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When to Plan Your Next Trip, According to Science



There are plenty of reasons to wait until the last minute to plan a vacation. You might want to save up a little more cash, wait for a great price on airfare, or see how crazy work is before booking. And spontaneous vacations can certainly feel more exciting than ones you’ve planned months in advance. One minute, you’re anticipating an uneventful weekend at home, the next, you’re throwing a swimsuit in a bag and jetting off to the beach.

But here’s a good reason you might want to rethink your planning strategy: research reveals travel’s biggest impact on your mood doesn’t kick in during the trip.

By Aja Frost

Yes, you may feel blissful raising a toast in a seaside restaurant or tramping through the jungle in Costa Rica. Yet a 2010 study found vacationers are most happy before their trip—when they’re anticipating what’s to come.

“Social scientists have been saying for years that we get an extra happiness boost if we consciously delay any type of pleasure—be it booking a trip to Bali months in advance or eating that sliver of chocolate cake tomorrow instead of today,” explains New York Times travel columnist Stephanie Rosenbloom.

According to Rosenbloom, buying plane tickets is a good first step. However, if you want to maximize the anticipation, immerse yourself in the details.

That means researching the local activities, accommodations, and dining; reading books or watching documentaries about the region; browsing reviews on trip planning websites ; and checking out blogs by fellow visitors or locals. Essentially, give yourself a crash course in the area you’re traveling to.

Not only will you be well-prepared for the trip (which could lessen the chance you’ll be stressed when you get there), you could also have a better experience.

Having high expectations—as counterintuitive as this sounds—makes you less likely to be disappointed. Unless your vacation is radically different than what you’d hoped for, Rosenbloom says getting excited “actually helps our minds smooth over any minor discrepancies if reality doesn’t quite measure up to the fantasy.”

So if you’re currently facing yet another cold, gloomy week, we have a suggestion: Start thinking about your summer vacation plans. Once you pick a place, periodically devote a few hours per week to researching and planning. You’ll be happier long before your plane takes off.

(Oh, and if you’re worried about missing out at the office? Consider this: research shows that if you take 11 or more of your vacation days, you are more than 30% more likely to receive a raise.)

Want even more strategies to be happier at work? If you’re a SoFi member, sign up for a complimentary one on one session with a career advisor, who can help you with everything from dealing with your manager to plotting your next move. Not a SoFi member yet? Head to SoFi.com to learn more.

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