The Keys to Happy Travel: Planning and Remembering

In the last post, I mentioned a study from two years ago that claimed people experience more of a boost in their happiness levels before a trip than during or after. The argument goes, it’s the anticipation and the planning that gets people all excited:

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people…. There was no post-trip happiness benefit for travelers who said the vacation was “neutral” or “stressful.” Surprisingly, even those travelers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn.

So how can you drag out those happiness benefits? Well, I recently attended a talk at LSE with Daniel Kahneman, a seminal behavioural economist. I was excited because his research comprised about 30% of my syllabus in behavioural econ this term. The talk was unfortunately not all that interesting but I blame the moderator, who I thought did a really dismal job and barely knew what he was talking about (system 1, system 2, blah blah blah).

One thing that did stand out is Kahneman’s point about how our memories of experiences are shaped. He points out that people tend to conflate memory and experience, even though experiencing a moment and remembering it later are actually quite different. For example, if you attend a concert and there’s a loud screeching noise (or a persistent ringtone) at the end, you might say, “It ruined the experience for me.” Actually, the experience was how you enjoyed the concert during the first hour and a half, yet the memory of that experience is disproportionately determined by a final screech. In other words, we’re overly influenced by last impressions or peak (and, possibly, trough) moments.

The takeaway for traveling well? Remember it better. As this NYT article on “Planning the Perfect Vacation” recommends, try to end on a high note—save the best for last, perhaps—or at least plan a few activities or moments that will stand out in your memory as something special.

The other part that has made traveling even more fun in retrospect is recognizing the places I’ve been in the media. I was watching a rather boring movie called The Cardinal, which really wasn’t capturing my interest at all until! they were on a boat from Vienna along the Danube, passing right by the towns where we’d gone biking, on his way to the monastery!

Or hearing about Hallstatt on the news (this week’s “Wait Wait.. Don’t Tell Me“) because China spent nearly a billion dollars to create a replica of the Austrian village, though it doesn’t come with the alpine beauty and the lakes and the waterfall roaring through the town. (If you watch the BBC video, doesn’t the mayor of Hallstatt look just like Julian Assange?)


Something of the rustic, natural beauty gets lost in translation.


And I guess you can’t really create a whole mountain range either.  

Or watching the Olympic torch recreating the Chariots of Fire moment on its way past St. Andrews to light up Edinburgh Castle, then on to Stirling and the Wallace Memorial.

The “I’ve been there!” moment is all the more enhanced because these places always do seem to look better in the movies, don’t they? I was watching a film set in New York City the other day, and whenever I watch movies about New York I’m always amazed at how bright and shiny and clean everything looks.

Journaling helps preserve the memories too. Blogging especially has been helping me to keep reliving the memories! In short, I know I’m a lucky gal to have traveled so much in a mere ten months. My European travels are almost at an end, but they are hopefully well-preserved in my memory—and on this blog—for all their peaks and troughs and everyday details.


9 thoughts on “The Keys to Happy Travel: Planning and Remembering

    1. Haha, I hadn’t thought about that. I tend to think that everything nowadays is so well-documented that in the future people will more likely be overwhelmed with having to sift through so much information than have too little information. But then again, who knows, what with all this cloud computing and data storage breaking down, all this information might vanish someday! Read some alarmist news article about how data will just break down over time, and how there are very few working floppy disks left. Hahaha. Sorry. I’m just such a happy nerd, off on my tangent!

    1. Brett! The strangest thing. I wanted to nominate you for the blog award (see previous entry) but I couldn’t find a link to your site. Which is weird because I’m definitely following your blog… But consider yourself nominated! Haha~

  1. I agree the planning gets you through anything! When I had more time I would research places, plan out must sees and spend hours pouring over things. It was the anticipation and excitement. Now many trips are last minute or with little planning. I still enjoy the time away and memories, so I may be just as happy before, during and after. I guess I am not the norm or an ‘outlier’.
    Movies do give me that same rush as I was there! as flood of memories come back. Music also does the same. I did a few tours and that was a big part of their routine. The door guide carefully picked out a relevant song and each time I hear it memoies of the trip come back and brings a smile to my face :)

  2. Various travel guides list many destinations depending on your taste and purpose. While adventurous people would like to go for hiking, jungle trips or river rafting, couples would like to select romantic destinations. Also, confirm the climatic and weather conditions so that you can have proper clothing to enjoy the holiday.

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