Smathers Beach, Key West, FL

Boosting Your Vacation Bliss: Pre and Post Trip

This is a post written by my friend Anissa–we are happy to have her back as a guest author again!

Hi all! This is Anissa. You may remember me from my guest post on my summer trip to North Carolina. There were lots more fun things CM and I did while in NC, and I’m going to write a follow up soon, promise. But, I’ve been meaning to write a different sort of guest post for a while now, and Jenna’s recent post about maximizing her meager vacation days has presented the perfect opportunity.

I’m sure we can all agree that we take vacations in order to make ourselves happier, and, towards that end more specifically, that we use that time to travel and explore new places. However, you might be wondering, how much does vacationing actually contribute to our happiness, and how long does that effect last? More importantly, what can we do to maximize our vacation days and their positive impact on our lives?

First of all, individuals who use their vacation days to go on a trip (vacationers) tend to be happier than individuals who chose to stay home (stay-cationers) in the days and even months(!) leading up to their trip. Unfortunately, vacationers are not really happier once the vacation is over. Increased happiness post-trip was only found in individuals who took very relaxing vacations, and even then the effects only lasted about 2 weeks.

Smathers Beach, Key West, FL

So good news wanderers! You are getting a positive boost from that vacation you’re planning. Unfortunately, it’s probably not affecting your happiness like you think it is, nor as much as you think it is. So what can you do about it?

1) The effects of the vacation are coming pre-trip, likely from anticipating and planning the vacation. I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin over at The Happiness Project. She claims that there are stages or aspects of enjoyment: anticipation, savoring (enjoying the moment), expression (sharing the moment with others), and reflection (looking back positively at the experience). When we think about enjoying an experience, we most likely think of savoring, or what occurs during the actual experience. In order to capitalize on the happiness effect that occurs pre-trip, make sure you are taking advantage of anticipation (and expression) as well. Take time to consciously and deliberately anticipate your upcoming trip. Daydream about the activities you are going to do, browse through pictures or catalogs of your destination, use a social website like Pinterest to help you plan or save ideas, and spend time discussing your plans with friends and family.

2) The idea that you’ll only experience post-trip happiness if you take a very relaxing trip is bad news for me, and likely for many of you as well. From experience I can say that I wouldn’t be happy spending two weeks (or even one) lying on the beach. I much prefer exploring new places, hiking, visiting museums, and generally just doing activities and seeing as much as possible. There are individual differences in what will make you happy, but if you’re like me and enjoy doing as much as possible while traveling, you might still get some relaxing in by reserving a few days at the end of your vacation for getting back home, catching up on your Netflix queue, and sleeping in. You can also prolong the enjoyment of your trip after it’s over by deliberately recalling positive moments from the trip, looking through vacation photos, or telling others (or blogging!) about your vacation adventures.

3) Importantly, the length of one’s trip does not affect happiness before or after a vacation. So, as Jenna suggests, plan out your vacation days and stagger your trips throughout the year. We all have our preferences on how we like to take vacation, whether it is staggered, spent all in one place, or, if you’re lucky, a combination of these. (Of course, if you’re going somewhere far away you’ll have to take more time than if you’re traveling close to home.) However, by spreading your trips throughout the year, you’ll have more trips to look forward to, more discrete experiences, and more memories to look back on!

Finally, I’d like to note that happiness might be overrated. Our travels affect us in all sorts of ways that can’t be measured in our day-to-day happiness—we gain lasting memories, unique experiences, exposure to new cultures and ideas—that all make vacationing a valuable and worthwhile experience.


About the  Guest Author:

Anissa is currently a graduate student studying personality psychology. Raised in Minnesota, and currently living in Missouri, Anissa studied abroad in England and taught English in South Korea. She has traveled to France, the Philippines, and around the U.S., and hopes to go many more places in the future! Her current top travel destinations include the Grand Canyon, Scotland, and New Zealand.


Source: Nawijn et al. Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 2010; DOI: 10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9