Did you know that there is a science to being happy…

It sounds simple enough: Go on vacation.

You spend several weeks…or months…scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. Pinning to your dream boards. Picking out the perfect outfits. Talking and planning and wishing…

“Oh…that beach looks amazing! Just give me an umbrella drink and I could sit there for weeks!”

And then…you get to that beach, umbrella drink in hand, and start to wonder “Is this it?” as you fidget and twitch and grab your phone to check your social media accounts to see what everyone else is doing back at the office – but not until you snap a selfie and post it with the hashtag #havingthetimeofmylife

Now, I’m not trying to be a travel-grump…I’m just having a little fun. However, there is research showing we all don’t know how to travel well. And to take it one step further, we all don’t know how to be happy!

Sounds silly, right?

In a world filled with chocolate and wine and sunsets how could anybody be unhappy?

And yet…sometimes we are – so says science!

In fact, there is a whole branch of science devoted to the study of what makes people happy. (leave it to us to screw up happy and then embark on scientific research to figure out how we screwed it up!)

Related to travel, there are simple steps you can take to be happier when you travel. In fact, there is a book about it: The Happy Traveler – Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations.

Unhappy Travels?

Have you ever had a vacation that left you…a little sad or let down? It doesn’t have to be like that!

I remember a trip to Italy. We were hauling around these gargantuan suitcases, trying to rush and weave through train-station crowds to get to the platform before they shut the doors, laughing at ourselves for being so “American” and packing so much baggage. We reached the train in time and found ourselves behind another obviously American tourist who couldn’t seem to complain enough about how the Italians were rude because they were rushing everyone to get on the train so it could leave on time.

This tourist directed her complaints at us because, so she seemed to think, we were American so would understand and agree. We just looked at each other. We had just spent a week in Rome having the time of our lives– getting the best service at crowded restaurants, being invited to people’s homes, and all and all fully enjoying the country and their warm people. Even with our gargantuan suitcases.

The lady at the train station? Well, her suitcase was much smaller; however, the amount of baggage she hauled around on her vacation was gargantuan!

Sometimes, we get in the way of our own fun!

When we overestimate the anticipated experience, try to cram too much “fun” into a short period of time, and don’t understand our travel personality (which is an extension of our “everyday” personality), we can seriously mess up being a happy traveler!

High Expectations
Make your vacation dreams big…and then let go and just “be” in each moment…

I’m all for setting high expectations. As they say:

“Make your Dreams So Big You Leave a Little Room for God to Shine”

However, too often we are so set on what our experience should be, that if (when) it doesn’t match up perfectly, we are unhappy. Even if what we are doing is pretty cool!

A friend of mine was telling me about a woman she walked by on a beach in Fiji. The woman was crying. As it turned out, she had planned this romantic vacation with her now-ex boyfriend who was on the way to the airport and flying back home. In her mind, this was going to be the trip that fixed everything.

Didn’t turn out that way.

So, there she sat. On a white sandy beach. In tears.

My friend stopped to chat with her. “Honey,” she pointed out “You’re on the beach…in Fiji…you can’t be sad.” The woman looked up, and looked around.

“Yeah…I’m in Fiji” and with a smile on her face she watched the sun along the horizon.

Ok, so breakups are hard…even in Fiji, I get that. But still….

I’ll give you another example. We were at the beach where families can get a beach rental for a few days, on the water, to play. Imagine that – the sun, sea, and sand at your doorstep…literally.

After a week vacation, one of the families was packing up to leave and all I could hear was the woman of the house loudly professing her dismay over having a horrible vacation because all she did was clean and cook and pick up after everyone else….just like she does at home.

Now, I imagine she had high expectation for a week of family fun. Games, ice cream, family dinners, afternoons on the sand, and the sounds of family harmony. What she experienced, however, was something much different.

Apparently, the family didn’t get the memo!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting and wishing for the perfect family vacation. However, unless you do something different than what you do at home, then your vision may not match up with the outcome.

Did you know there is a formula for getting a better outcome? Yes…science! And most of us only know the first 2 parts of this 4-part formula. No wonder it gets messed up!

So remember this: WOOP

W – Wish for what you want to happen (this is the Pinterest stage of your vacation)

O – Outcome: Get yourself pumped up about how great the vacation will be

O – Obstacles: Anticipate what might get in the way of your desired outcome

P – Plan for how to avoid that obstacle

The Happy Traveler, by Jamie Kurtz, Explores the Science of Happy…and Great Vacations

So, for our harried would-be beach mom, knowing her family would most likely expect her to do everything she normally does at home, and wishing to have some time to herself, she could prepare, in advance, a chart of who is responsible for what (meals, cleanup, game-time, etc.), get everyone on board with the chart, and then let it go! Meaning…don’t micro-manage or “take-back” an activity that one of your kids or husband are responsible for because they are doing it differently than you would do it.

This can be applied to any vacation. Wish for what you want, get excited for that desired outcome, consider any obstacles, and plan for what you’ll do to avoid that obstacle or deal with it if it comes up.

Tip: Most of the things we worry about never actually happen…so don’t sweat it!

Too Much Fun…So Little Time

Don’t get so caught up in FOMO that you forget to enjoy where you are!

When you go into your vacation thinking “I have to do it all” because this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip you may try to cram too much fun into too little time and leave feeling empty and burnt out rather than filled up and rested!

Fixing this has more to do with mind-shift than anything else. And you can also do a little planning.

Mindset. First off, shift your thinking from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and scarcity mentality to gratitude for the opportunity to take the trip! When you travel with gratitude then you open yourself up to the expected, and unexpected, experiences that await.

Focus. There may be tons to do where you vacation…and that’s great! Learn about where you’re going before you get there. Get the back story. This will help you understand and get more out of the location than if you go in blind.  Pick one activity or one thing that you want to accomplish while you are there. That way, you will feel good about the entire trip knowing you got this “one thing” done. For example, you may want to hike a certain trail, or see a specific garden or museum, or eat at this particular restaurant, or surf on a specific beach.

And then…be flexible enough to understand even if that “one thing” doesn’t happen (hey, life happens) at least you experienced the journey of discovery.

Remember to enjoy everything you did (and ate) rather than focus on what you missed. That will make all the difference in the world.

Know Thyself…and Your Travel Partner!

Your everyday personality can infringe on your travel fun…and it doesn’t have to be like that!

Most of the time, those photos of beautiful destinations don’t lie. Even with Photoshop! The beaches are beautiful. The ocean really can be that blue. The sky – breathtaking. The mountains – majestic. And the food…oh my gosh, the food!

However, if you’re the type of person who would rather give yourself an electric shock than sit for 12 minutes alone with your thoughts, then placing yourself on that deserted beach with an umbrella drink is going to be torture. You’ll start to wonder – where are all the people? What am I supposed to do….

It’s not that the location is bad…it’s more likely you wished for some sort of experience that just doesn’t align with who you really are!

In other words: You didn’t understand (and embrace) your travel personality.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy solitude on a beach. Yes, you can be just like the lady in the wide brimmed hat lounging on the beach that you pinned to your Pinterest board. It just means you need to sandwich your chillin’ time between something more invigorating.

And if you’re traveling with someone, be aware they have their own travel personality and expectations for how the trip is supposed to be too. And like any good relationship – you need balance.

For example, my husband and I are very alike in many ways and also very different. A good mix that could be the recipe for disaster when traveling, except for the fact we understand, love, and respect each other…for better and worse.

I could spend hours in a museum. My husband…not so much. Rather than get upset when he doesn’t want to do that, we’ll explore the options. Sometimes he’ll go with me because he knows it’s important to me, sometimes I’ll agree to limit my time because I know it’s important to him, sometimes I’ll go on my own and we meet up someplace later, and sometimes we’ll find a museum that aligns with both of our interests.

And always…we eat first!

Just sayin’!

If you are adventurous in your everyday life; you’ll likely be adventurous when you travel. If you’re spontaneous, curious, and outgoing everyday; you’ll be comfortable being the same way when you travel. The same is true if you like to plan things out or are more reserved; you’ll be comfortable in that role as well when you travel.

Your everyday personality can infringe on your travel fun if your experience doesn’t align with how you naturally are. But you don’t have to let it be that way!

For example: If you enjoy being spontaneous, a rigid itinerary is going to drive you crazy! If you are a planner, then open-ended “let’s just walk around and see what we find” vacations are going to make you anxious…not happy!

And…here is where the fun can begin!

You can (and should) step out of your comfort zone and away from what naturally comes to you. Forget FOMO (fear of missing out) or comparing what you are experiencing with what others are experiencing…just be “in” the experience and don’t worry about it.

For the planner: Plan your little heart away…and allow yourself to let loose and enjoy something off-itinerary. You can always go back to the plan later if you want to.

For the spontaneous person: Be okay with having a plan and know you can throw it out if something unexpected presents itself.

In other words, plan for a vacation that aligns with who you are AND look for opportunities to expand your world, and your experience, by stepping away from what’s most comfortable.

After all…everything great in life lies right outside of your comfort zone.

See what you normally wouldn’t see. Eat what you normally wouldn’t eat. Meet people you normally wouldn’t meet. And experience the world in a way you wouldn’t normally experience it.

Don’t worry – you can always go back to how you are naturally…but I bet you won’t!

Travel changes everything!

The Bottom Line

Travel can change you into a better version of yourself…if you let it.

The harder you try to be happy, the less likely you are to be happy! That’s not me talking, that’s the research.

The truth is, you’re not going to become a different person when you travel. It’s not magic. However, travel can change you into a better version of yourself…if you let it.

Vacations are wonderful. They give us a break from our “stuff” – our possessions, our mental baggage, and our everyday commitments at work and home. It’s a time to peel back the layers of modern life, with all its trappings (literally) to get back to your soul and what’s most important in your life.




And Chocolate!