Immersing yourself in nature is an ancient remedy to reduce stress, and restore strength, which are some of the main reasons most of us travel, right?
However, rolling hills and gushing waterfalls are rarely around the corner from modern cities filled with shops, art galleries and museums, so sometimes you have to decide between exploring a culturally-rich city or escaping to the outdoors.
Can't choose between a vacation in nature or a city? Spending time outdoors will improve your health, save money, and help you focus. Keep reading for more benefits of nature travel.
Both types of vacations can be rewarding, but nature travel offers distinct benefits, from incorporating exercise and soaking up vitamin D, to saving money and improving focus. By the time we've finished delving into the most important benefits of nature travel, you'll be dusting off your hiking boots and up setting your tent under the stars.
1. The Thrill of Discovery
Nature travel offers the thrill of discovering something new, or at the very least, something only a fraction of people have seen in person. Feel the delight of taking in scenic views from a crisp mountaintop while a doe silently wanders below with her fawn, or the excitement of snorkeling at an untouched coral reef.
There is something special about the opportunity to experience rare moments of nature in the flesh. I for one, relish the looks of envy from my friends when I recount experiences like swimming with whale sharks in the wild.
2. Nature is Beautiful
While larger cities may boast impressive skylines, there is nothing quite as beautiful as nature. It is hard not to be awestruck in the presence of an alpine meadow in full bloom, a golden seaside landscape at sunrise, or a sprawling red rock canyon.
Perhaps the captivating presence of nature stems from the fact that it is alive, powerful and ever changing. A glacier is spectacular because of the way it carves through stone and shapes valleys. Even when all seems dead in the thick of winter, renewal is taking place below the surface.
3. Physical Activity is Built-In
Most nature vacations involve some level of fitness. If you're on a multi-day trek, your vacation is also your exercise. A holiday spent at the cabin could involve kayaking on a nearby freshwater lake or putting in some miles on your mountain bike.
One exception to this trend could be a beach holiday, but even then, it's easy to incorporate some activity by opting to snorkel, scuba dive, surf, or paddleboard.
While including physical activity in your vacation can be difficult at times, what better way to stay in shape than while exploring the world and enjoying nature?
4. Improved Mood and Health
The benefits of nature travel don't stop at improving your fitness. Research has shown that being in the outdoors, even for just a short period, can improve your mood and reduce stress.
Immersion in nature can evoke pleasant feelings and reduce a negative mental state along with emotions of anger, hopelessness, anxiety and fear. In turn, positive changes to your mood can improve your physical health, specifically your endocrine, parasympathetic nervous and immune systems. If you are active during your nature vacation, you likely will have an endorphin rush which helps to relieve stress and anxiety even further.
Some of these benefits can be reaped after only half an hour in nature, so imagine how much better you will feel if your whole getaway is spent amongst the outdoors.
5. Nature is So Peaceful
One of the best parts of camping is waking up in the morning to nothing but the sound of birds chirping. There is no alarm clock telling you when to wake up, no mad rush to get to the office, no deafening noise from traffic and no crowds.
Things that tend to give us a proverbial (or sometimes a literal) headache, are just not present in nature. I don't know about you, but whenever I get out of the city and head to the beach or mountains, I instantly feel my stress melt away.
6. You'll Save Money
Depending on your destination, a nature vacation is likely much cheaper than a city vacation. This is especially true if you do not need flights or specialized gear - if you do need it, it's easy to borrow or rent relatively inexpensively.
Nature vacations are typically cheaper because you will likely cook your own meals, whether over a fire or in the kitchen of a cabin or beach house.
Entertainment and activities are often free as well - it doesn't cost anything to sit at a beach, walk in a forest or float down a river. If there is a fee associated, such as national park entrance fees or canoe rental, the cost is likely minimal. These free experiences will stay with you long after you return home. Who wouldn't remember the swapping of ghost stories around a campfire and jolting at any sound heard afterward in the surrounding woods?
Accommodation can even be free if you choose to camp in the backcountry. Backcountry camping is the ultimate immersive experience as it really is just you and nature.
All in all, there are lots of ways to save money without sacrificing the quality of your vacation.
7. Nature Allows You to Focus
Without all of the distractions of the city, nature provides an opportunity for you to hear and reconnect with your thoughts.
In our day-to-day lives, there are a million distractions from your phone ringing and the 'ping' of your email inbox, to background noise from the TV or radio. It can feel impossible to concentrate on the task at hand when you are constantly being interrupted.
When surrounded by nature, all of those distractions disappear as the number of stimuli are reduced. You find yourself brought into the present moment and able to pay attention to the sights and scents in front of you. With this mindful attitude, it's much easier to process your thoughts and feelings and take the time to reflect.
8. Breath in Healthier Air
Air quality in large cities, like Thailand's Bangkok and India's Delhi, is known to suffer greatly from air pollution, which is linked to numerous health issues. Medical professionals even recommend sufferers of conditions like asthma could benefit from moving to the country where the air is cleaner.
Give your lungs a break and head into the countryside for your next vacation to breath in that fresh, clean air.
9. Get Some Vitamin D
Nature vacations mean spending a significant portion of time outdoors soaking up some rays. While it is true that UV rays can be harmful, it's also true that the sun causes our bodies to produce vitamin D which is crucial to function healthily. With modern lifestyles keeping most of us indoors, vitamin D deficiencies are becoming increasingly common.
UV rays are the most intense at midday when the sun is at its highest point, so you only need a few minutes in the sun at this time for your body to make sufficient vitamin D for the day.
It's important to balance time outdoors with sun protection like sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat, but try to remember that time in the sun is also doing your body some good.
10. Go at Your Own Pace
Modern lifestyles tend to be go-go-go. Getting away to nature is an opportunity to unplug, be present in the moment, and forget your to-do-list woes. Nature has no "hours of operation" (although some parks and campgrounds may close their gates during certain hours), so you can travel at your own pace. You can be as active as you want for as long as you want.
Nature encourages you to move slowly and listen to the natural rhythm of your body. Everything around you moves slowly. Wildlife migrates with the changing of the seasons; trees take years to tower above you and streams carve mountains over centuries.
When in nature, you are playing by a different set of rules, your own.
11. See the Real Sky
In the city, your view of the stars is hindered by immense light pollution from buildings, billboards, street lamps and cars. A top benefit of nature travel is being able to look up to the sky, see millions of stars, and try to spot the constellations.
Treasured are the nights I've spent out in the woods looking up at the stars. If you're patient, you might even be rewarded with a shooting star or two.
Similarly, in destinations like Norway, Iceland, and Canada, the Northern Lights can only be seen away from the cities. People travel from all over the world for a chance to see the aurora borealis light up the sky in streams of green and purple.
To this day, seeing the Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories in Canada is one of my favorite experiences.
12. Spot Wildlife
Opportunities to see animals in cities are limited to a handful local species like squirrels, or a trip to the zoo. In recent years, the discourse around zoo sustainability and ethics has shifted, leaving experiences a little tainted.
Seeing animals in their natural habitat is a completely different experience. In the countryside, you might spot horned sheep, moose, bears or bison grazing on grass. On a beach vacation, opportunities to spot wildlife range from snorkeling or scuba diving among colorful fish to spotting dolphins, whales, stingrays or jellyfish.
It's possible, of course, to make spotting wildlife the main purpose of your nature vacation and visit somewhere like the Galapagos or take a safari in South Africa.
13. Nature Improves the Development of Children
Research has shown that being in nature increases creativity in children due to the reduced amount of structure found in the outdoors. Unlike a board game or playground, there is no one set way to interact with nature.
Experiences in nature will build confidence in your children as they can directly see the impact of their actions and the actions of others. An example is the motion on the surface of water when skipping rocks. Seeing these sorts of interactions teach children they have control over their own actions.
Nature also provides stimulation by engaging most of the senses. Teach your children to hear the loon call over the lake, smell the pine trees, see the salmon jump in the river and touch the wheat germ. Taking a nature vacation can help children think in new ways that can't be duplicated in the classroom or through a screen.
Finally, interacting with nature teaches a sense of responsibility and accountability. If a child mistreats a plant in the garden, it may take a long time for it to recover. Similarly, if a bug is squished underfoot, it will die. Seeing these direct actions and consequences teach children responsibility. If they want to see these living things thrive, they must learn to moderate their own actions.
14. Feel Alive and Connected
There is something invigorating about standing literally on top of the world after climbing a mountain. Or the feeling you have upon reaching your destination after several days of hiking. Nature gives a sense of achievement unparalleled by anything else. It's very similar to and no less addictive than the high runners feel after completing a marathon.
In nature, you also feel like you are part of something greater than yourself. It is hard not to feel small next to an old growth cedar. Witnessing the harmony present in every interaction evokes a sense of wonder.
It is so easy to become disconnected from ourselves and the world in our city-bound lives. Spending some time with Mother Nature is a quiet reminder that you're an important part of the cycle.
15. Challenge of Your Limits
Often during a nature trip, you will encounter a healthy challenge of your limits, whether mental or physical. You might overcome nervousness to try a new activity, like rock climbing, or find you have pushed yourself further than you've gone before by snowshoeing a more difficult route or beating a personal best time on a familiar trail.
City vacations also provide opportunities to challenge your limits, but you tend to need to seek them out, while they are ingrained around every corner of the outdoors.
I have definitely felt challenged trying to MacGyver a solution upon realizing I've forgotten gear at home. Usually, if something important was left behind, I'd simply turn around to retrieve it or purchase a replacement, but miles away from civilization, these are not viable options. I had to problem solve and make do with what I had. At the time I was beyond frustrated at my stupid mistake, but the feeling of achievement upon finding a solution was pretty incredible.
16. Bonding Opportunity with Your Four-Legged Friend
Dog's aren't welcome in many city destinations but in nature, they're free to roam beside you for quality bonding time. Devoting several days at the lake or hiking through the forest with owners is a dream come true for many dogs. It's also a chance to hang out without distractions or interruptions and maybe work on teaching a new game or trick.
It's so endearing to see your pet in its natural element. The look on my dog's face as he races past me on a walking trail is one of pure joy and, as cheesy as it sounds, it makes me happy to see him so happy.
Travel bucket lists are often full of big-ticket cities like Rome, Paris, and New York, but don't underestimate the value of a vacation in the midst of nature. And by "nature travel", I don't just mean The Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, or Machu Pichu.
These 16 benefits of nature travel prove much can be gained from hiking along trails, relaxing in a cabin or beach house, or paddling down a river in your own country, or even your own state.
Where will your next nature vacation be?