Vacation anticipation: the best part of the trip

Going on the trip is the fun part, right?  Well, I would also argue that planning the trip can be just as much fun.  In fact, I read a New York Times article a few years ago that always stuck with me.  It’s based on a study they did in the Netherlands on the effects vacations, and vacation planning, had on peoples’ happiness.  Their findings revealed that the most vacation happiness came from what they called “vacation anticipation.”  Vacation anticipation is just as it sounds: the excitement of actually going on the trip.

After the vacation, even if they were truly relaxed on the trip, their happiness levels resumed to a baseline happiness after about two weeks. This means that the actual anticipation of the trip was bringing more happiness than after they got home!  Their recommendation after these findings was to plan small trips throughout the year, instead of just one large one, to increase your vacation anticipation happiness year-round!  (You can read the whole article here.  If you really want to read the entire science report, here’s the actual study.)

Of course there are boundless articles on the importance of taking vacations for your mental and physical health, and how not taking a break can actually can take a toll on your health in the long run.  Pairing this with the Netherlands study, I wonder how the simple act of planning a trip actually is a mental break in itself.  It sure is for me, and I wonder if that’s true for others.

So, vacation anticipation.  How can we make the most of that?  According to that study, some of the reasons the vacation itself doesn’t bring as much happiness as it could is due to poor planning, illness on the trip, stressful time getting places, etc.  So one of the ways you can help is to be uber-prepared.  Plan in advance, get your ducks in a row and be ready for a relaxing time.  Here’s a few tips to make the most of your vacation anticipation.

Keep a master document for each trip.  I have a master document for every trip I plan, even if it’s just a day trip.  Sound nuts?  Well, I am nuts, but it also keeps everything I’ve researched all in one place and has all the information I need.  I refer back to it because I have color-coded indications if I’ve booked the hotel, where the hotel is, what restaurants are around the hotel, how much I need to save for, sightseeing information, a complete itinerary, etc.  This keeps me organized and also helps me know where I am in my trip-planning process.  One of the biggest stressors for a trip is feeling unprepared, so this should help!

Below is a blank version of the master document I use, in case you might find this helpful.  You can use this as is, or use this as a springboard to create your own document that makes sense to you.

Trip Planning Document

If you have this document and can start planning and booking early, you’re better for it.  You won’t be stressed out and trying to find things last minute.  You can take your time looking for the best deals, and the best hotels… which will only increase your excitement for the trip.

Watch travel videos for your destination.  There are countless YouTube videos of destinations worldwide (professional and bloggers), and ones you can borrow from the library.  I usually do both, and this greatly increases my vacation anticipation.  Seeing the place I’m going to see on the screen excites me to see it in person.  Another fun option is to look for movies that were filmed in your destination.  This is a hit or miss, but there are lots of Westerns filmed in Utah and of course if you’re going to Europe, check out some of the Woody Allen movies like Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love or Magic in the Moonlight.  

Pack early and pack right.  Start thinking about what you need to pack early on.  Do not, and I repeat, do not wait until the last week.  This part can be fun.  Say you need a new jacket for your trip, you can shop around for it a few months early, look for good deals… and also will get you excited to wear it on your trip.  If you’re packing light (and maybe you haven’t in the past) try on outfit combinations, see what will work.  Also, pack your bag and see if you can even fit it all.  If you can’t, you have time to rethink your wardrobe.  If you wait until the week before, you’re going to be very stressed out during this part.  Do it early, and have some fun with it!

Read travel blogs and reviews for places you’ll be going.  I always look for travel blog destination guides because there’s always great information on how to avoid crowds, save money on tickets, etc.  If you want to be less stressed on your trip, then read up on someone who has just gone recently and can give you advice on what to do.  I can’t tell you the number of times a good review has shaped my itinerary.  If someone said, “we showed up at 10 am and had to wait two hours to get in, you should go earlier or later.”  I’ll change my whole itinerary around!  Nothing worse than spending your vacation waiting in a line!  Not only will this help with your trip planning, but usually it gets you excited!  Seeing pictures of the food and the sites can fuel the excitement.

If vacation anticipation can bring just as much happiness and relaxation as the trip itself, why not start as early as possible and make the most of it?  What makes you most excited for your upcoming trip?

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