Research Says That the Simple Act of Planning a Trip Can Help Boost Your Mental Health

Studies from Cornwall University have found that people who plan a trip in advance experience better feelings about their social situation, economic means, their state of health, and life in general.

It goes without saying that planning a trip in this moment would surely be difficult. There’s a strong chance no one but Italians will be under the Tuscan sun this spring or summer, according to the Italian Minister for Culture and Tourism.

However, that’s no reason to put off your vacation planning this year, as it could likely give you a significant mental boost during these turbulent times. Back in 2014, University of Cornwall researchers Amit Kumar and Matthew Killingsworth published a paper on how experiences provide more satisfaction than material goods.

The paper focused on an often overlooked aspect of an otherwise commonly researched field—experiential versus material consumption and the psychological effects of both before the consumption takes place.

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The study found that delayed gratitude, especially as it relates to travel, was more pleasurable than both immediate consumption and delayed consumption of material goods and services. Another 2002 paper reinforced this idea when it found that UK citizens were happier when they had a holiday trip planned.

“It appears that those who are waiting to go on a holiday are much happier with their life as a whole, experience less negative or unpleasant feelings and thus enjoy an overall net positive effect from pleasant feelings. The holiday-taking group is also happier with their family, economic situation, and health domains compared to the non-holiday-taking group,” reads the study’s abstract.

The Journey Begins with You

“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,” Killingsworth told Nat Geo.

Planning a trip can be especially exciting because we often know just enough about where we’re going and what we’re going to do to begin imagining specific pleasurable details of the places—like the sensation of the sun or the smell of campfire smoke in the forest—but there are also enough absent details to leave us wondering about the novelty of different moments.

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“In a sense, we start to ‘consume’ a trip as soon as we start thinking about it,” Killingsworth says. “When we imagine eating gelato in a piazza in Rome or going water skiing with friends we don’t see as much as we’d like, we get to experience a version of those events in our mind.”

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By Hernán Piñera, CC license

Travel Planning Therapy

If you’re the kind of person who likes to plan a trip, there are a lot of reasons why starting right now could be very rewarding beyond the above mentioned improvements in mental health.

  1. While COVID-19 presents a challenge both in terms of the danger it poses to health and the restrictions to travelers in popular tourist countries like Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Brazil, Japan and more, it provides an opportunity to visit a farther flung destination such as Bora Bora, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Oman, or the beaches of Argentina.
  2. For those looking to spend their holiday in nature, there’s added incentive as one will be away from COVID-19 danger and able to enjoy the outdoors, which many citizens in places like the UK, Italy, and the U.S. have been unable to do because of the lockdowns.
  3. Being stuck in our houses and neighborhoods for weeks without end, planning a trip can simply give us something else to talk about!
  4. Many countries in more exotic and unstable regions of the world rely heavily on the money from tourism to sustain communities. Traveling just after this pandemic and spending money will help local markets recover from the economic destitution forecast by the UN.

I have traveled to 14 countries as diverse as Nicaragua, China, and Namibia, and am currently living abroad in Italy as a contributing writer for GNN, and I can pass on some suggestions for planning a trip.

I heard once that when an Australian Aborigine takes a “walkabout” it’s as much about experiencing the land as it is about finding the sense of one’s self, and that the two are inextricably linked in some way.

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Andy Corbley, World At Large

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I like to keep in mind the towns and parks I would pass by on a journey whenever I plan a trip, picking destinations that connect over land, because I genuinely believe that the places in between is where magical things happen.

Once I have the principle destinations and activities in mind, I pull out my trusty world atlas and look at what kind of climate and terrain exists in the spaces between. After I experience the joy of feeling the pages of an atlas or a map and moving my fingers along the routes and places I want to go—which helps me feel closer to the destinations—I open Google Maps, zoom in until I can see the names of individual businesses, and I do a ‘walkabout’ along the route I’ve chosen, taking notes of all the little interesting things I see along the way.

If it begins to get stressful, file the idea away on a word document for later. You might plan an itinerary and be really excited about it without embarking for years. I planned a trip to Ecuador, Peru, and Chile for the summer of 2017, and I’m still excited about one day using it.

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