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

  • Angela Travels
    Posted at 14:23h, 13 February Reply

    I can agree that I am happier when I know I have an upcoming trip planned. It is something to look forward to as a break from working and punching the clock. After reading this, I do think that being on vacation is pure bliss until it is over. I am not one for the relaxing vacations and do more hiking and outdoors trips that sometimes need a break even after the trip is over. However, it keeps us busy and exploring!
    Angela Travels recently posted…San Francisco to Seattle – West Coast Road TripMy Profile

  • NZ Muse
    Posted at 22:32h, 14 February Reply

    Planning/anticipation is definitely half the fun!

    I do agree that my idea of a great trip is not a relaxing one (and can be quite tiring). I went right back to work only 3 days after coming home from our RTW trip and it was a shock.
    NZ Muse recently posted…RTW and back: An interview with Maddie and Paul of Two for the RoadMy Profile

  • CM
    Posted at 07:44h, 15 February Reply

    This is a good reminder to me that even the planning of a trip should be as much of a shared experience as possible. Not that one person alone shouldn’t do the grunt work of making reservations, researching hiking trails, etc, but they should be sure to involve their partner(s) enough so that they can have the same joys of anticipation. From Anissa’s post, it’s clear that a vacation that unfolds like a surprise gift beginning on the first day of the trip would not provide all the rewards it could.

  • Renuka
    Posted at 13:47h, 16 February Reply

    Quite a different post. I appreciate your perspective and suggestions. I also like to spend a lot of time just dreaming about a place, anticipating about my vacation and then post trip, I like to go through my photos again and again. 🙂
    Renuka recently posted…People On My Travels – A Photo EssayMy Profile

  • Megan
    Posted at 11:35h, 19 February Reply

    Really great piece. I am definitely happier when I have a trip planned. Right now the fact that we’re leaving in 2 months is the only thing getting me through each day at work! Anticipation is almost as exciting as the trip itself!!
    Megan recently posted…Discover East Africa With Pole Pole SafarisMy Profile

  • Charli
    Posted at 16:22h, 19 February Reply

    It’s strange, we never plan our trips and always seem to end up having a more rewarding time because of it. Dreaming about travels is definitely half the fun! Thanks for spreading some happiness!
    Charli recently posted…Valentine Tales From Travel’s Top CouplesMy Profile

  • Marysia
    Posted at 17:31h, 19 February Reply

    How about those who are on the constant go and from one place go to another place without much time of planning and digesting it over? Ha ha ha Just kidding, I love the feeling just before the trip! 🙂
    Marysia recently posted…Turkey – Endless reasons why I love it so much!My Profile

  • Beth
    Posted at 01:12h, 20 February Reply

    I’m also quite happy simply knowing I have a trip coming up. After the trip I usually feel happy from the memories, except for maybe on the last day of the trip since I initially never want to leave!
    Beth recently posted…You Asked, I Answered. Your FAQs About Moving to Hong KongMy Profile

  • Ron
    Posted at 18:09h, 20 February Reply

    I think my brains come equipped with that “Vacation Bliss”…I’m always daydreaming of where I’ll be next! haha
    Ron recently posted…Top Attractions Most Travelers Overlook in FloridaMy Profile

  • Bret
    Posted at 13:38h, 21 February Reply

    TOTALLY agree with you on Point #2: I can’t stand too much relaxation on a trip. I can usually only sit still for an hour max before I want to get up and go explore. Consider myself very fortunate to have found a partner who loves to travel in the same way I do. We tend to do more in a week of travel than most people do in a month! 😉
    Bret recently posted…Pitch Your Park! Rangers Plug Six of the Best US National ParksMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:26h, 02 March Reply

      Same here–I feel lucky I found someone who likes do the same as well. Too much relaxing and we go crazy. I want to see the place I’m visiting–I can relax (or attempt to) when I get home! 🙂
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Street Painting Festival in Lake Worth, FLMy Profile

  • Anne
    Posted at 03:17h, 22 February Reply

    Anissa, I absolutely agree that the anticipation of a trip really adds to the pleasure. I love the travel planning process, and while I aim to not overplan I also like to do enough research so I can reasonably estimate how long I will need in each place. And so i can also pre-book any items which you will have difficulty booking after you arrive!
    Anne recently posted…NEW! Review: Brisbane CityCycle Bicycle Hire SchemeMy Profile

  • Heather
    Posted at 17:01h, 23 February Reply

    I get almost as much enjoyment from planning my trips as I do from taking them! I love reading through guidebooks and reading online reviews for the places I’m visiting. It just puts the focus on, yes I’m really going, instead of the chores I have to get done. And blogging about it afterwards definitely prolongs the magic 🙂
    Heather recently posted…36 Hours in TokyoMy Profile

Post A Comment

CommentLuv badge