No excuse needed: Why travel is good for your health

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Rate this article and enter to win
When you’re deep into the semester and maybe exams, your future travel and vacations are likely not high priority. But the summer is not so far away, and looking forward to it can feel good now, as well as helping to set you up for a change of scene later. Most students want to travel, according to a recent CampusWell survey. And you’re pretty clear that the benefits of travel (including study abroad programs) go way deeper than a tan.* “I feel like I am a much better person when I travel more,” says Molly D., a student at Humboldt State University in California. “Travel encourages me to appreciate the unknown while recognizing the familiar,” says Joe Foley, a second-year undergraduate at American University in Washington DC, who in 2014 became the youngest-ever National Geographic Traveler of the Year.

What’s blocking your exit route? Not surprisingly, by far the biggest barrier to travel is cost. “You need to have money saved up to cover airfares, accommodations, food, and other expenses. As a student, it’s very difficult to do this,” says Alejandro C., a third-year undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine. In our survey, 93 percent of students who responded said lack of funds was a barrier; only 4 percent said they were uncomfortable with the prospect of unfamiliar places.

*And, by the way, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Use SPF 30+, whatever your skin color or tone.

Heart icon

What you love about travel

“The cost of taking an airplane is a huge hassle. However, what’s living if you don’t spend your money to experience new things and go to new places?”
—Steven M., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts Amherst

“How resourceful can you be when you’re out of money and 4,000 miles away from home? Do you panic? Do you run to the consulate? Do you go native? You learn that you can wash your undies in a hotel bathroom in Rome without embarrassment. You realize that street food really is the most delicious cuisine you’ll ever stuff in your face. Travel will grind you down to your truest self. Whether that is good or bad really is up to the person. In addition, foreign candy is legit way better. So the downside is you’ll never be happy with a Snickers™ again.”
—Lori T., third-year graduate student, San Diego State University, California

“Travel is the adventure of a new place and new people. Shortly after the earthquake in Haiti, I went on a cruise that visited a private beach in Haiti. I was taking an excursion to zip line across the ocean, which was amazing, but on the drive there, we drove through some rural areas of Haiti. Seeing the devastation of the population was just as impactful as the zip lining was. Now I’m all about helping people who need the help!”
—Laura B., second-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador

Two friends traveling and taking a selfie“I love airports, planes, train stations, subways and underground metro systems, meeting new people, and dancing the night away.”
—Sarah A., third-year undergraduate, Saint Mary’s University, Minnesota

“Traveling is great because it can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. It can be a road trip to a different city or it can be a cruise or it can be a plane ride to a new country—there’s an option for many budgets and comfort zones!”
—Taylor R., fourth-year undergraduate, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York

“Travel experiences are built by the little things. The smiles, the first bite of a foreign country’s food, the hostel chitchat. Although the globalized world of Facebook, the golden arches, and American TV shows exist in every major city, the local cultures remain vibrant. The world today is as fascinating as it’s always been, and in most places it’s safer than ever to be a tourist. Travel gives us the thrill of adventure and somewhere new while reminding us of our shared humanity across cultures and encouraging us to push our horizons.”
—Joe Foley, second-year undergraduate, American University, Washington DC; National Geographic Traveler of the Year 2014

“It’s cool to immerse yourself in other cultures and environments around the world or in your own hometown. Just make sure to learn a bit of history, culture, customs, and experience non-touristy activities in addition to the well-known attractions.”
—Amy N., fourth-year undergraduate, Western Washington University

“You learn more through experience than books or articles.”
—Sarah M., third-year undergraduate, Millersville University, Pennsylvania

Lightbulb icon

Stuff you might not think of

Before you go

Check which currencies are performing badly against the dollar—your money buys more in those places.

Apply early for a passport.

If you need vaccinations, go to your student health center.

Check the insurance that comes with your credit card. Check your health plan for international coverage too.

Let your bank and credit card company know your travel plans so your account isn’t flagged for fraud and possibly blocked.

When you go

Search online for free stuff to do in any tourist-friendly city (e.g., “Montreal free”).

Electronic guidebooks and maps (not books) reduce the schlep factor. Use Google Maps offline by typing “OK maps” in the search bar; the current area will be saved.

Check the comments on Foursquare for passwords of free Wi-Fi in local shops and cafés.

Keep your electronics charged. If you’re going international, bring a converter outlet plug.

Your top 5 travel experiences so far: 1. Beach vacations 2. Outdoor adventures (e.g., kayaking and hiking) 3. Backpacking trips (US) 4. Study abroad 5. Organized guided toursYour top 5 destinations: 1. Europe 2. Hawaii 3. Japan 4. Canada 5. California

Source: Student Health 101 survey, January 2017

Lock icon

Your barriers to travel

“Time lost that you could spend working to help pay down outrageous college debts.”
—Colin D., second-year undergraduate, Millersville University, Pennsylvania

“Your body might not be prepared for the different illnesses and pathogens in other countries.” [Ask at the student health center about vaccinations and preventive medications.] —Domo E., third-year undergraduate, University of Hawaii at Manoa

“The paperwork for international travel. The visas help keep track of visitors, but at the same time, it’s like having to complete a totally different job just to earn the right to relax from your normal one.”
—Tyler S., third-year undergraduate, University of the District of Columbia

“Looking at your depleted bank account.”
—Jonathan L., fifth-year undergraduate, California State University, San Marcos

“Packing. It seems you never pack enough, even though you have five bags for a weekend trip, but then you still end up leaving something important at home. Then, in the end, you only needed like a quarter of what you packed!”
—Verronika L., graduate student, Barry University, Florida

“Never wear heels when you have a short layover. If your first flight is delayed in air, and you have to run to your connecting [flight], heels are not conductive to that.”
—Ashe M., second-year undergraduate, Lakehead University, Ontario

Plane icon

How to land cheap flights


Flexible fliers get the best last-minute fares; be open to a variety of destinations.

Use a travel search engine: recommends Skyscanner, Airfarewatchdog, Google Flights, and several others.

Try searching for airfare deals around 1 a.m. The unsold deals from the day before will be reposted.

Before buying any ticket to anywhere, check for student discounts.

Keep your online searches incognito to find the lowest price.

Don’t make the mistakes everyone else makes.

Be smart about budget airlines.

Get cheaper domestic flights in other countries.

Find the best way to get where you’re going.

Spend less to go farther

Best sites & tools

Kayak’s Explore
Find out how far your money can take you

Sort fares from your city by price

Get the Flight Out – free iOS app
The cheapest fares leaving from your city today

STA Travel
Expert travel itineraries and student discounts

Student Universe
Lower-cost airfares for students

One Travel
Cheaper flights for students

More cool tools
See Find out more today.

"Adventure is worthwhile in itself" -Amelia EarhartMoney icon

Cheap digs

Hotels, hovels, homes, & habitats
Stay with a family who lives in the city you’re traveling to

Be a guest at someone’s house; check out the reviews

Find over a million rental lodges, which may offer more space than hotels

Recommendations and red flags from real people

B&Bs, apartments, and spare rooms for rent; try to negotiate the price.
35,000 hostels in 180 countries (including US)

Hostelling International USA
Youth-geared US hostels
Need a place tonight? Deals start at 50 percent off

Reserve America
Beautifully habitable campgrounds across the US

National Park Service
America’s best idea (really—the best)
Way more to do than you realized

More cool tools
See Find out more today.

Why travel? Here’s how to talk yourself (and others) into it

Be a better person

Most students who participated in an international exchange program felt it helped them become more trusting, open-minded, flexible, confident, and tolerant, says a 2006 study by the International Student Travel Confederation.

Go global

Students expect travel to make them more “global”—in other words, expand their knowledge, perspective, and social and cultural connections, according to a small study at California Polytechnic State University (2010).

Run free

Students associate travel with freedom (e.g., a break in academic and work expectations), a boost to emotional health and relaxation, and an opportunity to experience nature (CPSU study).

Step it up

Students who have taken a gap year perform better academically and report greater job satisfaction than do those who haven’t, research suggests. Gap year experiences can reignite a passion for learning and influence personal goals and values, including career paths, say Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson in The Gap-Year Advantage (Macmillan, 2005).

Stay healthy

Physically active leisure helps us maintain physical and mental health, especially during times of stress, according to a study of 20,000 people in the Canadian Journal of Public Health (2001).

Get creative

Knowing people from other cultures makes us more creative in tasks that draw on multicultural influences and more receptive to new ideas from outside our own experience, suggests a study from Harvard Business School (2011).

Love your life

Even the anticipation of vacation travel makes us feel good about our lives and health, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of Vacation Marketing.

Your best Instagram

Your best Instagram - travel“Climbing sand dunes in the desert of Al Ain (United Arab Emirates) made me push myself to the limits. I climbed until I literally couldn’t go further, and then I sat down and let the wind whip around me. I felt strong and at peace.”
—Jamie Teal, graduate student, Arkansas Tech University

Follow us on Instagram, and don’t forget to use the hashtag #SH101Travel


Article sources

Meghan Horne, travel marketing coordinator, AAA Northeast, Providence, Rhode Island.

Charlotte Nichols, director of business development and travel marketing, AAA Northeast, Providence, Rhode Island.

Airbnb. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Allerton, H. E. (2003). Not funny ha ha funny peculiar. Talent Development, 57(12), 87–88.

American Gap Association. (n.d.). Data & gap year benefits. Retrieved from

Bedbug Registry. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Caldwell, L. L., & Smith, E. A. (1988). Leisure: An overlooked component of health promotion. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 79(2), 44–48.

Chua, R. Y. J. (2011). Innovating at the world’s crossroads: How multicultural networks promote creativity. Harvard Business School Working Paper 11–075. Retrieved from

Costello, C. (2012, December 13.). 10 packing tips every traveler should know. USA Today. Retrieved from

Couchsurfing. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Crowdfunding Friends of Friends Travel. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Gilbert, D., & Abdullah, J. (2002). A study of the impact of the expectation of a holiday on an individual’s sense of wellbeing. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 8(4), 352–361.

Greenberg, P. (2014, January 27). How to avoid every common mistake when booking a flight. Quartz. Retrieved from

Haigler, K., & Nelson, R. (2005). The gap year advantage. St. Martin’s Press: New York City.

Hostels. (n.d.). Hostels in USA, North America. [Website]. Retrieved from

Hostelling International. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Hostelling International USA. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Iwasaki, Y., Zuzanek, J., & Mannell, R. C. (2001). The effects of physically active leisure on stress-health relationships. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 92(3), 214–218.

Kayak. (n.d.). Explore. [Website] Retrieved from

Kugel, S. (2015, January 1). 8 ways to save on travel in 2015. New York Times. Retrieved from

National Park Service. (n.d.). Find a park. US Department of the Interior. Retrieved from (n.d.). [Website]. US Government. Retrieved from

Reserve America. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Richards, G. (June 2006). Summary report of a research study undertaken for the International Student Travel Confederation. Tourism Research and Marketing. Retrieved from

Rome2Rio. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Samiljan, T. (2015, March 20). Become a spontaneous traveler by using these apps. Time. Retrieved from

Smarter Travel. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Smith, C. E. (2009). Students’ beliefs about the benefits of travel and leisure: A qualitative analysis. [Unpublished]. Retrieved from

STATravel. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

Steves, R. (n.d.). Rick’s packing list. Retrieved from

Student Health 101 surveys, December 2016 and February 2015.

Student Universe. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

TripAdvisor. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from

US Department of State. (n.d.). Traveler’s checklist. Retrieved from

US Postal Service. (n.d.). Passports. Retrieved from

US Travel Association. (2010, February).The benefits are everywhere: The personal benefits of travel and taking a vacation. Retrieved from

Utrip. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from