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Traveling for health and happiness

Isabella Holland, News editor

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Living in a small Iowa town offers a host of benefits, chief among them the close-knit communities and cheerful bonhomie characteristic of the Midwest. A hub for many of its rural neighbors, the Quad Cities in particular grants residents plenty of opportunities to get involved with local life. Unfortunately, the Quad Cities’ geographic isolation and relatively homogenous demography affords little in the way of novel cultural experiences. In order to develop a broader global perspective, many students turn to travel as an effective means of experiential education.

The advantages of traveling abroad have been scientifically verified by multiple studies. In the spring of last year, NBC News reported on an experiment conducted by the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, which presented compelling evidence for significant improvement of globetrotters’ physical health.

“The study found that women who vacation at least twice a year show a significantly lower risk of suffering a heart attack than those who only travel every six years or so. The same is true for men. Men who do not take an annual vacation show a 20 percent higher risk of death and 30 percent greater risk of heart disease.” These results — and others like them that have been replicated in labs throughout the world — provided empirical support for the more abstract benefits, such as stress relief, that are often attributed to travel.

In addition to its physical effects, travel also enhances cognitive performance. Experiential learning is crucial for students who wish to form strong long term memories; travelers can become more creative, improve their critical thinking skills and immerse themselves in an unfamiliar language. According to Victor Savicki of Western Oregon University, “In fact, ‘dynamic disequilibrium’ may allow students to unfreeze their typical mindsets in order to encourage alternate points of view.” By exploring new cultures and having unique encounters, casual tourists and study abroad students alike can receive positive neurological impacts.

Pleasant Valley High School offers trips to a wide range of countries during school breaks; past trips have included exotic locales such as Greece, South Africa and Machu Picchu. “I think travel opens up so many doors and so many minds for our kids. It shows them that there is more out there than what they think and it breaks down stereotypes,” said Spanish teacher Stephanie Risius, who has been a chaperone for many school trips. “It’s easy to judge from books and media but until you go out and see it for yourself, it is a very powerful experience. It makes us appreciate what we have.”

Regardless of students’ past experience, travel can be a formative, unforgettable adventure, allowing travelers to form memories that will last a lifetime. Beyond its impressive mental health benefits, international engagement is one of the best ways to foster intellectual development and shape the globally conscious citizens of tomorrow.

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Traveling for health and happiness