Wanna be happy? Plan a trip!

Wanna be happy? Plan a trip!

If you are female, odds are good that you are the person in your household who “gets to” plan your family trips. I know that I am in charge of all those arrangements when my husband and I travel—making all the plans, making all the lists, working out the details . . . Some days it’s fun and easy, some days it’s a bit overwhelming. (On those days, I just close the laptop and wait for another day.)

I’m certainly not the only woman I know who is in charge of travel planning. As it turns out, women make 70%-80% of all travel decisions. Women are also more likely to travel alone, or with other women (sisters, girlfriends, etc.). I figured I’d let you know the statistics in case you’ve been feeling as if it’s only you.

As any of us who have planned trips know, travel planning can be nerve-wracking: deciding where and when to go, booking travel arrangements, finding accommodations, figuring out what to do and see when you get where you’re going. But this is one of those cases that proves the Gestalt theory that “anxiety is excitement without breath”—because as it happens, most women find it to be terrifically exciting to plan a trip, even if it is a lot of work. Like Emily Dickinson, we “dwell in possibility” while planning, and sorting through the many (good) options tends to be a happy task.

Cagliari Cathedral as seen from Bastione Saint Remy. Copyright Kelly Ramsdell, 2018.

Cagliari Cathedral as seen from Bastione Saint Remy. Copyright Kelly Ramsdell, 2018.

All of those tasks that fall to you, like deciding where to stay, what to do, what to eat, how to get from A to B? The excitement of looking forward to the trip works to build anticipation and expectation. As it turns out, in a lot of cases, the planning and expectation are when you are happiest during your vacation or travel experience.

This isn’t to say that you can’t be happy while traveling, just that most trips involve minor glitches or upsets. Also, vacations tend to go by quickly, whereas you can spend months happily contemplating your upcoming week away. All that focus on the good times ahead of you raises your happiness level quite a bit over a sustained period of time!

"The practical lesson for an individual is that you derive most of your happiness from anticipating the holiday trip," says Jeroen Nawijn in a 2010 interview with the New York Times. Nawijn was one of the authors of a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, which examined the association between vacations and happiness. It turns out that folks who had a relaxing vacation were happier after their vacations, but returning vacationers who had a stressful trip came back less happy than before their trips. Meanwhile nearly everyone was happy in the time leading up to their vacation.

The conclusion seems to indicate that you can raise your happiness level by planning a trip.

At present, I am planning three trips: one is a business trip for myself in October—I’m going to a coaching conference for coaches in San Diego that promises to be super motivating (and super fun). Another is a cruise that my husband and I are taking later this year. The third is a family vacation next year, when Morris and I will be taking my daughters to Italy with us. None of them are fully planned yet. I keep planning various pieces as I’m able. The Italy trip is still just an idea. The cruise is booked, the airfare for it is booked, a couple of excursions are planned . . . but there are still puzzle pieces to sort out. And my business trip, which is the closest in time? I’ve bought my ticket to the event. Still need to sort out travel and housing. It will all work out.

The thing is, I am trying (fairly hard) not to get too ahead of myself with the trip next year. Even though we’ve all been looking forward to it for years (literally—it’s been the plan since before my younger daughter left for the Peace Corps two years ago), I would like to savor the planning of the cruise vacation that comes before it before getting too wound up in the Italy trip. Because I like my happiness to last and last . . .

How about you? Do you have travel plans? Are you thinking you’d like to make some?

If you aren’t yet certain where you would like to go, we recommend going back to read our post As a woman, my country is the whole world, which not only talks about travel but includes a helpful download to get you thinking about where it is you would like to go. Because actually, you can.

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