If you’ve ever stood in a long airport security line, surrounded by cranky travelers, you’ve probably thought: Forget the vacation. It’s not worth it. I should’ve stayed home.
The pandemic forced many of us to take staycations, but are they really less stressful and more soothing than vacations? Consider the pros and cons.
The upsides: Even the simplest vacation requires research, booking, packing and planning. Managing those details — and an unfamiliar locale once you arrive — can be the most stressful part of travel, research shows. A staycation also saves you money, which can further reduce anxiety.
The downsides: You’re sacrificing brain-tingling, sex-boosting excitement. Travelers are more likely to have sex with their significant other on vacation than at home, an Expedia survey found. Leaving home also means leaving your comfort zone, and challenging yourself is one of the pillars of brain health, says Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Another risk? At home, it’s often hard to disconnect from work, but extended breaks from email can lower your heart rate and stress levels, one study found.
The upsides: Traveling exposes you to new cultures, new people and new activities. When researchers at the University of Vermont studied travelers’ tweets, they found that happiness levels were higher the farther the posters journeyed from home. And while planning a trip can be stressful, the anticipation can bring pleasure: A Dutch study found that vacationers were happier before their trip than after they returned.
Vacations are also associated with reduced risk of heart attack, lower stress, and lower and blood pressure. Men who didn’t take vacations for several years were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who did, according to the Framingham Heart Study, one of the largest studies ever on cardiovascular disease. In a University of Georgia study, vacations led to lower stress and blood pressure. A resort vacation can have the same stress-reducing benefits as meditation, another study shows.
The downsides: Your post-trip mood boost can be short-lived. People planning a vacation are happier than those who aren’t, the Dutch study found, but once the trip is over, happiness levels are the same.
Which is best?
“It’s 100 percent individual,” says life coach Ryann Pitcavage. “Ask yourself: ‘Which option feels less stressful?’”
Whether you hop on a plane or hop on the couch, the key is taking time off. Leisure activities lead to more life satisfaction and less depression, and they can lower your blood pressure and stress hormones.
Learn more on AARP® Staying Sharp®
This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.