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How to Be Happier When You Travel – Condé Nast Traveler

A few years back on a solo trip to Europe, Jaime L. Kurtz found herself standing on the Croatian island of Hvar. The sun shone. Boats bobbed in the Adriatic Sea. But instead of feeling happy and free, she felt homesick and lonely.

“I realized that a lot of this was due to my own habits and personality, rather than to characteristics of the places themselves,” Kurtz, an associate professor of psychology at James Madison University and author of The Happy Traveler: Unpacking The Secrets of Better Vacations, tells Condé Nast Traveler.

A weekend spent on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, for example, is certain to come with sunshine, colorful hillside landscapes, and bright blue waters. But it can also come with unpredictability (think, language barriers) and stress (notoriously hard-to-navigate roads). Research shows that rather than the trip itself, the anticipation and subsequent memories of a vacation often bring us the most happiness.

Of course, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be that way. Here, happiness experts share how to find more moments of joy in travel—no matter where you are.

Plan for Your Personality

The thrill of a new place is always enticing, but you need to factor in your personality when planning a trip. “You’re still you when you travel,” reminds Kurtz. If you’re introverted, consider seeking a secluded beach getaway or a trip to a tranquil spa. That said, do pick a place that offers outdoor adventure or a fun food scene, too, so you still have opportunities to take yourself out of your element.

For an extrovert, no matter how relaxing it may seem, the beach will grow boring. “We pretty much all have our limits in terms of how long we can simply lie on the beach or sit on the porch,” says Kurtz. “We tend to need variation and activity more than we think.” Incorporate a challenging hike into a trip, do a homestay, or make reservations in advance to try exotic local cuisine.

Joy

Incorporate a bit of adventure into the trip—even if you think you don’t need it.

Be Social

Research has found we often assume in certain situations—like sitting on a train—we’d rather mind our own business. But as it turns out, we’re actually happier chatting with seatmates.

“Social relationships are critical to happiness,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California who researches the science of human happiness. “The happiest people have solid strong relationships.” Positive emotions, she says, are experienced more often—and more intensely—when shared with others.

Don’t discount casual interactions, like talking with your barista at a coffee shop, either. These, too, can contribute to positive emotions, Lyubomirsky says. Vacation also provides an opportunity for more in-depth interactions, where you might meet up to hike with a newfound friend or trying an exciting new restaurant with a couple you just met, which can make travel more memorable and increase the joy we feel.

Find Moments of Awe

The Grand Canyon, the Sagrada Familia, Italy’s Cinque Terre High Trail: “These places can make us feel overwhelmed and small—in a good way—and research suggests that awe can inspire us to be more helpful and generous to others,” says Kurtz.

To fully immerse yourself, limit technology when you’re in these spots—take them in with real people, not virtual ones. While a ton of research suggests strong social ties are linked to psychological well-being and happiness, posting for online followers can have the opposite effect. One study out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the more people use Facebook, the unhappier they are. Another, out of the U.K., found that Instagram—which has a tendency to lead people to compare their experiences to those of others—was one of the most damaging social media apps when it came to well-being.

And while you’ll have to practice, you can also find awe on a more regular basis, according to Lyubomirsky, by directing your attention to moving or uplifting details—the glow of the stars on a particularly clear night, or fresh, local ingredients that you normally find frozen at home.

Joy Grand Canyon

Aim for Novelty with a Bit of Familiarity

There’s a case to be made for flying somewhere far away. A study that analyzed 37 million tweets found that the farther a post was geo-tagged from home, the more likely it was to use positive words. Novelty and variety can boost happiness and teach us about ourselves—helping us to make lasting memories, says Kurtz. But take note: To sustain positive emotions, humans need some sense of familiarity, too, according to Lyubomirsky. “When things are 100 percent different and foreign there can be some stress or you might find things ugly because you don’t understand them.” Try the Goldilocks equation: Not too familiar, but not so different that you’re terrified. (One example might be visiting an English-speaking country if you’re newer to international travel.)

Just remember: Part of finding joy in travel involves stepping out of your comfort zone, pushing yourself to do new things, and experiencing cultures different from your own. The more you do that, the more you’ll enjoy it.

How to Be Happier When You Travel – Condé Nast Traveler

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