No matter where you live, the depths of winter tend to bring out the armchair traveler in all of us. As new year’s resolutions to “do more” or “be better” begin to lose their luster and work or school responsibilities grind on, the idea of going somewhere–anywhere– becomes particularly appealing.

Even if you can’t get away right now, it’s never a bad time to begin planning where you might want to head to when the opportunity arises. Studies have shown that taking a vacation is good for your mental health, but planning a vacation also has its own benefits. When your brain switches to planning ode–or armchair travel mode–anticipating where you’ll go, what you’ll do, and even just thinking of being in a different setting can all flip a switch in your brain and get you out of the rut you might be in.

Why take the time to plan a vacation that’s far off or that you might never actually go on? Planning travel helps your brain imagine new places and motivates you to learn about other areas, other cultures, or other foods. It gives you an opportunity to see how others live and what’s important to them–all of which can inspire change in or gratitude for your own life.

Have you always wanted to spend a week exploring a mega city like New York, London, or Paris? What about a new place like Dubai? Would you rather dive deep into the history of Athens or Beijing? Or does something like the big sky of Montana or Canada hold an appeal? Any of those places can get you out of your typical pattern and learning about a place different from where you are.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a noticeable uptick in Twitter searches that included the words coastal, beaches, and escape. From the New England shipping ports like Portsmouth where you can take a harbor cruise to learn about the area’s maritime history to days spent exploring the Newport mansions and envisioning the lives of America’s barons, the possibilities for learning rich history focused on what interests you feeds the escapist need. Looking into staying in sunny Hawaiian islands or envisioning the blue Caribbean waters can actually serve to bring your stress levels down. Frequent studies show that getting out in nature is good for your health and you might notice your heart rate slows down a bit just thinking about it.

If you’re thinking of a place but don’t think you’ll get there soon, armchair travel helps you create the adventure at home in ways that are fun and let you feel a little escapism. Involve all your sense to heighten your experience. Try out local foods from the place you want to visit. You can try your hand at a new recipe or, if you’re lucky enough, you might have different restaurants nearby that offer different cuisine choices. Watch movies or shows based in the location you have in mind. Listen to music from the area or in a different language. Check out the endless choices of travel blogs, tourism websites, and books to find out about the cultures, traditions, and history.

When you’re ready to hit the road on your next adventure, you’ll be well prepared with information and excited to embark on something that’s new but not completely unfamiliar. In the meantime, all your armchair travel will have managed to give your mind a break and your mental health a boost.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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