After returning from a great trip – be it a quick coastal getaway or a more far-flung retreat – it's easy to reminisce about our most remarkable travel moments. Whether you're daydreaming about the fun you had sinking your toes in the sand, gliding down a snow-covered mountain or stumbling upon a beloved local bistro or treasured cultural site, positive memories tend to leave a lingering impression long after your journey. But while all breaks must come to an end, the blissful feelings triggered don't have to disappear as soon as you revert to your normal routine.
If you want to extend your post-vacation satisfaction, read on for smart, psychologist-approved techniques for getting the most out of your trip and boosting your pleasure before, during and after your next getaway.
While you're on vacation you may encounter headache-inducing scenarios that spark negative emotions and frustrations. But during the trip-planning phase, there's a buildup of excitement as you discuss future experiences and imagine them, explains Dr. Amit Kumar, a social psychologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business who explores the relationship between happiness and money. The anticipatory period is more pleasant, with excitement less tinged with aggravation, he says. Delaying positive experiences and locking in events that will bring you joy, such as making restaurant reservations or buying show tickets well in advance, is a smart way to heighten satisfaction.
"As much as possible, you want to enjoy the act of anticipation and planning," says Dr. Leaf Van Boven, a social psychology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. His study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed a tendency for travelers to report stronger emotions during the anticipation of a trip than during retrospection. To embrace the planning process, he recommends starting to organize your vacation early and talking to people about what you want to do and picking up travel books.
Stay Present and Seek Enriching Experiences
"One mistake that we make when we travel is that we bring all of our habits and hassles with us," explains Dr. Jaime Kurtz, an associate professor of psychology at James Madison University who studies techniques people can use to enhance their happiness. By tying up loose ends before our trips and troubleshooting things that might pop and affect your vacation experience, like setting up an out-of-office email message in anticipation of work emails, you can allow for more mindfulness and leave your everyday habits behind. "I think that travel can be a really great way to hit the reset button," she explains. By staying present, you allow for self-discovery and can observe things about yourself that inspire meaningful change when you return home. For instance, you might realize you enjoy walking rather than driving as you embrace exploring on foot in an exotic locale. And while she admits everyone has their own comfort zone, immersing yourself in a place and "stepping off the sidelines" by taking up a new activity like a cooking lesson or even a surfing class yields valuable experiences and great stories to share after your trip.
Compared to material possessions, "experiences have more storytelling value," Dr. Kumar says. When people are more likely to talk about their experiences, they're more likely to increase social interaction and connection, two important components of happiness, he explains. And because experiences, once you've had them, only exist in the mind, they're reframed after the fact, he adds. So recalling travel stories affords people the chance to reconstruct their experience, and a disappointing event or bonding experience can be transformed into a positive narrative, he explains. Still, it's a smart idea to end your trip with a memorable event, since recalling major events tends to be disproportionate to how you remember and share lulls during a trip, he cautions.
"You're the sum of your experiences," says Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a social psychology professor at the University of California–Riverside who studies the science of happiness.
By achieving a defining moment on your vacation that allows for personal growth, such as picking up a new skill or learning about culture, history or art, you'll build your identity. She also recommends staying open-minded and appreciative of the present rather than overthinking smaller details. "Be appreciative. Be grateful," she says. And if something negative happens, ask yourself: "Will this matter in a year?" she advises, striving to maintain a big-picture perspective. And though taking photos is a great idea for post-trip savoring, it can take your out of the moment, she adds, so be cognizant of how often you're snapping shots.
Gift Well and Give Back
"Giving experiential gifts is really rewarding," Van Boven says. For example, gifting a scrapbook of photos to your travel companions helps you remember shared experiences and brings you closer together, he says, pointing out that pictures and mementos rather than material items are a great way to preserve positive memories.
Another smart tactic for maintaining post-trip happiness is ensuring that you plan experiences that help others, Lyubomirsky says. Even if you're not planning a service-oriented trip, smaller gestures, such as bringing along a niece or nephew or helping an older lady with her luggage, can trigger connectivity with others and personal growth.
And instead of picking up small knickknacks on your trip, bring home objects that have a story, Kurtz suggests. Finding a meaningful token can be a strategic way to incorporate reminders of your trip, she says, pointing to the rock she picked up from Norway that currently sits on a table in her house as a reminder of a challenging hike she did that allowed her to overcome a fear of heights.
Take Time to Self-Reflect, Savor and Share Your Stories
Once your trip has ended, devote some time to ease back into your daily routine and reflect on your experiences, Kurtz says. After the trip has ended is an ideal time to self-reflect and use social media tools to reminisce about your experiences. One savoring strategy might be uploading your favorite pictures after your trip on social media to prolong your post-trip bliss, she adds. It's also an ideal time to recall moments of gratitude, she says.
Trigger Positive Memories Through Mementos and Reminders
When you're done with a vacation, the natural tendency is to forget about it, Van Boven explains. Engineering ways to recall past feelings can be tricky after a trip has ended since we're not often prompted to share our stories, he explains, but placing mementos around the house can be an effective strategy for sparking recollection. It's also beneficial to reflect on the social aspects of your experiences and express how much fun you had with others to increase enjoyment and happiness, he says.
When you help others, connect with others and grow as a person – those are the things that are durable and that help you keep your vacation happiness, Lyubomirsky says. Beyond reminiscing experiences with the person you traveled with, it's also a smart idea to keep mementos, including photos or physical objects on your shelves to draw from travel memories, she says.
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