Thinking of swapping the daily grind for a sun-drenched holiday? Well you’ll be glad to know that travellers are generally happier than those who stay put, according to a holiday and happiness study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands. But are we happiest when we’re actually on holiday, or when planning one? This is where the research gets interesting.
While holidaying does make us happier, the study found that our happiness peaks during the planning stage. This was determined by measuring the pre-trip and post-trip happiness levels of 974 travellers alongside the happiness levels of 556 people who didn’t take a break.
Interestingly, the findings showed that once holiday-makers get back from their trip, they’re no happier than those who stayed home.
So why the pre-trip happiness peak and post-trip plateau? The building excitement and anticipation before a trip is the biggest contributing factor.
The lead-up to a holiday can be thrilling as we imagine all the new experiences that await. How many of us are guilty of counting down the days until we can escape work deadlines and business attire in favour of a mojito and an exotic beach?
Once we return, however, we know it’s back to everyday life with everyday responsibilities – which is why the positive vibes of a holiday can level out quite quickly. And if you’re trying to pack as much as possible into your trip away, beware! Only those who described their trip as being ‘very relaxed’ reported boosted levels of post-holiday happiness, which lasted about two weeks.
From editing one of the world’s most influential travel guides, Lonely Planet, to helping travellers create a personalised holiday experience with his Firef.ly app, Shawn Low has a lot of experience with travel planning. When it comes to organising a relaxed vacation, he says holiday-makers should resist the urge to over-plan.
“With so much choice at our fingertips, people get obsessed with needing to find the best deals on flights, hotels and making sure that they see and do everything,” he says.
Shawn believes this frantic over-planning can contribute unnecessary stress to what should be a happy, relaxing trip.
“I don’t like to over-plan my holidays, and aside from the air tickets and perhaps a couple of nights of accommodation, I leave a lot to serendipity.”
According to the holiday and happiness study, it’s possible to prolong post-holiday happiness if you have a ‘very relaxing’ trip. But what a mountain-climbing enthusiast considers relaxing is probably different to someone who’s more interested in a Long Island iced tea by the pool.
So, the first step is to identify your travel type: are you into action and adventure as a stress-buster, want to start writing a travel blog or are you more of a health, wellness and yoga lover? Are you all about experiencing food and culture? Or does lazing in an over-water bungalow with nothing to do for days speak to you more?
By writing down your hobbies and interests, you can narrow down the holiday destinations that are more likely to tap into your unique definition of ‘relaxation’.
Holidays aren’t a guaranteed walk in the park. Unexpected challenges do arise, and we should account for these. But sometimes, reducing holiday-related stress can be as easy as researching travel insurance options to ensure you’re covered if something does go wrong.
Innovative smartphone technology is also taking the pressure off travel planning by mapping out personalised experiences based on our individual wants and needs. Travel apps can be a great way to reduce the stress that may come with feeling overwhelmed in an unfamiliar city or country. Shawn says this is what Firef.ly is all about.
“We take into account the context of your journey – time of day, the weather, etc. – and combine that with your interests in order to make recommendations. For example, if it’s raining in London and we know you love contemporary art, we’re going to send you to the Tate Modern rather than Hyde Park.”
While a post-holiday mood slump isn’t a recognised mental health condition, there’s no denying that we can feel a bit blue when it’s back to the daily routine. Suddenly, waking up amid the rice paddy fields of Ubud is replaced with the piercing sound of a 6am alarm and a to-do list longer than the Great Wall of China.
Here are three tried-and-true ways to minimise a post-holiday drop in happiness:
As a seasoned traveller, Shawn’s top tip for sustaining holiday happiness is to start planning your next trip almost immediately.
“Having something to look forward to is a great motivator,” he says.
Your next trip doesn’t have to be an extravagant, around-the-world affair either. The happiness study concluded that there appears to be no difference in post-holiday happiness if you go away for three weeks or a long weekend.
Shawn also suggests we bin the idea of ‘post-travel blues’ altogether and see our glass as half full, not empty.
“Think about it, you’ve just had the privilege of having a holiday, experiencing new things, food, cultures. Take some time to revel in the great new memories you’ve created. What’s there to be glum about?”
Just because you’re back home doesn’t mean you can’t still behave like an impulsive traveller. Embrace new opportunities in your local area and explore some hidden gems in your own backyard.
“Leave room for spontaneity and serendipity,” Shawn advises. “Many of my best travel experiences have come about by chance encounters and because I decided to explore a new area instead of falling back on the safety net of the well-trodden paths. Be brave, open-minded and embrace new experiences.”
At the end of the day, happiness ultimately comes from within – you probably won’t stumble upon everlasting happiness in the markets of Marrakech or atop the Eiffel Tower. What travel can offer, however, is personal enrichment through experience, and a deeper understanding of the world and our fellow human beings.
As the offbeat and intrepid American writer Henry Miller mused in his 1957 memoir, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” Simply put, ‘happy travels’ are what you make them.
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