I’ve noticed that one of the things that seems to make everyone happier is travelling. We all count down the days to that summer vacation on a beach or to a two-day city break in Paris, Rome or New York…or anywhere else!
To be honest, I don’t know exactly what it is about travelling that makes us feel so excited and happy. Perhaps it is the curiosity and joy we feel when discovering a new place, the satisfaction of taking that perfect picture to share with friends or the pleasure in tasting the local cuisine. Whatever it is, it works like magic!
But have you noticed that as soon as we get back home, all that happiness seems to disappear? Or sometimes, we feel quite low on energy and enthusiasm even while we are still on vacation. Maybe we are tired, maybe there are too many tourists around us or maybe we feel like there are too many things to do in one day.
What’s clear is that our travels should be some of our best and most memorable experiences. We should have fun, enjoy ourselves and, at the end of the year, look at the pictures of us smiling and remembering how great it was to get lost in Paris and stumble upon a cute little restaurant! So what can we do to make the most of our vacations?
1. Plan your vacation ahead of time
You normally make plans for your vacation because you need to take time off, buy a plane ticket and make reservations at a hotel. But there is another reason why it’s a good idea to make plans in advance – it makes you happier. Anticipating a pleasant event, such as a holiday, can make you as happy as actually experiencing it.1 So the more time you spend looking forward to it, the better you will feel about the trip. You can feel happier even before travelling if you make plans and start dreaming about them!
2. Put together a travel itinerary
When you go to a new city, you usually look up the places you can visit there. But I would say to take it one step further – make a definite plan. Think about a few places or monuments you want to see, a few activities you want to do or a few people you want to meet there. It’s better to travel with a plan because this way your trip will be more meaningful. Rather than just going to Milan to walk the streets, it’s more exciting to go there to climb to the top of the Duomo Cathedral, visit the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and have an apperitivo at a local bar.
We usually like to do things for a reason and this applies to our vacations as well. By planning your itinerary, you will make sure that you have many reasons to be there and the experience will be more meaningful. Having simple goals like these will make your vacation much more satisfying and enjoyable. It’s not just a time when you relax, it’s an adventure!
3. Take a few moments and be mindful
While it’s important to have an itinerary and visit as many beautiful places as you can, it’s also important not to constantly be in a rush. A vacation is not a race where you have to run from one museum to another. So make sure to remind yourself to just be there!
When you get to a beautiful place, take it in. After you’ve wondered at an amazing building, taken 40 pictures and mentally crossed it off your list, stop for a moment. Look at that place – really look. Observe the architecture of the building or the beautiful scenery. Listen to the birds chirping or the noises of the busy traffic. Smell the aromas of freshly baked pastries or hot coffee. Look at the people walking around, at the way they dress, the way they act and try to imagine how they are living their lives in that amazing place.
It’s important to be mindful and truly experience those moments. Use all your senses and try to forget about everything else. You deserve to experience that moment fully! This contributes to your happiness and makes the experience more memorable.2,3
4. Savour the local cuisine
When you visit a new place, I find it’s best to experience as much of their culture as possible. Eating traditional meals is a great way to do that. It goes without saying that when you go to Italy, you eat pizza, pasta and gelato and when you go to France you eat croissants and other pastries. If you do not know any traditional foods of the place you are going to visit, it’s easy to do a quick search online and find some great recommendations.
If possible, avoid McDonald’s or other fast-food restaurants or restaurant chains. Try to eat local and if you get the chance to eat at a small, family-owned restaurant, do it! Whatever tasty dish you will get, remember to savour it. Instead of rushing through it, eat slowly and focus on the taste and smell. Try to engage your senses and pay attention to the mix of flavours you are enjoying. Savouring is a great way to turn a simple meal into a lavish experience and increase your happiness.2,3
5. Travel with someone
Some people love travelling alone to challenge themselves and experience everything at their own pace. But if you can, travel with someone whose company you enjoy. It can be your boyfriend/girlfriend, a good friend or even a group of friends. One of the reasons is that another person can make this experience more interesting. You plan things together and enjoy them together. And that’s a great way to boost your happiness.3
You will have another person who will share your excitement while counting down the days to your trip, you’ll have someone to taste the same foods and admire the same views with you. Sharing these memorable experiences with someone you like or love will make you enjoy them more than you would alone. Interestingly enough, when you share your happiness, you become happier yourself!
6. Take many pictures
It’s a great idea to use your camera or cellphone to capture great moments while travelling - for many reasons. While you are trying to get the perfect shot of the Eiffel Tour, you will probably notice its details and the surrounding area more. The fact that you are trying to capture that moment with a camera may also make it more memorable and easier to remember.2
Plus, pictures are a great way to relive those moments. They allow you to experience the happiness and joy you felt while travelling even months or years later. So if you want to boost your happiness one day, just look at the pictures you took the last time you were on vacation. Remember all the great things you loved about that trip and that city and you’ll definitely feel better.
7. Buy souvenirs
Just like pictures, souvenirs also remind you of the beautiful moments you experienced abroad. Plus, if you begin to collect something from every place you visit, you will soon have a collection of beautiful memories at home!
Here are a few souvenirs you can buy:
- fridge magnets (probably the most popular souvenirs you can buy)
- key chains
- a decoration representing a local attraction (the Eiffel Tower for example)
- a snow globe
- a piece of jewelry
- a book (preferably in the local language if you speak it)
- something specific to the place (such as a carnival mask from Venice)
- something else that you are already collecting or interested in (stamps, picture frames, spoons, candles and so on)
I like collecting snow globes and I have been buying them for years! They are probably the objects I cherish the most!
When you get back home, display those souvenirs in a place where you can occasionally see them. Just like the pictures, these souvenirs can often evoke pleasant memories and feelings. Just pick one up and think about the trip you were on when you bought it. Remember the place where you got it and what it represents. Think about all the other activities you enjoyed on that trip and that you are grateful for. This way, you can relieve all those great moments from the past and become happier in the present moment.2
Great vacations are usually memorable by themselves.
You don’t have to do anything else to feel happy for those experiences. But even so, using these techniques you will become happier on both good and unimpressive vacations.
Keep in mind that a great vacation is not really about the place you visit or the budget you have for it. What makes a travelling experience amazing and pleasant are your attitude and the activities you engage in while you are there. If you want to be even happier on your next vacation and after you get back home, now you know what you have to do.
As I was thinking about what to write in this article, I realized that I usually do some of the things I’ve mentioned. I started collecting objects from my travels before I learned that this can make me more grateful and happier. You may already be doing some things on this list or maybe you have your own traditions. I would encourage you to try the things that seem interesting and fun. After all, it is your own experience and you have to enjoy it.
One of the reasons why I wanted to write about this topic is because summer is here and many of you are already planning your vacation. This summer I’ll be travelling to Greece and I’ve decided I’ll try to do everything on this list. Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn more tricks while I’m on vacation; after all, the Greeks definitely knew a thing or two about happiness and hedonism.
- Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert
- The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman