Get the most out of gearing up for your getaway

Finding yourself gleefully counting down the days before your next vacation? Learn how to maximize this happy feeling, stay relaxed during your trip, and gain inspiration for your next adventure.

Whether hiking a craggy mountain range or lounging on a hot beach, there’s no better feeling than being on vacation, right? Actually, this may be wrong: a 2010 study found that trip planning or anticipating can make you happier than being on the trip itself.

Pre-trip happiness

The study of 1,530 Dutch people concluded that the anticipation of trip planning likely triggers pre-trip happiness. This pleasant feeling can be sparked weeks or months before you take off and can have a positive impact on your mindset and health.

Vancouver-based psychologist, speaker, and author Dr. Theresa Nicassio says that trip planning involves dwelling on possibilities, giving you a sense of optimism and triggering the pleasure centre of your brain. Thinking about being released from your daily grind can also release feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, she says.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the health perks of positive thinking—a side effect of optimism—may extend to your physical health, including greater immunity to the common cold, a lowered risk of death from heart disease, and a longer life.

Boosting the benefits

To get the most out of that pleasant pre-trip feeling, start by brainstorming possible trips, says Nicassio. Don’t edit your thoughts with limitations such as your budget or distance; you’ll release some endorphins simply by focusing on the possibilities instead of the negatives.

“[When you’re] dreaming of possibilities, in that moment, from an emotional and physiological perspective, you are actually there,” says Nicassio.

Dreaming without limits may also help clarify what you really want. For instance, it can help you know what you really desire—whether it’s play, rest, a change of scenery, or new experience.

Next, review the options that will meet your desires alongside your limitations such as budget or the amount of time you have. It may take some creative thinking—for instance, if you want to visit the Virgin Islands, but you’re limited on funds, you could apply for a nanny position there—but when you connect what you want for your trip with what’s possible in reality, you feel a burst of happiness, says Nicassio.

Trouble in paradise

Interestingly, the same Dutch study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life also found the only time vacationers saw an increase in post-trip happiness was when they experienced a “very relaxed” vacation. Interpersonal conflict—among health problems and culture shock—may be one of the reasons for a less-than-relaxing vacation experience.

Avoid quarrels with your travel partner(s) with the following tips.

Watch your language

When approaching potential conflicts with travel partner(s), Dr. Mariyam Ahmed, a Toronto-based psychologist, recommends using “I” statements to express yourself. For instance, if your trip is chock full of activities and you feel exhausted, say “I feel tired” instead of “You are exhausting me.”

Concentrate on communication

Stop assuming you know what your travel partners are thinking and start asking questions for clarification.

“A common mistake we often make, which contributes to conflict, is mind reading,” says Ahmed.

Keep the holiday in mind

Don’t get mired in long-standing issues, cautions Ahmed. Keep the focus on the moment and what your goal was for the holiday.

Find common ground and compromise

Conflicts—whether they’re about a vacation budget or locations to visit—emerge when people differ in values, says Nicassio. Start by knowing what you want, then share this with your travel partner(s); be willing to listen to each other, identify common ground, and then negotiate the areas where you have different values.

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