It’s hard not to be able to travel as I’d like. 2020 is a blur of canceled plans and places not visited. What has been even harder is not being able to plan future travel. The uncertainty of what the next week, month, or year will bring makes it impossible for me to think about 2021 plans yet.
To be honest, it’s occasionally really bummed me out. I’ve chalked it up to being a #firstworldproblem and tried to shake it off. As it turns out, “Vacation anticipation” is a real thing and can be an important part of our psychological well being.
An article in the Los Angeles Times goes into the science of what happens to us before, during and after we travel. Many of us, myself included, have made traveling and travel planning a vital part of our self-care. Before a trip, we anticipate what it will be like. We then get to experience the trip and afterward get to compare what happened to what we imagined.
Our brains are wired to have us engage with good things and avoid bad ones. That’s why looking to future (positive) events generates stronger emotions than looking back at the past. This is why anticipating a trip can be more enjoyable than the trip itself. If you’ve ever done a trip countdown then you understand how this can be true.
So what happens to us when we’re not traveling? I unknowingly wrote a journal of how I was feeling during the shutdown in a series of posts. Back in March, I wrote about how I was sad when I canceled our planned trips. At the end of the month, I was dealing with not being able to plan any travel. Sound familiar to what I described above? Part of my routine was gone with no trips on the schedule and nothing to plan.
In April, I was still holding on to the hope that our big trip in November was going to happen but I started preparing for the fact that it might not. By July, I had conceded that we weren’t going to Japan but I started to form alternate plans, even if I knew we’d never use most of them.
Going back to the L.A. Times article, besides explaining why we enjoy planning vacations, it also gives some hints on how to re-create that feeling even when you’re not taking any large trips. As it turns out, our brains respond the same no matter the size or scale of what we’re planning. Day trips or low-key getaways provide the same mental pick-me-up as a trip around the world.
I found this out on my own. Remember when I said that our day trip to the beach was our best vacation of the year?
Just recently, we rented a cabin in Georgia and I looked forward to this getaway more than any other of our recent pre-coronavirus trips. I can’t tell you how excited I was to be going on vacation (and get to use my packing list.)
While I’m usually the one who does the travel planning, Sharon’s getting involved with our upcoming trip. She spent hours upon hours scouring Airbnb listings to find a place for our next getaway and finding out what’s open in the cities we’re going to visit.
But what if you’re not planning on going anywhere? You don’t need to leave town or even your house to stimulate the anticipation part of your brain. Anything you plan will do the trick. If you’re not going anywhere special, create an experience for yourself. Plan a special dinner. Go to a local attraction. Or just set aside some time where you treat yourself to do whatever you’d like to do.
We did this to make ourselves feel a little better over the weekend when we should have been visiting Texas and going to Schlitterbahn. We re-created our favorite meal from the Huisache Grill and Wine Bar and made an evening of it.
I found out about many things mentioned in the article on my own. It was interesting to match my progression to the scientific explanations behind my actions.
So if you’ve been bummed our about not traveling, you’re not alone. Just know there’s a reason behind why you’re feeling that way and use some of the tricks mentioned to give your brain a boost of anticipation.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary