A few years ago a study came out that said the anticipation of a vacation actually makes people much happier than the vacation itself, and as much as I enjoy traveling, I must admit I find this to be true. I just booked a trip to France, Switzerland, and Iceland for later this year, and I’m SO excited. Of course I’m stoked for the trip itself, but I’m almost equally thrilled about spending the next few months researching, planning my itinerary, and staring wistfully at photos of sidewalk cafes in Lyon. Nothing makes my life feel more colorful and energized than having a trip on the horizon — even if that horizon is pretty far off. Here are 5 things I love about traveling, none of which happen on the actual trip itself…
1. Daydreaming. Once you decide you’re taking a trip, and you have a rough idea of your budget, you get to think about where you want to go, and what might happen when you get there. You’re not bogged down in details or finances yet. The possibilities are endless. The world is your oyster. I love daydreaming, so I tend to spend a lot of time in this stage, picturing all my potential adventures, asking people about trips they’ve taken, changing my computer background to various idyllic settings, etc.
2. Making the plan. OK, so personally, I kind of hate this part because I’m hopeless with logistics and details, but many of my friends revel in planning their itineraries down to the hour, hunting down the cheapest flights, researching the most picturesque rail routes, sorting through hostel reviews, and keeping everything under budget. And even those of us who generally loathe the planning stage must admit — there’s something uniquely satisfying about fitting all the parts of your journey together like puzzle pieces, and making it a reality.
3. Researching. Immersing yourself in another culture, going to museums, and meeting new people are all great learning experiences, but if you research your destination beforehand, you can also learn SO MUCH before you leave. Practicing another language, looking up weird cultural facts, reading about the quirky roadside attractions you’ll encounter on your road trip … all of these things are fun, intellectually stimulating (not to mention extremely helpful at trivia night), and they don’t require a plane ticket or a passport to get started. I’m currently obsessing over foodie blogs based in Switzerland and learning — and drooling — a ton.
4. A Renewed sense of purpose. Once you’ve booked your trip, especially if it’s a big one, many of your actions start taking on a greater sense of purpose. Every hour you work gets you that much closer to your vacay. Every latte you skip now leaves you money for another morning espresso in Rome. Everything you do feels aligned with this big end goal, and that’s a very cool feeling. I’ve found it to be the perfect antidote for when your life is feeling flat and stagnant. It’s also one of the few things that can force me to stick to a strict budget.
5. Reminiscing. That same study that found pre-vacation anticipation to be more exciting than the vacation itself also found that the post-vacation high doesn’t last long at all — just a couple weeks, in the best case scenarios, and then people tend to go back to their same old routine and same old grumbling. But — at the risk of sounding very, very corny — do you know what does last? MEMORIES. And one of my favorite things about travel is that even the awful, terrible, surreal experiences you have on vacation seem to instantly transform into funny stories and charming anecdotes when you get back home (assuming your terrible experience didn’t involve, like, losing a limb or something). Scary road trips in the pouring rain suddenly seem like fun adventures. Crappy hotels and awkward intercultural interactions become hilarious anecdotes (I still call my brother all the time to randomly reminisce about the time I accidentally said “Pope blowjob” VERY loudly at the Rome airport). And those travel moments that seemed pretty perfect at the time? They seem even more flawless in retrospect. I live for these kinds of memories, the kind that you can’t fully enjoy until you’re settled back at home. Experiences like this can sustain you for a long time. Or at least until you start daydreaming about your next trip.