stress-free as possible. “Travelers want to be taken care of more than ever, and 86% indicate they want recognition and personalization while on the road, according to our most recent trend report,” says Al-Masri. Tech-enabled solutions, like Hilton’s Digital Key, “ensure guests leave our hotels feeling more relaxed than when they first walked through the lobby,” she adds.

Even if they are the adventure-seeking type, travelers can benefit from sticking to some element of their everyday routines, says Brein: “That kind of grounding prepares you for an onslaught of new experiences.” Guests may appreciate the opportunity to stick to their workout routine with access to a Peloton Bike; after all, it’s hard to overstate the positive impact that exercise has on mental health, which may include, but isn’t limited to, its potential to reduce anxiety and depression, improve self-esteem, and boost feelings of happiness, several studies have shown. 

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Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. Image courtesy of Peloton.

Good design can go a long way as well. Al-Masri says that Hilton increasingly embraces the plant-centric design element of biophilia “to promote joy, energy and calmness” among guests. Biophilic design—which involves “bringing the outdoors in” with greenery, natural materials, and outside views—can meaningfully increase positive emotions and decrease negative ones, a 2022 meta-analysis found.

While a trip may be a short break from their day-to-day life, guests can find that they return home with far more than they left with—and that doesn’t just mean souvenirs. The excitement, peace of mind, and sense of self-assuredness that come from visiting somewhere new make traveling a deeply rewarding experience that’s about much more than just the miles.

About the author

Rebecca Deczynski is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. She covers a wide range of topics, including business, culture, design, and wellness. 

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