Planning Vacations Is More Fun Than Actually Traveling

American Express ‘Amex Trendex’ finds that “76% of U.S. consumers surveyed agree they instantly feel happier the moment that they book a trip.” Booking travel makes people happy, but note that the survey didn’t find people happier when they actually travel. Research has long shown that thinking about and working through the details of a trip, and then anticipating going, brings more happiness than actually going.

What’s more, the happiness from being on vacation wears off quickly once we get back, go to work, get inundated with everything we’ve missed while we were gone (an inbox full of emails, all that mail and those bills). The return to normal life is even more stressful than life normally is, because we’ve delayed it and it’s built up for the whole time we were gone.

While some people may not be able to relax until they’ve been unplugged for a couple of weeks, how long we’re gone doesn’t usually affect how much we get out of a trip and the days in the middle tend to be the most forgettable. So taking more short trips produces more happiness on net than fewer long ones.

What’s more interrupting a trip with a dose of real life can make us enjoy the trip more. Interrupting keeps us from getting ‘too used to’ the sensation of vacation, too used to it, too adapted. then it feels fresh again when we dive back in.

And how a trip ends is more important than how it begins than the time in the middle, since we remember the end the most and the middle least. Who you’re with is more important than where you go.

Most of us don’t do very memorable things while we’re gone, either. Laying out on the beach, which isn’t that different than other beaches? Going to see a church in an old European capital? You should do something that’s actually new to you if you want to remember the trip. The intensity of what you’ve done is more important if you want to remember the trip and have it feel meaningful, so avoid average.

Lots of shorter trips also reduces the stakes of any given trip. You don’t have to feel pressure to relax quickly or to see everything there is to see at your destination. Plus it’s easier to say that you’ll just go back if you leave wanting more. You’ll even prefer the places where you feel like there’s more to do when you return than those where you feel like you’ve done everything.

Elon Musk says vacations will kill you. If you’re doing what you love, pursuing your life projects, you need to be all-in. Too much can go wrong if you’re gone, and what kind of example does it set for employees to see you lollygagging?

That may be true for him, but there’s an element of truth for many of us in what he says: you probably don’t need to check out completely while you’re gone, if you do you’ll feel overwhelmed when you get back (or worry what you’re missing and enjoy your time away less). Plus interrupting the trip can keep it from settling into a monotone. Break it up, seek out peak experiences, do things differently, don’t be gone too long and leave wanting more. Then travel again.

Plus lots of shorter trips means more trips to plan, and that’s a good part of the fun anyway.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Interesting and with some truth but also too general. The tip about breaking things up is good but I also think it’s a matter of the usual, you get out of an activity what you put into it. Personally before going to a place I read up heavily on it and when there make a real effort to see things–not another darn beach or resort but get out and look around, meet the locals, and respectfully learn about their places. That brings back both memories and new ideas for the next trip. Now I’m a little unusual because when possible (i.e. my wife won’t be dragged along or goes only grudgingly) I do go to some unusual places–Haiti, Andorra, Oman, Antarctica, etc. and in much better days Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc. But the point is you can get and bring back a lot more from a trip than just sand and bills. Each visit to a new place can enrich you and add a lifetime of good memories.

  2. People need variety in life. Vacations provide that. Super high performing people like Elon Musk don’t operate like most people.
    Travel is harder since the pandemic began and it will be years before it is as “simple” as it was before, if ever.
    People will get away despite the extra hassle. No one wants to live on zoom and visiting the local park forever.

  3. Very true. Planning is more fun than traveling. It’s just a fact.
    I love working while on the road too, even on vacation. Makes me appreciate all the moments more.

    That said, fiancé are on a ‘permanent travel plan’ since early 2020. Going from country to country, and really doing what we want.

    It’s nice, but it gets old. So, now we’re back to doing some work stuff for hours a day.
    Much better mix.

    About to head to Africa for 3 months of driving around. The planning is fun.
    Sitting in a tent on a top of an 4×4 in the middle of nowhere, might, actually, not be as fun as imagining it.

    I guess we will see :p

  4. The Family leave act Biden and his cronies are trying to force on the country will destroy it. This is profoundly not American.

  5. Didn’t take long in the replies for politics to raise its ugly head. Great post by Gary, and there was no need for the left or right to interject politics through a reply.

  6. Florida man is the voice of reason? [looks around for flying pigs]

    This is certainly true for me. I love the planning and the feeling of anticipation before a trip. And I absolutely want to be out of my comfort zone and *not* on a beach. My last trip was spent wandering around India. My next one will, like George, be driving around Southern Africa on a 4×4 with a camera. Life between trips is completely forgettable for me, which has made the two years of COVID a literal waste of two years of my life (counting the rest of 2021). Fortunately for her, my wife is much better adjusted and can find joy in anything.

  7. Honestly when I go on vacation I want to completely unplug. I don’t want to worry about work at all. I sure as hell am not going to interrupt my vacation to deal with work. I get it some people can’t let go and some even feel an urgent need to return back home. This is very prevalent with Americans but for a lot of the other people around the world I notice they don’t travel that way at all. Don’t try to suggest that other people are travelling wrong, because of your particular inability to fully enjoy a longer trip. I never understood people who fly around the world to sit on a beach that looks just like any other beach. Seems like a waste of an international trip to do something you could probably do in your own country.

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