With wanderlust comes a wandering mind. Travelers often dream about their next destination or the sights and smells of their last trip. But what pleases the idle mind more: the anticipation of the next trip or the post-vacation high?
According to science, it’s planning a trip that’s half the fun. A Dutch study that examined happiness levels before, during, and after a vacation found that the largest spike in happiness came before the trip. Planning a vacation led to an increase in happiness for eight weeks.
But isn’t the thrill of actually reliving the memories of a vacation better than all the imagining beforehand? Not quite. The same study also found that only people who called their vacation “very relaxing” felt any increase in happiness post-trip.
What’s more, researchers from Cornell University say we are happier spending money on experiences than objects, because they provide “more enduring happiness.” Anticipating an experience gives you the opportunity to imagine all the potential outcomes. Not only that, but the Cornell researchers also found that people are more likely to be happy and generous when thinking about planning an experience. So, planning a vacation is like a travel high itself.
One way to maximize that pre-vacation high is to plan a trip well in advance. Doing this is more fulfilling than the instant gratification of last-minute travel, where all the anticipation is ruined by hopping on a plane as soon as possible. Not only does waiting make you fonder of the trip to come, it also gives you more time for your imagination to run wild with the possibilities.
Allowing yourself to imagine these possibilities also makes you more social, according to the same Cornell research. People are prone to talking about experiences, and discussing an experience in anticipation of it has been found to spread positivity, especially if both parties are looking forward to a similar experience. So, imagining your trip to Belize and striking up a conversation with someone about it might not only yield some great travel tips, it also might help the other person get excited for an upcoming trip.
Breaking up your vacations and taking more of them is another way to build up your happiness, according to Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. More trips means there’s more to think about and anticipate, so if you get two weeks of vacation time, you may be happier taking two week-long trips, so you ultimately have more to look forward to throughout your year. But no matter what your plans are or what travel your time allows, be sure to bask in the excitement of them–it’s the next best thing to living in the vacation moment.
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