We are nearing the end of the year and as the new year approaches, self-improvement appears to be on everyone’s mind. It’s during this time that we all resolve to better our lives via various means. Whether it’s the ever-popular declaration to finally lose weight, or perhaps stopping to smoke, cook more home meals, meditate for more clarity or a host of other promises, we all step in to a new year with good intentions.

While I see nothing wrong with any of the above, in fact, they are very admirable and I have made a few of them myself in the past, this year, I resolve something different. For 2019, I resolve to travel more! As a leader of culinary tours to Italy, I already do a fair amount of travel and after years of traveling back and forth to Italy, I realized that I always feet better, both in mind, body and spirit not only while on vacation or traveling, but also before and after a trip. “Of course!” you say, “You’re on vacation, you’re bound to feel better!” But in a country where we’re known for not using our vacation days, working through holidays and having our cell phones with work email glued to our hip, can we learn to disconnect and actually enjoy our hard-earned time off?

But how might travel be good for your health, you ask? Well, read my list below to see where I am going with this.

1) Travel Leads to More Exercise: I was recently in Rome for just a few days, while traveling to a few other regions in Italy. I wore my trusted Fitbit, and during one day alone, I clocked in over 20,000 steps and 10 miles! The best part, of course, is that I didn’t feel any of them. Unlike walking for the pure purpose of exercise, I walked all day in Rome and didn’t even bother to check the Fitbit until bedtime. When not traveling, I check it almost obsessively and it feels like drudgery to get to half that! Not to mention that along the way, I saw some world-famous sites! After all, Italy has the most UNESCO designated world heritage sites of any other country.

Florence, you get more beautiful with every visit. 

2) Stress? What’s That? Perhaps it’s because you’re exercising more, or being away from the cube or office, but it’s no surprise that being on vacation reduces stress. When the toughest decisions of the day are whether to have pizza or pasta and the flavors of gelato to pick, stress will seem like an unknown entity. And the best part, the reduction of stress is not just while you’re on vacation, but lasts for weeks afterwards! 

For a brief moment, I managed to snag a pic in front of Venus, without any other visitors. 

3) Live Longer:  Want to increase your chances of seeing 100 candles on your birthday cake? Than travel is in order! It’s widely known and researched that more exercise improves your cardiovascular health, as does reduction in stress. But did you know that studies show that women who travel at least twice a year and men who travel at least once per year, reduce their chances of a heart attack or coronary death? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to pack a bag!

I threw my coin in, I am assured a return to Trevi in Rome!

4) Travel Builds Relationships: Building meaningful relationships has been linked to improvements in overall health and well being.  Chances are that, when traveling, you’re likely going to meet like-minded individuals with similar values and interests. If you join me on one of my culinary tours, you’ll meet folks who like cooking, wine and good cuisine.  You will immediately bond over this one similarity for culinary appreciation. Other trips offer similar benefits, though clearly not as delicious!

Making memories, and friends on a culinary journey in Veneto. 

5) Travel Builds Confidence: Growing up, my family and I frequently returned to our native Italy. Than one year, it became apparent that the “family” trip would have to be postponed to the following year. Being young and rebellious, I decided to go by myself instead. I was in school and had the summer off, so off I went for six weeks! The reality is that it was an amazing trip! I visited places I had never been with my family, I lingered under the summer sun at the beach, and more than once made gelato my dinner. It was liberating and freeing and totally built up my confidence! I mean, if I can travel by myself, what else could I do?? 

This group boneded during a culinary journey in Emilia Romagna. 

6) Travel Promotes Joy: Unlike material objects, which have a fleeting effect of temporary joy, travel has anticipatory and lasting effects. It’s not just the actual trip, but also the anticipation of it that makes the daily grind more bearable. The countdown to the first day brings almost as much joy as the trip itself. And just like the stress reduction benefits, the joy is felt for weeks before and after the trip. 

Making new friends during my travels! 

7) Brain Growth! Travel actually makes your brain larger! And because I knew you’d have a hard time taking my own word for this one, I have scientific evidence to back it up! Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and Adjunct Professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh says that “When you expose your brain to an environment that’s novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts.” And “travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that’s novel and complex. You’re stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level.” “Travel sticks with us and brings back positive memories and experiences,” he said. “You have the ability to go back there in your brain.”

On a private boat ride in Venice. 

So are you ready to pack a bag already? Can you see why I resolved to up my travels in 2019? And as Oliver Wendell Holmes so accurately put it, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Francesca Montillo is the owner of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures, a freelance food & travel writer and a culinary instructor. She can be reached at: [email protected]