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.