If, like me, you’re a travel addict, you’ll be familiar with that intense wave of excitement that crests every time you click “book now” and have another trip lined up.
It’s a genuine, thrilling buzz to know you’re heading off somewhere new to experience something entirely different. But it’s also a feeling of tangible release from the daily grind – a sentiment that’s particularly intoxicating at this time of year, when so many of us are trudging through shorter, darker days, en route to the bitter depths of winter.
Whoever said ‘getting there is half the fun’ only had it half right. Because for me, choosing, planning and booking a trip is half the fun of getting there.
I have a very specific routine for booking a new trip
I have a very specific routine when it comes to this planning process, too. As soon as I’ve clicked that all important book button (and possibly punched the air a few times), I immediately mark it on the whiteboard planner in my office, in capital red letters.
Nothing else in my life gets the uppercase treatment or this most urgent of colours – not even weddings or funerals, let alone deadlines or meetings.
Next, I add the destination in question to the weather app on my phone (so I can keep a daily eye on it), start following around a dozen location-specific Instagram accounts, and order the most up-to-date Lonely Planet guide to the country in question.
My guidebooks are like fat, permanent postcards of happy trips gone by
Sure, I know this is old school, but the simple pleasure of sitting down with a cup of tea and reading a book full of exciting opportunities and adventures, never gets old for me.
Plus, they look great stacked up on the bookshelf together – like fat, permanent postcards of happy trips gone by, with detailed memories there at the flick of a page.
I’m not alone in experiencing this euphoric wave of booking happiness either. According to academic researchers and psychologists, the ‘future feelgood factor’ of holidays is very real – and functions like a more intense version of looking forward to a good meal or a nice glass of wine.
Looking forward to an experience increases a person’s happiness
A 2014 Cornell University Study, for example (amazingly entitled Waiting for Merlot) dived into “anticipatory consumption” and found that booking and looking forward to an experience (like a trip) can substantially increase a person’s happiness; much more so than the anticipation of buying material goods.
“The anticipation of an experiential purchase – such as travel – provides joy and satisfaction,” says neuroscientist Amit Kumar, co-author of the study. “People derive more pleasure from experiential purchases in every phrase of consumption – in part because it gives them something to talk and relate with others about.”
I certainly found this to be true while planning my most recent trip – a visit to Australia’s Northern Territory last month. Not only was I insanely excited about seeing a part of the country I’d never visited before, but I also welcomed the fact that it gave me an excuse to mine my Australian friends for insider tips, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to properly since pre-pandemic.
Trip planning can give us such a powerful mental boost
This, according to Professor Kumar, is all part of the reason why trip planning can give us such a powerful mental boost while we’re still sitting at home, potentially months away from departure.
“The act of talking about experiences is really important,” he says. “We have a deep need to maintain social connections – and sharing stories about past trips, or ideas about future ones, allows us to relate and connect with each other, even from a distance.”
But the psychological boost of trip planning is not just about talking to others. Another study, conducted by the Institute for Applied Positive Research, found 97% of respondents reported that just having a trip planned made them feel noticeably happier.
The simple act of looking forward, functions as a mini mental vacation
The simple act of having something good to look forward to – like a magnificent temple in Mexico fringed by remote jungle, or an ice-edged fjord in Iceland – seems to do the trick, functioning as a mini mental vacation, before you’ve even started to pack.
According to Stephanie Harrison, founder and CEO of The New Happy – this feeling of delighted anticipation can have knock-on effects to everything from day-to-day optimism levels to our overall self-esteem.
“Anticipatory savouring is a form of time travel,” explains Stephanie. “Projecting yourself into the future to imagine what a positive experience, like a trip, will be like, then increases your positive emotions in the present moment.”
My next trip to Peru makes me happy every time I look at the planner
Time travel or not, the experts agree that booking a holiday is one of the best things you can do for your mental health, however distant your departure.
Escapism comes in many forms, but the anticipation of escapism – that gazing at the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, before you’re basking in it and topping up your tan – might just be one of the most potent superpowers of them all.
Jonathan Thompson is an award-winning journalist, regular SOLO columnist and presenter of Adventure Cities on the Discovery Channel.
Images: Courtesy of Jonathan Thompson & Flash Pack