Our children have three years to wait before they receive their Hogwarts acceptance letters. I have to be honest; I don’t know how we will make it. Some days the anticipation is so impassioned that if we see an owl in the big tree in the backyard, they almost burst from excitement.
When was the last time you were that excited about anything?
The last time I was that excited was when we were anticipating our 10th anniversary trip. It was no small feat packing, planning, and scheduling a family of five for 30 days away from home.
But instead of focusing solely on logistics, we kept motivated by anticipating the emotions, the sights, and the shared discovery. For instance, I knew we would have three or more formal nights, so I imagined how cute my son would look matching dad in their tuxedos.
I encouraged the kids to help choose what snorkel gear to order, what life vests would work best, which swimwear to pack. My youngest packed three mermaid outfits and a Moana dress. Instead of limiting it to essentials, I thought, she will never be this little again.
You Said This Was What You Wanted
You prayed for more time with your children.
Research has shown that it can boost our endorphin levels by 27% to look forward to something.
When you choose anticipation, you are choosing to focus on what you are looking forward to, imagining that it will go well, and envisioning your ideal outcome, thereby tripling happiness:
According to National Geographic, planning and anticipating a trip can be almost as enjoyable as going on the trip itself. A 2014 Cornell University study delved into how the anticipation of an experience (like a trip) can substantially increase a person’s happiness. An earlier study, published by the University of Surrey in 2002, found that people are at their happiest when they have a vacation planned.
First, you get to feel excited and anticipate the trip before you go.
Second, during the trip, you get to enjoy the moment and be fully present because you know you’ve already taken care of the details.
Third, after you return, you get to relive unforgettable memories and revisit photos and mementos that you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
A Vacation Planned
As someone who’s taken over 300 trips over the last 15 years, I’ll tell you what I love about having “a trip on the books,” which is what we call it when we have a vacation planned. Anticipating a trip not only keeps us focused on the preciousness and fleetingness of life; travel helps us remain hopeful, grateful, and happy and marks the milestones of our lives.
You’ve probably heard that experiences, rather than things, is the key to happiness — stories to tell, not stuff to show — so having a trip on the books is an intentional happiness strategy. There are five reasons why it works:
1. Booking a trip boosts happiness because it gives you a reason to live better now.
It’s so much easier to be disciplined when you have a reason. Think about your health goals — who wants to miss workouts, drink a bottle of pinot, or eat an entire package of Oreos when you know it’s only a matter of time that you’ll be at the beach in a bathing suit? Taking 1,000 vacay photos? Or climbing a 14er?
Likewise, if you have a business or financial goal, why not achieve it before you go for a little extra vacation money?
It’s kind of like knowing Santa is watching before Christmas. It’s easier to be on your best behavior when there’s a reward.
Psychiatrist Dr. Neel Burton, author of Hypersanity: Thinking Beyond Thinking and Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions, explains it beautifully:
“Anticipation gives us context, perspective, and direction. Planning things we enjoy reminds and reassures us that we can inject pleasure even into the most humdrum, frustrating of days, and spurs us on, giving us the motivation to keep going.”
2. Booking a trip boosts happiness because it strengthens determination.
The days and weeks leading up to a trip can be incredibly productive. I mean, who wants to come back to a messy house and a never-ending to-do list? It’s the perfect time to close loops and get caught up.
For those unfamiliar with open loops, they are a line item on your to-do list or a promise in your head that needs finishing or resolution. They are commitments made to yourself or to another person that haven’t yet been fulfilled, and they drive us crazy.
Two things happen when we plan to travel. First, we tend to close our open loops. We sail through our lists with a fury, and finally prioritize what matters or even delete the things that don’t.
Second, while traveling, we let go. Our brains can focus on being where we are, and suddenly loading the dishwasher, reorganizing the garage, or grooming the dog seems less urgent.
It’s good to occasionally break from the monotony and overwhelm of daily adulting, to clear the clutter in our heads to be more creative and mindful.
Can you imagine how necessary that’s going to be after quarantine life?
3. Booking a trip boosts happiness because planning is a joyful act.
Instead of focusing on logistics — 12 pants, 12 shirts, 12 shorts, 30 days, three kids, six islands — if you focus on the activities and anticipate the memories they will help create, you can infuse your preparation with joy.
Likewise, if you are a frequent traveler, you know researching a destination is one of the best parts. At our house, we are all about enrichment, so, when we plan a trip, we do our homework.
We read top tips and insights from other travelers; we watch travel videos, sometimes we even do an art project or make a meal themed for our destination.
That way, when we arrive, we know the locals’ favorite spots — like Doyle’s Fish & Chips at Watson’s Bay with the most sublime sunsets. We learn to sign up for backstage access, like a private Vatican Tour, to fit in as much as we can. And we try not to miss any highlights or have any regrets by meticulously scheduling and learning from others who have been there first.
4. Booking a trip boosts happiness because it emphasizes the importance of making the most of your life, especially if you have children.
Traveling with kids is the best because they are so wide-eyed, in the moment, and utterly absorbed, and they don’t miss a thing. It’s also an urgent reminder of how fast life goes.
At home, while managing your family’s routines, life doesn’t always feel fast. Some days, it can feel quite tedious. But, take a look through your travel album, and you’ll see the passage of time in an instant. Or when your youngest is five, but you note age seven on her R, it reminds you that these years are fleeting.
And, because each age is a stage holds it’s own gifts, you know your family’s travel will evolve. For instance, when our children were under five, strollers were a significant factor in choosing where we went: Paved paths, not too many stairs, no cobblestone roads, and no off-roading. It was the only way all three could see the sights, nap as needed, and power through from sunup to sundown.
Now that they are a little bigger, we can venture further off paved path. When they are teens, it will undoubtedly change again, and then when we are all adults, or they have families of their own, it will continue to evolve.
5. Booking a trip boosts happiness because travel reminds us that life is good.
One more thing I love about having a trip on the books is that it reinforces how good life is, how big and beautiful the planet is, and how small and interconnected we are.
By and large, the people we have encountered on trips are good. They want the same things in Denver that they want in Rome and Sydney — to enjoy life, provide for their family, and do good work.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s the same sun and moon over all of us that stops us in our tracks and inspires transcendence.