By Talia Avakian
August 03, 2018
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Taking a backpacking trip can sometimes mean roughing it, but a new study shows the benefits this can have to your overall mental health and problem-solving abilities.

The study published this May in the Journal of Travel Research titled “Backpacker Personal Development, Generalized Self-Efficacy, and Self-Esteem: Testing a Structural Model,” provides an explanation on how backpacking affects individuals’ self-efficacy (their perception of how well they can cope in various situations presented to them) and self-esteem.

Researchers from China's Sun Yat-sen University and Shaanxi Normal University and Australia's Edith Cowan University surveyed close to 500 Chinese and Western backpackers across a one-year period, defining backpacking as a travel style taken by those who prefer low-budget accommodation, longer holidays, flexible itineraries, meeting other travelers, and engaging in social activities.

Most respondents were between the ages of 21 to 35 and had taken at least three backpacking trips, with Western participants consisting of British, American, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Polish travelers.

The two groups were chosen to assess differences when coming from collectivist (in the case of Chinese backpackers) and individualistic (in the case of Western backpackers) cultural groups, according to researchers.

In Western backpackers, results showed that backpacking leads to acquired capabilities like effective communication, decision-making, adaptability, and problem-solving, all of which contribute to an increase in self-efficacy.

For Chinese backpackers, acquiring skills like time and money management, language development, stress management, and self-motivation provided the biggest increase in self-efficacy. An increase in self-efficacy often correlated to an increase in self-esteem in both groups.

"We believe that when people travel to different parts of the world, especially when they travel outside their cultural comfort zone, they will see something different and that will give them a different perspective," professor Sam Huang, one of the study's researchers, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"It's not a waste of time, it's not a waste of money, it's a worthwhile investment ... because you can grow your self-confidence and you increase your self-efficacy, which is important in your workplace; and you increase your self-esteem which is quite important to maintain your mental health."