This weekend’s Parade magazine included a snippet that Dutch researchers have found that vacation-goers are happiest a month before they leave for their trips. According to the reliable resource of Parade, the Dutch team found that planning a vacation can improve your mood for two months before the actual trip.
It just so happens that we leave for Italy two months from tomorrow. And I may have spent a good chunk of this past weekend reading about Florence and Venice, looking at maps of Rome, and downloading Italian language podcasts.
But that doesn’t actually matter. Regardless of what the calendar says, I’m nearly always planning a trip (compulsively or obsessively, some might say), even if it’s months — or years — away. I’d count the many hours I’ve spent on Trip Advisor among some of my happiest. That’s a lot of happy hours — probably more time than I’ve spent watching The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, and HGTV combined.
(Yeah, like I said, that’s a LOT of hours.)
Learning about other people’s vacations makes me happy, too. I probably drove my brother and his wife (!) crazy leading up to their Hawaiian honeymoon, and I gladly talked for more than an hour with a friend this weekend about her upcoming West Coast vacation. A few weeks ago, after talking with my father-in-law about his and B’s mom’s summer vacation to Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria, and Seattle, I somehow found myself tracking down my old trip notes, booking their hotels, and mapping ferry routes.
Maybe it’s a weird hobby. But travel agent careers are right up there in terms of viability with those of newspaper journalists, and I’ve already gone down that road — so hobby it is. Plus — perhaps you’ve met me? — I am a bit of a Type A personality, and it makes me happy to know that I have a plan for our trips, and that we know our hotels are good, and that we know some of the out-of-the-way, non-touristy places to go.
But I think I can really trace my vacation fascination back to sitting with my dad as he planned our annual vacations when we were kids — back in the pre-Trip Advisor, pre-Yelp, pre-iPhone, pre-GPS days, when our best travel tools were AAA TripTiks, AAA guidebooks to find hotels and restaurants, and a well-worn U.S. atlas. We used those low-tech tools to find all the interesting places our minivan could hit, and usually – a kid’s dream – amusement parks/go-cart tracks/mini golf courses.
Not every trip has been flawless. Way back when, there were traffic jams in a station wagon with vinyl seats, no air conditioning and a crying baby (looking at you, Liz), and there may have been one or two directional difficulties. (Like I said, it was the pre-GPS era.) Trips we’ve taken in the last few years have featured hours-long traffic backups at the Canadian border, record-low temps and a hailstorm in California, and — best of all — my hysterical crying breakdown over not being able to find the Avis rental car return in Paris.
But none of those things matter when vacations fade to warm memories, as all of those East Coast trips of my childhood have. If anything, they add to the fun of retelling the story years later. And all the planning you can do can’t avoid some Clark Griswold-like adventures (minus dragging the dog behind the car, you hope).
I’ll report back later this year on whatever mishaps undoubtedly await in Italy. In the meantime, I’ll keep the Dutch researchers looking good as I boost my happiness via TripAdvisor.