5 Ways Your Body Changes Before, During And After Travel

It truly is magical.
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A travel writer can tell you that you need a vacation. But if you're employed in any sort of office job, you'll likely think of some very real reasons you can't get away:

"Are you kidding?! I don't have enough money for a vacation!"

"I have kids to take to school!"

"There's no WAY I could leave work for that long... or at all."

We hear you, loud and clear. And that's why we've launched Take A Break, a project to create break time for hardworking people like you.

But first, it's important to realize why you should even want to take a break in the first place. It turns out that science -- as well as experienced travelers themselves -- have LOTS to say on the subject. Consider this:

1. Physiologically, travel is a gift to your body.

First, there's a jump in overall happiness: A 2002 study found the simple act of planning a vacation made people happier than returning from the trip itself.

After that, there's heart health: Research has shown that people who vacation regularly are also less likely to have heart disease and heart attacks. (We're talking 30 percent, in some cases!) Vacationing can improve your blood pressure and immune system, too.

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2. It gives your brain a rush of hormones, making the world look brand-new.

Returning from a long trip almost feels like falling in love: The hometown that once seemed so "normal" suddenly holds greater meaning, color and possibility. That could be because exploring a challenging new place increases dopamine levels, just like finding a mate does.

But plopping your body into a new place (aka traveling) also alters your brain.

"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts," neuropsychologist Paul Nussbaum told The Chicago Tribune. "You're stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level."

The result is a "jungle" of new brain extensions that can make deeper connections between more complex concepts. Whoa.

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3. In turn, you generate new ideas, projects and goals with ease.

Those brain changes make you better at solving day-to-day problems at work, and they could rev creativity for years to come.

In a 2009 study, for example, people who had studied abroad were 20 percent more likely to succeed at a problem-solving task on the computer. Another analysis found that high-end fashion designers who had lived in foreign countries produced more creative work on a consistent basis, compared with those who had not.

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4. Travel is an emotional win.

Besides the aforementioned dopamine rush of being in a new place, travel often reconnects you to family and old friends. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, some of the highest levels of happiness are associated with spending quality time with some of our favorite people. It's unsurprising, then, that reminiscing on old times with these people spikes happiness levels, too.

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5. It improves your sleep temporarily (and permanently, if you commit)!

There IS such a thing as sleep debt, and you CAN make up for lost hours, to a point. A relaxed vacation schedule allows you to pay back this sleep debt, but it can also help you form healthy sleep habits for years. Try using your vacation as a time to cement good sleep practices like banning electronics 30 minutes before bedtime and weaning yourself off the snooze button. Your workweek -- and your body -- will thank you.

We don’t know what you do for a living, but we do know you likely need a break. And, nearly halfway through the year, we’re challenging you (yes — busy, overworked, financially stretched you) to #TakeABreak.

During the month of June, we’ll help you nail down how many vacation days you have at your disposal, figure out where to go, and plan a trip you can actually afford. For 30 days of travel tips, cheap flight hacks, vacation ideas and wanderlust galore, sign up for our Take A Break action plan here!

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