The Truth About Travel and Happiness

Mark Horoszowski

Mark is the Co-founder of MovingWorlds.org, a global platform connecting people who want to volunteer their expertise with social impact organizations.

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The notion that travel will make you happy (and is worth the $$$) is not always right. It’s an unfortunate thought, but imagine saving up for the trip of a lifetime only to be underwhelmed. Bummer! It happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to you.

Below, I’ll share 5 tips to ensure your trip makes you happier, but here is more background, first…

According to travel writer Winnie So “Travel makes us happy, because it promises us the self-discovery needed to reach the pinnacle of Abraham Maslow’s view of the human hierarchy of needs.”

While Winnie is correct, she is assuming that travel inherently “promises us the self-discovery…”. This, sadly, is not true. Travel CAN provide self-discovery, but only if you look for it. According to more formal research published in the Applied Research in Quality of Life journal

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, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

In additional research on the topic by Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, “Poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate the positive benefit of time away.” The New York Times shared an article on this topic, also saying that “while he expected the study results to show a pre-vacation happiness boost, he was surprised that the study showed that relaxed holidays didn’t affect post-trip happiness levels.”

But the afore mentioned studies did share some information about how you can increase the likelihood of having a better trip, and experiencing a long-term gain in happiness from it…

Here are 5 tips to ensure your trip makes you happier

 

1. Plan in advance, and have fun with it.

How far in advance? At least a month.

When people use our MovingWorlds service to volunteer their skills overseas, we recommend at least 2 months in advance, and to engage in a long-term process.

Bonus: Celebrate your planning time. Do it with friends, conduct polls on social media to get excitement… In other words, don’t squeeze research in between stressful time at work, designate time with friends and/or family and enjoy the process.

2. Don’t stress.

Easier said then done, but according to research by Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielan1, these tips will help:

  • Focus on the details. Plan in advance, and instead of suffering, ask for help right away.
  • Meet with someone knowledgeable. Uncertainty is one of the biggest stressors, so talk to someone that knows the place. You can find local agents on Monograms, or use social media as a tool on TripAdviser. If you choose to volunteer, using a service like MovingWorlds will put you in touch with your local host far in advance.

 

3. Engage with locals.

As we wrote in our previous article about the difficulties of planning a “perfect international trip”, diverse experience are key.

One of the best ways to have an authentic and meaningful engagement with a local to is to donate your skills to social impact organizations. But be careful about where you volunteer. Paying to volunteer means organizations are after your money, not creating a good experience.  Make sure to only volunteer where your skills are actually needed and the hosting organization is providing you an enhanced experience in exchange.

 

4. Prepare for the come down.

Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll likely experience a peak of happiness in the middle. As IndependentTraveler.com reported, there is a “crash” when people return home, and in fact, happiness declines in the final days of travel. By having something to look forward to on your last day of your trip, and on the first day after you return home, you can help prevent the “crash”.

 

5. Go far, far away.

In a fascinating study using Twitter, researchers from the University Vermont found that the further someone was from their home, the happier they were (the BBC wrote a nice article on this research). This is notable, as according to happiness research by Dan Gilbert, the best way to predict happiness is by seeing what has made others happy, and then emulating that. Maybe it’s time you made that trip to another hemisphere…

 

In Summary, happiness aside, travel is a life-enriching experience that expands world-views, develop skills, and builds empathy.  Regardless of your reason for going traveling, lowering stress and optimizing for happiness will make it an even better experience.

 

What other tips do you have to increase the value and happiness of travel?

 

1  from the Institute of Applied Positive Research, as written in the HBR article ‘When a Vacation Reduces Stress — And When It Doesn’t‘,

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