Vacation Anticipation: It Might Be the Best Part of Your Trip

Woman relaxing on vacation.

“What was your favorite part of the trip?”

This is often one of the first things our friends ask us when my wife and I return from a vacation. 

However, imagine for a moment the surprise on your friend’s face if you reply, “The planning.” Although this answer might seem strange, one study conducted in the Netherlands suggested that the act of planning and anticipating a vacation brought the largest boost of happiness. 

We sometimes enjoy fantasizing about our vacation more than the actual trip! This offers insight into the psychology of anticipation. When we find ourselves dealing with the dull or stressful realities of everyday life having something to look forward to, can give us the motivation to keep going. 

According to the study, there was no relationship between the length of the vacation and the happiness experienced. Often much of the enjoyment we derive from vacations is a result of the anticipation we feel.   

Practical Lessons

What lessons can we take away from this understanding?

First, you may want to consider several small trips a year rather than one big vacation. By breaking up your vacation into smaller trips, and spreading them throughout the year, you can prolong the pleasure of anticipation. This also can make the preparation much simpler and allow more frequent anticipatory joy.

Next, it can be easy to cram so much into a vacation that you come home feeling more stressed than when you left. It can be helpful to remember that a major reason for going on a vacation is to be refreshed and relaxed: you don’t have to see every major landmark in an area. 

Finally, many of us experience heightened stress when returning home. It may be wise to give yourself a day or two to transition between vacation and daily life. Remember, with vacations as with everything in life, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. 

Your optimism challenge:

Next year, try to plan a few short trips instead of one long vacation; and enjoy the anticipation, it’s a part of the journey. 

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