How to Get the Most Out of Your Vacation

Man Floating in Pool on Vacation

Alexandr Spatari / Getty Images

Currently, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out our vacations or — at least I do. Between checking hotel rates, restaurant reviews, show schedules, and so on, vacationing is serious business.

Still, we enjoy them, right? We like to vacation. Whether on sunny beaches, within idyllic landscapes, or in big cities, it’s almost always nice to take some time off from our daily responsibilities to relax, experience, and enjoy.

But are we good at them? Do we know what we’re doing, and what really makes a good vacation? According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, no, we’re not very good at spending our leisure time. There’s some good news though, vacations can be optimized.

Here are Ariely’s three components to an optimized vacation: anticipating, experiencing and remembering.

1. Anticipation: Pre-Vacation

Vacation planning isn’t usually thought of as tons of fun. However, it turns out that we’re at our happiest before our vacation, while we’re still planning and anticipating it. In fact, merely planning a vacation increases happiness for an average of eight weeks at a time.

So for those of you short in both time and funds and are looking to make the best use of your vacation time, plan early. Last-minute impromptu adventures are great, of course, but it’s best to give yourself some time to anticipate. It gives you something fun to look forward to.

2. Experiencing: The Vacation

The best part, right? Wrong. At least as far as happiness is concerned. This is because the joys of vacations are often also intermixed with stress, anxiety, and — more times than we’d like to admit — boredom.

It’s not all bad news though. And there are ways of making it better. Here are a few:

  • Short trips are almost always better than long trips;
  • The end of the trip is more important than the beginning;
  • Who you’re with often matters the most, and;
  • If you want a memorable vacation, it’s best to try new things.

So instead of spending your money on an extended stay, cut your trip short, and make every moment count. In the end, it’s the short and intense trips that give you the most vacation bang for your buck.

3. Remembering: Post-Vacation

This probably isn’t that surprising, but studies have found that we tend to remember our vacations much more fondly than what the actual experience was. For example, you don’t tend to remember driving around for two hours on a safari, seeing nothing, but you would remember, vividly, the five minutes or so when a lion climbed on top of the jeep.

Of course, it helps if you did something that was memorable on your vacation, as entirely boring vacations beget boring recollections. So be sure you keep things interesting. It makes for good stories and memories, both of which increase happiness post-vacation.

One last thing to remember, just as we like to procrastinate with work, we tend to procrastinate in fun. That’s half the reason vacations are so much fun: they give us deadlines. Which is good. While adding some stress, deadlines also provide us with good incentives to go out and do things. Fun things. As such, don’t procrastinate too long, and remember to ask for the time off; people “forget” to more often than you’d think.

So, in conclusion, the key to a great vacation? Plan early, keep it short, and experience new and fun things.

Man Floating in Pool on Vacation

Alexandr Spatari / Getty Images

Joshua Williams

Joshua Williams

Joshua is a freelance writer with years of experience blogging about business and finance, and a whole host of other things too. When he's not writing, he enjoys camping with his dog, a golden retriever named Oakley.