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The Case for Getting Away
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The Case for Getting Away

Research shows that the upsides of travel are manifold. Take our vacation generator quiz to discover what type of trip you’d benefit from the most.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JULIE GUILLEM

A vacation to a far-flung locale isn’t exactly a hard sell. At face value, getting away from home to experience something novel—without the obligations of work and daily life hanging over your head—likely sounds appealing.

But the benefits of taking a vacation aren’t just anecdotal or abstract: International travel has been shown to open up your mind and boost creativity, and vacationing somewhere foreign is also linked to increased emotional agility and creativity. The positives associated with travel may even extend beyond your own well-being: A 2016 study found that when people reflect on experiential purchases, such as vacation, they feel gratitude, which leads to more altruistic behavior than reflecting on material purchases does. As Dr. Amit Kumar, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, puts it, “They end up being more generous to other people. They actually treat other people better.”

Finding the vacation that will provide the best experience for you, however, also requires thoughtful planning—a process that, in itself, can make you happier right now. A good starting point is determining what you want out of your experience. Find out what type of trip you’d most benefit from and get tailored location recommendations by taking our quiz below.

Question One of Four

What quality is most important to you on a vacation?

Relaxation

Adventure

Learning Something New

Question Two of Four

Do you want to travel abroad or stay in the United States?

Abroad

The U.S.

Question Three of Four

What activity most appeals to you?

A tour of cultural sites

A nature walk

A museum trip

Question Four of Four

What are you most hoping to get out of your trip?

Increased happiness

Stories to share with family & friends

Greater energy

Select an answer above to reveal your ideal destination

You Should Take:

A trip abroad to a major city.
A trip abroad to an outdoorsy destination.
A domestic trip to a major city.
A domestic trip to an outdoorsy destination.
Dr. Chun-Chu (Bamboo) Chen, who studies the stress-relief benefits of vacation and is an assistant professor at the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University, says that two key factors involved in a relaxing vacation are control and autonomy. At work, you often lose both control and autonomy, so when you’re able to plan what to do with your days off, your stress is alleviated. The anticipatory period before your trip is also an important aspect of relaxation, especially following a year of such health risk and instability: “Being able to plan the specific activities that we might engage in when we're on vacation gives us that feeling of control again and normalcy, so that can help combat those real feelings of uncertainty,” says Michelle Gielan, founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and a researcher who’s studied vacation satisfaction.
Dr. Chun-Chu (Bamboo) Chen, who studies the stress-relief benefits of vacation and is an assistant professor at the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University, says that some vacations are about “an active motivation,” during which you aren’t merely seeking relaxation but rather a “mastery experience,” such as an experience involving adventure or learning something new. In his research, a vacation with a mastery experience is associated with higher life satisfaction, meaning it improves how you see yourself and your life—both during and soon after your vacation. When using a trip as a tool to improve your self and well-being, it’s important to distinguish between contentment and happiness, and you should aim for the latter. “Happiness to me is aspirational,” says Michelle Gielan, founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and a researcher who’s studied vacation satisfaction. “Contented means you’re just kind of flying at the same altitude and that’s it.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of visiting a new city is exploring its cultural sites or museums—the things you can’t experience anywhere but there. These are places of learning that allow you to immerse yourself in a given location’s history and culture. Museums, in particular, can serve as spaces of escape and offer objects of fascination that passively engage your attention, which is not unlike how spending time outdoors can positively impact your mental well-being. Visiting sites of historical significance, such as taking an architecture tour of a particular neighborhood’s history, has the added benefit of teaching you something new about the place where you’ve chosen to spend your time, and it provides a cultural lens through which to understand and relate to a part of the world you’ve never been to.
Planning a vacation that specifically involves the outdoors has additional benefits to your well-being. One study found that a 90-minute walk in a natural environment resulted in participants reporting less rumination, a thought pattern that’s linked to an increased risk of depression, in addition to less activation of the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with increased risk of mental illness. Meanwhile, those who took a walk of the same length in an urban setting did not experience these positive effects. An estimated 83 percent of Americans live in urban environments, which suggests that a significant portion of the U.S. population could benefit from some time spent away in nature.
No matter where you plan on vacationing, you can increase your happiness, gain a renewed sense of energy, and bring home stories to share with family and friends. The former two improvements to your well-being begin as soon as you plan a trip, and having stories to share with family and friends when you come home prolongs the joy. “People tend to derive more satisfaction from experiential purchases like travel than material purchases,” says Dr. Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “One of the reasons is because these experiences are more likely to be talked about—that is, they make for better story material. They’re more likely to be discussed with others.” The psychological advantages of travel, starting with imagining your time away and extending to reflection after the fact, are clear and significant—and the impact of one trip extends well beyond a few days away.

Take the Quiz Again
With your ideal type of location revealed, it’s time to delve into specific destinations. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Card can spark inspiration that leads you to your ultimate escape. Your next must-share story and a treasure trove of rewards await at more than 7,000 Marriott Bonvoy™ hotels worldwide, spanning 30 distinctive brands. Make your reservation, enjoy the anticipation as your arrival approaches. Then, feel it transform to exhilaration that extends throughout your stay—and far beyond.