How To Get The Most Out of Your Vacation

A vacation is like love: anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia.

Currently we spend A LOT of time trying to figure out our vacations"”or at least I do. Between checking hotel rates, restaurant reviews, show schedules, and on and on, vacationing has become serious business. Still, we enjoy them, right? We like to vacation. Whether on sunny beaches, within idyllic landscapes, or in big cities, it's almost always nice to take some time off from our daily responsibilities to relax, experience and enjoy.

But are we good at them? Do we know what we're doing, and what really makes a good vacation? According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, no, no we're not very good at spending our leisure time. There's some good news though, vacations can be optimized.

Here are Ariely's three components to an optimized vacation: anticipating, experiencing and remembering.

Anticipation: Pre-Vacation

Vacation planning isn’t usually thought of as tons of fun, but as it turns out, we’re at our happiest not during or after our vacation, but before, while we’re still planning. And anticipating. In fact, merely planning a vacation increases happiness for an average of eight weeks at a time. So for those of you short in both time and funds (like me), and are looking to make the best use of your vacation time, plan early. Last minute impromptu adventures are great, of course, but it's best to give yourself some time to anticipate"”to get excited. It gives you something fun to look forward to.

Experiencing: The Vacation

The best part, right? Wrong. At least as far as happiness is concerned. This is because the joys of vacations are often also intermixed with stress, anxiety and, more times than we'd like to admit, boredom. It's not all bad news though. And there are ways of making it better. Here's a few: short trips are almost always better than long trips, the end of the trip is more important than the beginning, who you're with often matters the most, and, if you want a memorable vacation (which you do), it's best to try new things.

So instead of spending your money on an extended stay, cut your trip short and make every moment count: museums, good food, scuba diving, shows, whatever. In the end it's the short and intense trips that give you the most vacation bang for your buck.

Remembering: Post-Vacation

This probably isn't that surprising, but as studies have found, we tend to remember our vacations (and weddings, etc.) much more fondly than what the actual experience was. (For example, you don't tend to remember driving around for two hours on a safari, seeing nothing, but you would remember, vividly, the five minutes or so when a lion climbed on top of the jeep.) Of course, it helps if you did something that was memorable on your vacation, as entirely boring vacations beget boring recollections. So be sure you keep things interesting. It makes for good stories and memories, both of which increase happiness post-vacation.

And one last thing to remember, just as we like to procrastinate with work, we also tend to procrastinate in fun"”and really, that's half the reason vacations are so much fun: they give us deadlines. Which is good. While adding some stress, deadlines also provide us with good incentives to go out and do things. Fun things. As such, don’t procrastinate too long, and remember to ask for the time off (people “forget” to more often than you’d think.)

So, in conclusion, the key to a great vacation? Plan early, keep it short, and experience new and fun things.

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