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The surprising ways time abroad can improve mind, body and bank balance

Ever looked at all the challenges laid in front of you and lamented, ‘I really need a holiday’?

The surprising ways time abroad can improve mind, body and bank balance
Discovering all the places you've dreamed of visiting? International health insurance is a must. Photo: Getty Images

Embarking on a new adventure, far away from everyday routine, has long been celebrated. 

It’s also long been considered to have positive health benefits. In his ‘The Conquest of Happiness’, the English philosopher Bertrand Russell remarked, ‘If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.’

And it’s not just short trips abroad that have been known to revive the soul; relocating or living abroad may be even more beneficial. 

Is there any truth to the idea that a change of scenery has beneficial effects? Could adventure and exploration, in fact, be ‘the best medicine’? 

In partnership with international health insurance provider Cigna Global, we look at the evidence. 

Peace of mind

The science is reasonably unequivocal as to the effects of travel on the brain: The ‘positive effects of travel experiences on perceived health and wellness have been demonstrated by multiple studies’, as stated in a 2013 literature review by researchers from Washington State University and Texas A&M.

Over the last decade, a number of studies have lent weight to this conclusion. 

Significantly, a paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that travelling and experiencing different cultural environments, a key component of living abroad, led to more developed creative thinking skills. The mere act of recalling living experiences abroad, it found, led to a greater range of responses to a series of problems. 

Additionally, a 2018 paper published in Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes demonstrated through six studies that living abroad can improve decision-making skills. As the abstract to the paper states, ‘living abroad leads to a clearer sense of self because it prompts self-discerning reflections on whether parts of our identity truly define who we are or merely reflect our cultural upbringing’.

Even just anticipating an upcoming change of scenery can have positive mental effects. In 2020, a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found 97% of respondents reported feeling happier as they planned a holiday, with the effects lasting over time – anticipation of pleasurable experiences, it seems, can be just as much of a mood-booster as the experiences themselves.

Planning your next summer holiday? Remove worry and make sure you’re covered with international health insurance from Cigna Global 

Of course, any overseas adventure will at some stage involve some language learning, and that too has been proven to improve cognitive skills. A 2012 paper in the journal NeuroImage demonstrated that learning a second language led to an increase in the brain’s ‘grey matter’ in the areas controlling language.

Bodily benefits  

Of course, more developed thinking skills will result in overall increased wellbeing – but does embarking on an overseas adventure have positive effects on physical health?

While the science here isn’t as developed as in the area of cognitive skills, studies do seem to show that this is the case. 

In 2013, the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Centre for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association published a study that found that, across genders, retirees who travelled at least once a year had a significantly decreased chance of suffering a heart attack, than those who remained at home – the mental stimulation involved playing some as yet undefined role in physical robustness.

Furthermore, a 2000 paper in Occupational Medicine found that travel often resulted in weeks of better sleep and fewer complaints of physical ailments. As bodies, such as the CDC, find that we’re increasingly not getting enough sleep, this is a particularly significant benefit. 

Time abroad can recharge and refresh you – especially if you’re fully covered in case of accident or emergency. Learn more about Cigna’s international health insurance plans 

Adventure-bound: It’s a great big world out there – make sure you’re fully covered when exploring it. Photo: Getty Images

Good for the hip pocket?  

As the science indicates, travel can, in fact, improve physical and mental health – but you might also be surprised to find that it can have benefits in terms of employment and earning opportunities. 

A 2018 survey by RAND Europe found that 80% of European scientific researchers who had opted to live and study abroad said that it improved their networks and work opportunities, and just under 40% said they had found a job as a result. 

Support for your next adventure

What are you waiting for? Venturing overseas has been shown to be good for body and mind. 

In fact, it could be exactly what you need in terms of improving cognitive skills, decreasing the risk of heart attacks and improving your sleep – and imagine the wonderful experiences you will have!

When making the leap, make sure that you have international health insurance with a reputable provider. 

With international health insurance, in case of an accident or emergency, you will have access to private hospitals as well as a global network of specialists for treatment. A good provider will also fly you home for treatment should you need it.

When evaluating international health insurance providers, consider Cigna. With a history extending two hundred years, Cigna has wide-ranging expertise about the variety of situations that travellers can find themselves in.

For the last sixty years, Cigna has been building a network of hospitals and specialists to treat customers in trouble, and now offers 24/7 phone access in English to policyholders. With Cigna, no matter where you are, or what time it is, you can access someone who can help and speaks your language. 

In addition, until the end of May, Cigna is offering a free health and well-being policy upgrade to help you on your way abroad. It includes annual routine physical examinations, preventative cancer screenings, dietician consultations and telephone wellness coaching, to make sure that many issues you may face can be avoided.

Heading abroad is medicine, in a manner of speaking. It can improve mind and body and lead to opportunities that you never dreamed of – that’s why it’s so important that you’re fully protected when you set off. 

Are you ready to try living abroad? Discover more about how Cigna helps you enjoy peace of mind as you make your move

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The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

With its mountain peaks and crystal-clear lakes, Austria has more than its fair share of stunning scenery to fall in love with. And travelling by train can give you the chance to take the views in properly without any distractions. Here are Austria's most scenic train routes.

The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

Semmering rail line in winter

You’ll get epic views whether you travel in summer or winter, but the snow adds to the romanticism. Photo by Miroslav Volek on flickr.

Semmering Railway
Built between 1848 and 1854, the 41-kilometre-long Semmerling line was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1998 and it’s easy to see why: it runs through some jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery between the mountain towns of Semmering and Gloggnitz. It was a huge technical achievement for its time, not least because of the hefty gradient of the line. It was also the first European mountain railway to have a standard gauge track.

You’ll see glorious mountains, obviously, plus huge viaducts – 16 of them, if you’re counting – and 15 tunnels, including one whopping 1,430-metre-long one, and over 100 bridges, as well as plenty of lush forests and deep valleys.

semmeringbahn.at

Mariazeller Bahn

Clear skies are made for scenic train rides. Photo by flightlog on Flickr

Mariazell Railway
Remember we mentioned gauges above? Well, the Mariazell Railway is a narrow-gauge route – built like that because it was a difficult terrain for trains to cross. Running from St Pölten in Lower Austria to Mariazell in Styria, at 84km-long, it’s Austria’s longest narrow-gauge line.

The mountain section (Bergstrecke) of the line is the most picturesque. Get on at Laubenbachmühle where this starts and enjoy the train’s climb to its peak of 892m above sea level in Gösing where you’ll have gorgeous panoramic views and a glimpse of the 1,893-metre-high Ötscher mountain. Stay on board to see viaducts, reservoirs and deep gorges, in particular glimpses of the wild Erlauf gorge.

Want to really make the most of those views? Book a panorama carriage, which gives you super-comfy seats and unobstructed views of the scenery unfolding as the train trundles along. 

mariazellerbahn.at

Perfect peaks and lush valleys await. Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr

Arlberg Railway

The Arlberg raiway is one of Europe’s highest – it climbs to 1,310 metres above sea level at its highest point. It goes up at a fair tilt, too and is one of the steepest passenger lines out there.

Connecting Innsbruck and Bludenz (on the Swiss border), it’s the only east-west mountain line in Austria. Visual delights include the Tyrolean Trisanna Bridge near the hilltop castle Wiesberg, snow-peaked mountains, the 6.6-mile-long Arlberg tunnel, and verdant valleys and forests at the Arlsberg pass  – go at sunset/sunrise and look to your right for the best views.

arlbergbahn.at

Schafberg Railway

There are – unsurprisingly – a lot of steep railways in Austria and this one is no exception. This is the steepest steam cog-railway in the country and has been running between St Wolfgang in Salzkammergut up to the 1,783-metre Schafberg mountain since 1893.  

It’s a gorgeous journey up the mountain with the views getting better and better the higher you go. At the top, you’ll have (weather-permitting) clear views over Salzkammergut’s glittering lakes, as well as the soaring peaks of neighbouring mountain ranges, such as the Höllengebirge.

schafbergbahn.at/

Tauern Railway
If you’re heading to Venice by train, then this is the most scenic route to take and it’s worth the trip in its own right, too. You’ll pass stunning valleys and gorges as the line winds its way up the High Tauern mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps.

The best views are on the right-hand side of the train when you’re heading in this direction, so try to get a window seat if you can.

oebb.at

Are you even in Austria if your train doesn’t pass a field of cows? Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr.

Zillertal Railway
There’s always something rather romantic about travelling by steam train and the traditional Zillertal locomotive with its wooden carriages is no exception. It putters gently by the side of the Ziller river along the 32-kilometre stretch between the towns of Jenbach and Mayrhofen, giving you ample opportunity to take in the views as you pass picture-perfect villages and gorgeous valleys surrounded by mountains. 

If you’ve got your heart set on the romanticism of steam trains, make sure you check which train you’re getting as the steam-powered engine doesn’t run as frequently as the faster diesel one. If you haven’t pre-booked, get there early to make sure you get a seat as it can get very busy.
zillerbahn.at

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