Have you ever felt that zing of exhilaration after booking a flight? Noticed that tingle of excitement while researching hotels? Has the plan for your next vacation ever helped you through a particularly gray day? As it turns out, this pre-trip anticipation actually does more to boost happiness than the trip itself.
According to a Dutch study on travel and happiness, tourists gain the most satisfaction from travel during the pre-trip phase. Anticipation, it seems, is a more powerful factor of travel happiness than the actual travel experiences or recollections of them.
Happiness in looking forward
What makes the pre-trip phase the happiest? I’ve noticed that, for me, trip planning is the purest phase of travel. Fueled by imagination and fantasy, it is the most resilient against reality and circumstance.
The during-trip phase is more delicate. Anything can happen to jostle the positive mindset: culture shock, homesickness, relational problems, weather conditions, and safety and health issues. Flights get delayed. Blisters form. Items disappear. It rains. We all have fail stories of bubbles burst during travel.
What about post-trip happiness? It’s fragile too – subject to the stress level of the trip. On a scale of “stressful” to “very relaxing”, the subjects of the study who rated their trip as “very relaxing” were the only group to report post-trip boosts in happiness, while those who rated their trip as “stressful” were actually less happy post-trip than the non-vacationers. Then there’s return to routine, work, responsibility, and catch-up. An overwhelmed inbox is enough to kill a good post-trip buzz.
Maximize your travel happiness
The study’s findings present a challenge: how can travelers gain more evenly distributed gratification from a trip – beforehand, during the experience and once they’ve returned? Here are a few tips:
• Plan a few short breaks each year rather than one big vacation. This way, you can benefit from the pre-trip “high” more often.
• Book your trip well in advance rather than waiting until the last minute. This way, you get a longer anticipation phase.
• Start packing your suitcase early. Simply making lists and gathering your travel items can do surprising things to your endorphin levels.
• Look for best value rather than lowest price. Booking the cheapest flights and lodging can add to stress and mishap during the trip.
• Manage your expectations. Fantasy is fine, but when you’re visualizing your trip, mix in some reality and rough patches. This will make the during-trip experience less subject to disappointment.
• Document the trip. Post photos, make a scrapbook, edit your video footage, write notes and tell stories. This way, you can preserve some of the happiness for years to come.
• Look forward to the little things. Happiness is not our lives or trips themselves but rather our thoughts and perceptions of them. Anticipation is a rich source of happiness, so if there are no big travel plans in the works, think smaller. Organize a day trip, a party, or even a good meal. You may get a vacation-sized dose of happiness in the process.