'Vacation anticipation' makes you happier without actually travelling

The only thing that Julian Gan loves more than going for a holiday is counting down the days to one. He enjoys the nitty-gritty of making detailed and necessary travel arrangements for family and friends.

Once the logistics of the vacation have been sorted, Gan would patiently wait for the actual trip with bubbling excitement.

“The best thing for me is when I get to read up on articles about the place I’m going and what I can do there, ” he says, adding that he always looks forward to exploring hidden gems at a new destination.

“I would count down the weeks to my holiday. It’s exciting, but I also feel anxious at the same time because I want to make sure I don’t forget to book for anything in advance, ” he says.

The mere thought of going on a holiday can bring an immediate sense of joy to many. Many experts have stressed on the benefits of vacation anticipation. — PexelsThe mere thought of going on a holiday can bring an immediate sense of joy to many. Many experts have stressed on the benefits of vacation anticipation. — Pexels

Gan, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, would typically plan about three trips a year, with the year-end holidays being the main event. In the past, he has spent Christmas holidays with his family in Europe and Japan.

Back in 2019, he organised a trip for some close friends to Hat Yai in Thailand.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has taken the joy of travelling away from many people around the world.

“Nowadays, you can still read up on holiday destinations but you don’t know when you’ll be able to travel again. It is starting to give this opposite effect where instead of excitement, you feel depressed when you think about when we get to go on holiday again, ” Gan says.

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Being in a new environment when we travel can boost our mood. — FilepicBeing in a new environment when we travel can boost our mood. — Filepic

For many people like Gan, travelling – or even the act of planning for and anticipating a holiday – can be a powerful source of happiness.

With the ongoing pandemic, many are deprived of that exciting feeling of looking forward to a holiday. It has given rise to what travel experts call vacation anticipation – or rather, lack of vacation anticipation, these days.

Planning for happiness

The mere thought of going on a holiday can bring an immediate sense of joy to many. Many experts have stressed on the benefits of vacation anticipation.

It’s a phenomenon that has been substantiated by many studies over the years.

A study by Cornell University in 2014 found that anticipation of an experience (like an upcoming holiday) can increase a person’s sense of happiness tremendously. Another 2002 research by the University of Surrey, meanwhile, found that people feel happiest when they have a holiday planned.

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The mere thought of going on a holiday can bring an immediate sense of joy to many.The mere thought of going on a holiday can bring an immediate sense of joy to many.

Matthew Killingsworth, one of the co-authors of the Cornell study, explains that planning for a vacation can encourage a more positive outlook in individuals.

In his interview with National Geographic, the researcher says this is because humans “spend a lot of our mental lives living in the future”.

“Our future-mindedness can be a source of joy if we know good things are coming, and travel is an especially good thing to have to look forward to, ” he says.

The novelty of a travel experience at a new destination, according to Killingsworth, will stimulate the mind too.

“In a sense, we start to ‘consume’ a trip as soon as we start thinking about it, ” he says.

Killingsworth adds that playing out possibilities of different scenarios about the trip give travellers something positive to occupy their minds.

Travel has become a necessity

The start of the pandemic, unfortunately, has spelled the end of travel for many people globally. In Malaysia, the movement control order and various travel restrictions have taken a toll on the mental health of many.

The first MCO last year saw increased reports of mental health issues like depression, loneliness and anxiety as a result of prolonged isolation.

The inability to travel, according to some experts, has contributed to deteriorating mental health globally.

Asean Tourism Research Association president Professor Dr Neethiahnanthan Ari Ragavan says going on holidays has a positive correlation to our overall physical and mental well-being.

“Regular holidays are important for both our physical and mental health and it can make a big difference to our productivity and morale. It helps to reduce stress through disconnection from our daily lifestyle and workplace. It creates new memories to cherish and share among family and friends.

“Holidays also create a sense of peace and enjoyment to the traveller breaking away from normal routine, ” says Prof Neethiahnanthan, who is also the executive dean at Taylor’s University’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Leisure Management.

“Holidaying has today become a necessity and is more than just a luxury, ” he adds.

Prof Neethiahnanthan cites a poll conducted by the US Travel Association which highlights that depression and anxiety from a stressful life can be eliminated with travel.

The study also found that 86% of those who travel are more satisfied with their outlook on life, compared to the 75% who do not travel.

According to Prof Neethiahnanthan, there are also health risks associated with the lack of travel.

The Framingham Heart Study found that those who have not gone on vacation for several years were more likely to suffer from heart attacks than those who travel annually.

“This is because those who get away from their work and homes are typically less stressed and less anxious, hence, decreasing the strain on their hearts. In fact, travellers also reported that their stress-free and light-hearted feelings lasted for weeks after they returned home from their vacation, ” Prof Neethiahnanthan explains.

Many Malaysians took the chance to go on domestic holidays during the recovery MCO phase. — FilepicMany Malaysians took the chance to go on domestic holidays during the recovery MCO phase. — FilepicMalaysians had a short respite when interstate travel was allowed during the nationwide recovery MCO phase last year (and for a few months this year for several states). Many locals took this period to go on domestic holidays.

However, amid a spike in Covid-19 cases, Malaysians are once again restricted from tourism activities and urged to stay home.

The travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, according to Prof Neethiahnanthan, has negatively affected the well-being of many folks here.

“The present travel restrictions that have been imposed by the government has gravely impacted the well-being of people, especially on mental wellness.

“With little room to move around due to such limitations this has further created frustration, anxiety and in some extreme cases, contributing towards depression, ” he explains.

The inability to go for a holiday, Prof Neethiahnanthan says, further compounds the situation at hand.

Recreating special moments at home

The good news is that we are able to recreate some semblance of the positive feeling associated with going – or looking forward – to a holiday.

“The more active you are with your leisure time and the more control you have over your free time, the more likely you are to be satisfied with your life overall, ” says Prof Neethiahnanthan.

He recommends online gatherings such as virtual coffee meets, prayers or well-being activities with family and friends.

Planning for future trips is also a great way to get excited about the future. It takes a bit of daydreaming to achieve this, says The New Happy founder Stephanie Harrison.

Prof Neethiahnanthan says holidaying has today become a necessity. — Taylor’s UniversityProf Neethiahnanthan says holidaying has today become a necessity. — Taylor’s University“Anticipatory savouring is a form of time-travel: projecting yourself into the future to imagine what a positive experience, like a trip, will be like, which then increases your positive emotions in the present moment, ” she says in an interview with Well + Good.

According to Harrison, it’s possible to experience vacation anticipation even if you’re not actually going to travel.

She recommends making a list of the benefits from travel – such as immersing in new experiences and exploring new cultures – and then figure out a way to achieve these desires in your daily life at home.

On frequent traveller Gan’s part, he prefers to get into tangible actions instead of just dreaming about a hypothetical list.

“So far, I have been redecorating my room to feel slightly closer to my favourite place to go on holiday, Japan. I have also been browsing at online stores that sell items with Japanese influence, such as minimalism-inspired items.

“It may not seem like much, but it keeps the excitement up until the moment travel is safe again, ” he concludes.

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