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Experts Just Named the 8 Best Places to Go on Vacation That Zap Stress (Even After You Get Home)

The goal of that precious getaway is to unplug, decompress, and become you again. Research says the best places to go on vacation facilitate that magic in fascinating, scientific ways.

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best places to go on vacation for stressKlaus Vedfelt/getty images

Taking regular vacations offers a wealth of physical and mental health benefits—in fact, research says getting enough vacation time may help you live longer.

Psychologist Carla Manly, PhD, author of Joy from Fear, says just the process of planning a holiday brings an immediate sense of well-being. “Having something wonderful to anticipate gives the mind and spirit a surge of happiness,” Dr. Manly says. “Particularly when issues such as burnout cause additional stress and anxiety, having upcoming travel adventures to look forward to can make all the difference in mental health and overall well-being.”

But when your heart is set on seriously escaping the demands of work and life, research suggests there are a handful of best places to go on vacation that will rejuvenate you the most. Science, local lore, and a bit of esoteric legend suggest some destinations go the extra mile when it comes to soothing our bodies, relieving stress, and delivering a vacation experience that really does the job.

Where are the world’s greatest places to go on vacation to relieve stress? Here are eight destinations that are said to maximally inspire awe and renewal (and that may inspire you to start searching for flights immediately).

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Beautiful tropical beach and clear blue water, Okinawa, JapanIppei Naoi/Getty Images

1. Okinawa, Japan

Shinrin-yoku, which has become known as “forest bathing,” is a form of ecotherapy developed in the 1980s by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The idea of forest bathing is that spending time in nature awakens the senses to promote physical and mental health benefits. A wealth of research supports these claims.

A review of studies published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that forest bathing improves heart health, endocrine system function, metabolism, immunity, and inflammation levels, as well as psychological and emotional health.

There are dozens of certified Shinrin-yoku forests throughout Japan (and really, you can practice forest bathing in any natural surroundings). But what makes Okinawa special is that it’s one of the world’s five Blue Zones, the geographical areas where data consistently show the residents live the longest lives. Researchers have found common traits among people living in Blue Zones, such as prioritizing stress relief, engaging in regular movement, following a balanced diet, and having strong social bonds.

Yanburu is a particularly popular spot for forest-bathing stress away. Located in the north of Okinawa, Yanburu is a subtropical rainforest with incredible biodiversity.

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Blue Lagoon in IcelandDieterMeyrl/Getty Images

2. Grindavik, Iceland

With its towering waterfalls, vast glaciers, and dramatic landscapes, Iceland has been one of the world’s most up-and-coming travel destinations of this century. In fact, a March 2023 analysis of Google search volume named the most popular destination for solo female travelers in 2023. But before you make a beeline for the capital city, Reykjavik, consider stopping in the less-traveled town of Grindavik.

Grindavik is a sleepy former fishing village just 20 minutes from the airport and offers easy access to many of Iceland’s top sites. Most notably, it’s home to the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal spa with a unique composition of minerals and algae not found anywhere else on Earth. Research in 2022 in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, stated that the Blue Lagoon’s waters are known to improve skin health for some of the most stubborn psoriasis cases.

The Blue Lagoon’s consistency also allows you to float weightlessly. Peer-reviewed findings in the Natural Medicine Journal in 2021 concluded that floatation therapy stimulates a “robust relaxation response,” supporting stress reduction, energy levels, and general well-being. The review’s authors stated that their research “revealed benefits of floating, specifically regarding participants experiencing muscular pain, depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders.”

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Helsinki cityscape and Helsinki Cathedral, FinlandVladislav Zolotov/Getty Images

3. Helsinki, Finland

According to Gallup’s March 2023 world happiness report, Finland has claimed the top spot as the since 2017—and Travel & Leisure Asia has named Finland’s capital, Helsinki, among the globe’s “least stressed” cities. Researchers suggest that this sense of well-being among Finns comes down to the culture’s gravitation toward nature and a slow living lifestyle—an experience wellness-seekers must see for themselves.

Around 75% of Finland is covered by forests, and there are almost 200,000 lakes. Research has shown the country’s high accessibility to varied, multisensory natural environments leads to a range of well-being benefits.

For instance, a 2023 study led by researchers from the Finnish Insitute for Health and Welfare even found that Helsinki’s abundant green and blue spaces reduced people’s use of medications for depression and anxiety, blood pressure, and asthma.

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Buddhist temple in Bali, IndonesiaSirintra Pumsopa/Getty Images

4. Bali, Indonesia

An island of sandy coastline, jungles, volcanoes, and waterfalls, Bali is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, with ecotherapy opportunities around every corner. A 2022 psychiatry and public health study found that tropical vacations in particular support mental health. Some believe that it’s no coincidence that Bali leaves visitors with a particularly high sense of well-being.

The theory of Ley lines asserts that major historic and sacred landmarks—such as Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and ancient burial grounds—are connected by an “energy grid.” Bali falls at the intersection of two lines on this conceptual map, which believers say creates a powerful healing energy. Science has found no evidence to support the theory of Ley lines, but an analysis of research published in Humanities suggests that the concept itself—whether true or not—gives rise to valuable opportunities to connect with our surroundings physically and spiritually.

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Aerial view of Las Catalinas, Costa RicaRani Zerafa/Getty Images

5. Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

A 2013 study found that people are at their happiest near the ocean—and numerous studies since have supported the link between “blue views” and well-being.

While any coastline seems like an invitation to de-stress, the small oceanside town of Las Catalinas shores up wellness in unique ways. Las Catalinas is entirely car-free—you get around on foot or by bike—which encourages a slower pace of life, more time in nature, and a stronger sense of local community.

Las Catalinas is also a great jumping-off point to explore the Nicoya Peninsula, another of the world’s five Blue Zones (where residents are twice as likely than Americans to live to age 100!).

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Cathedral Rock In Sedona ArizonaJimVallee/Getty Images

6. Sedona, Arizona

With its sandstone cliffs, year-round blue skies, and unique red-green landscapes, Sedona is a revered destination for anyone looking to get back to nature. It’s also one of only 36 certified Dark Sky communities in the world, offering magical Milky Way stargazing opportunities. Research has shown that light pollution is associated with increases in stress, mood disorders, and physical health issues—while dark skies promote relaxation and ultra-healthy sleep.

Sedona, like Bali, lies at the intersection of Ley lines, which contributes in part to the town’s deep spiritual history. Native American tribes considered the area sacred, amplified by a serene, healing energy that can intensify your connection with nature and promote greater self-awareness.

Today, people continue to believe there are four “energy vortex” locations with energy so strong it twists the desert flora. While juniper trees, like those in Arizona, are known to get kinks in their trunk, Sedona’s harmony-seeking pilgrims will say not to knock the area’s peaceful vibe until you experience it.

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Pigs swimming in the sea in Exumashalamov/Getty Images

7. Exuma, Bahamas

Exuma is a collection of more than 360 islands known for having some of the clearest, sapphire-blue ocean water in the world. You could spend days island-hopping, swapping out stress for blue views—or jump right in for even greater well-being. Psychiatry research in 2022 showed that the weightlessness and pressure we experience in the water have a calming effect on the mind.

In fact, humans have what’s called a mammalian dive reflex, a physiological response that occurs when our face is submerged in water. This reflex slows our heart rate and soothes our nervous system, with studies showing that activating it is effective in relieving feelings of stress, anxiety, and panic. (Plus, Exuma is home to the famous Pig Beach—and a little time with animals goes a long way in reducing stress, according to studies.)

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Es Vedra in Ibiza,spainHelena GH/Getty Images

8. Southern Ibiza, Spain

Dancing the night away in Ibiza’s legendary music scene can certainly zap your daily stresses in a special way…but if you’re looking for tranquility, turn to the south.

On the Southwest coast of Ibiza, rising from the sea you’ll find the mythical limestone rock called Es Vedrà, which legend says is the tip of the lost city of Atlantis. Es Vedrà is thought to be one of the most magnetic spots on Earth. This is said to confuse compasses and even birds, but some believe the location creates an energetic, healing atmosphere.

To the Southeast lies Las Salinas, a UNESCO World Heritage site with unique biodiversity. This salt lagoon makes for particularly floaty, salty seawater believed to promote skin health, circulation, and stress relief. The area is also home to the cotton candy pink Lake Torrevieja (and its flocks of pink flamingos). Lake Torrevieja is a mineral-rich body of water thought to have healing powers.

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Sources

People:

Carla Manly, PhD, a psychologist and author of Joy from Fear

Journals:

Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine: "Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review"

Skin Pharmacology and Physiology: "Blue Lagoon Algae Improve Uneven Skin Pigmentation: Results from in vitro Studies and from a Monocentric, Randomized, Double-Blind, Vehicle-Controlled, Split-Face Study"

Natural Medicine Journal: "Floatation Therapy for Specific Health Concerns [11] A review of the research on this increasingly popular intervention"

Children's Geographies: "Engaging with nature: nature affords well-being for families and young people in Finland"

Human Ecology: "Perceived Wellbeing Effects of Ecosystems in Finland"

BMJ: "Cross-sectional associations of different types of nature exposure with psychotropic, antihypertensive and asthma medication"

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "A Two-Week Vacation in the Tropics and Psychological Well-Being—An Observational Follow-Up Study"

Humanities: "A Strange Cartography: Leylines, Landscape and "Deep Mapping" in the Works of Alfred Watkins"

Global Environmental Change: "Happiness is greater in natural environments"

Health & Peace: "Coastal proximity and mental health among urban adults in England: The moderating effect of household income"

Biological Rhythm Research: "LIGHT POLLUTION: a systematic review about the impacts of artificial light on human health"

Frontiers in Psychiatry: "Effects of aquatic exercise on mood and anxiety symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis"

Frontiers in Psychiatry: "The Implications of the Diving Response in Reducing Panic Symptoms"

Stress & Health: "The effect of pet therapy on the physiological and subjective stress response: A meta-analysis"

Websites:

Blue Zones: "Power 9: Reverse Engineering Longevity"

Hospitalitynet.org: "Trending travel: Iceland named the most popular destination for solo female travellers"

World Happiness Report: "World Happiness, Trust and Social Connections in Times of Crisis"

Travel + Leisure: "These Are The Most And Least Stressful Cities To Live In, According To A New Study"

Leslie Finlay, MPA
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.