As travel restrictions are lifted and more families regain financial stability, “revenge travel” is on the rise. Here’s how taking a vacation can help you protect your mental health.As more Americans are getting vaccinated against Covid-19 and restrictions across the country are loosening, many are beginning to do something that they haven’t considered in over a year: book a vacation.
Under normal circumstances, tourism is a booming industry in the United States. Leisure travel supports 6.5 million jobs and brings in nearly $125 billion in taxes. In 49 states and Washington, D.C., travel is among the top 10 industries. In 2019, nearly 100 million Americans went on a family vacation.
2020 was a different story, however. That year, 72 percent of Americans opted to stay home. Social distancing mandates, closed restaurants and entertainment venues, and canceled flights motivated many to lay low, save the hassle and money, and simply stay home. Of those that decided to travel, the majority took a road trip instead of booking a flight.
2021 and beyond is shaping up to be much different. Venues are reopening, though many still have capacity guidelines, and popular vacation destinations are seeing a surge in visitors.
In 2020, while many people were working remotely, missing family gatherings and skipping vacations, a seemingly nationwide sense of wanderlust gained momentum. After being cooped up for so many months, people are ready to explore new places, laying the groundwork for what some are calling “revenge travel.”
Revenge travel refers to the sense of reclaiming the ability to control one’s own life. For those whose vacation plans were ruined with canceled flights, closed hotels and entertainment venues, and travel restrictions, there seems to be a widespread sense of retribution against COVID and the way it impacted everyone’s decision-making abilities.
As more travelers—and locals living in popular vacation destinations—continue to get vaccinated and COVID cases continue to drop, travel experts predict that the coming years will see more vacationers than in years past. Americans have banked vacation time, and in some cases, money that they saved by not traveling in 2020. Families that are scattered across the country are ready to plan get-togethers, and travel lovers are ready to make up for lost time and experiences.
COVID Travel Restrictions and Mental Health
The sanity-saving benefits of regular vacations are widely studied and range from everything from reducing the likelihood of heart attacks to improving productivity at work. For many, vacations provided a much-needed break from everyday stressors and responsibilities and have benefits that continue long after they’ve returned to work. Particularly for those living with a mental illness, regular vacations are associated with decreased burnout and tension, increased life satisfaction, and alleviated symptoms of depression and anxiety.
COVID had a profound impact on mental health. Hundreds of thousands of families experienced the loss of a loved one, and countless more live with ongoing health complications and economic instability. Virtually every life was disrupted as jobs and schooling transitioned to home, events were canceled, supermarket shelves became sparse and family gatherings were put off indefinitely.
To add to the stress, the option of getting away from it all was taken off the table when flights were canceled, travel restrictions were put in place, and household incomes took a hit. Cabin fever took over as people were forced to stay in their homes for extended periods of time.
Traveling to a new place brings a sense of freedom and curiosity that individuals are unlikely to experience in their own city. Missing out on things that bring pleasure, such as changes in climate and scenery and seeing friends and family, contributed to feelings of isolation, anxiety and stress. Travel restrictions altered lifestyle habits such as leisure travel, taking away an outlet for stress and causing anxiety and depression rates to rise.
Experts Predict an Uptick in Traveling
Relaxing travel and quarantine guidelines are being met with nearly universal sighs of relief and elaborate plans for making up for lost opportunities. People are eager to put unused airline miles, hotel points and vouchers to good use by booking the vacation they’ve been dreaming about for the past year.
Amelie Brouhard, Club Med’s Vice President of Marketing Omnichannel North America and USA Sales, notes that there’s already an uptick in revenge bookings. Currently, bookings are up 30 percent over numbers disclosed in 2019. After so many plans were canceled in 2020, families are looking forward to reconnecting with loved ones and visiting favorite destinations.
When Will the Travel Boom Begin?
The Transportation Security Administration notes a similar increase in travelers. Since February, over a million passengers are screened most days, a significant increase over the numbers reported in 2020. While there are still fewer vacationers taking to the skies compared to 2019, steadily increasing numbers indicate that the travel boom has already begun.
Experts expect travelers’ habits to change as locations continue to open. Emerging trends show travelers visiting several locations at a slower pace rather than spending their entire time in one place.
There’s also an expected uptick in travelers combining work and leisure travel. Many workers transitioned from the office to home, and numerous companies have seen benefits in letting employees work from home part- or full-time permanently. Employees who can now work from anywhere with an internet connection have the freedom to travel while still fulfilling their job duties, meaning that they don’t have to wait for paid time off to visit family, friends and beloved vacation spots.
Signs of Needing a Vacation
2020 was an unusual year for most people, and because it eliminated some stressors while introducing a host of new ones, many overlook just how badly they need a break. Telltale signs of needing a vacation include:
- Feeling negative. Work stress combined with the monotony of everyday life can take a serious toll, especially for those dealing with conditions such as depression.
- Relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms. For those who find themselves regularly turning to a glass of wine, junk food or recreational drugs to unwind, a break may be in order.
- Increased physical problems. Constant stress doesn’t just impact mental health; it can compromise physical health, too. High blood pressure, eye strain, headaches, digestive issues and chest pain can often be attributed to stress and may signal that a break is needed. The physical benefits of vacation are well-documented, with one study showing that men who take regular vacations are 30 percent less likely to have heart attacks than their counterparts who don’t take time off.
- Sleep problems. Those stress hormones that cause physical ailments may also make it difficult for the brain to shut down at night, resulting in sleep problems.
- Making simple mistakes at work. The brain can only handle so much before the individual starts have difficulty concentrating on anything other than the most dominant stressors. As a result, the individual may make simple mistakes or have issues with solving problems or making decisions.
- Small problems feel too big to overcome. A healthy perspective enables the individual to handle coworkers’ and family members’ quirks and take on everyday annoyances. Overreacting to small problems or feeling like normal tasks are insurmountable can be a sign that it’s time to take a step back.
Monitoring Mental Health During a Vacation
While vacations may be essential to mental health, not all vacations support physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Particularly those who feel motivated to make up for lost time by booking every tour and activity that feasibly fits in a week-long vacation may need a reminder that vacations should include plenty of downtime to recharge and reconnect.
Avoiding the feeling of needing a “vacation to recover from a vacation” may require dialing back expectations and leaving unstructured time for enjoying a mid-day nap, a long hike or extra time to sit and talk to loved ones.
Travel isn’t a cure for mental health problems; most often, professional help is the most effective way to find relief and develop coping skills for handling day-to-day stressors. Even so, for those living with anxiety disorders or depression, planning a beach vacation, camping trip or mountain getaway can provide a much-needed rest after a hectic year.