If you’re reading this website, chances are you already agree that travel is a pleasurable experience. It’s something you look forward to and enjoy and probably want to do more of. But since few people can travel all the time, getting the most pleasure possible out of the time we do spend traveling is worth making a priority.

I came across an interesting article that really got me pondering the idea – how can we take an already great vacation and up the ante? The article, which interviewed author Laura Vanderkam, was discussing the link between money and happiness. Among numerous insights on the subject, Vanderkam explained exactly why spending money on travel makes us so happy.

“Travel is almost always worth the splurge. You’ll anticipate the experience beforehand, live through the adventure, and then savor the memory afterwards. So even if travel is expensive, you get a triple happiness whammy for every dollar spent.”

In other words, the fact that we’re able to draw out the experience for so long is what really makes travel trigger those warm and fuzzy feelings.

When it comes to spending money on things that make us happy, Vanderkam says that activities, especially those involving learning and socializing, and are worthy expenses.

“Taking a class in a subject that intrigues you is another good use for cash…In general, people use money best when they spend on experiences, spend to nurture their social networks, and spend to buy time – a more absolutely limited resource than money.”

Now these insights are not necessarily new or revolutionary – in fact, you may have heard them before. But have you ever thought about how you could apply these principles to travel? I think there are lots of little steps we can take to get the most happiness possible from our vacations, and the fun starts months (or even years) before we ever step foot on a plane.

Prolonging the pre-trip pleasure

Since anticipation is a large part of the pleasure of traveling, try and draw this period out as long as possible. Spend a long time planning your trip and a long time doing activities that help you learn about and get psyched up about where you’re going. Here’s how.

1. Get excited about your trip by researching. Guidebooks, travel magazines, and blogs are all great for familiarizing yourself with the destination and planning your travels. There are also lots of virtual tours on the internet that can give you a little taste of what the destination you’re headed to will be like. For example, check out this virtual tour of Rio de Janiero.

2. Consider connecting with other travelers via social media. Many bloggers and travel enthusiasts are only too happy to share their thoughts and tips about the destinations you’re planning on visiting. You might even find other travelers who will be in the same place at the same time as you and are willing to meet up and explore the destination together.

3. Read novels set in the destination. Whether it’s a memoir by a travel writer or an expat, or a fictional account of life in the destination, reading a novel can really transport you to the place and may even give you ideas of activities to do when you get there.

4. Immerse yourself in the culture. Take classes or learn about something that’s an integral part of the culture in the destination you’re headed to. For example, if you’ll be going to France, learn all about cheese. Visit your supermarket and try out different varieties and get excited about experiencing an even more amazing array when you get to the country. If you’ll be visiting India, you might consider taking yoga classes and learning more about the discipline so you can connect with the spiritual side of the country. If you’re going to Napa, study up on wines (a taste test or two might be required!). If you’ll be going to Italy, you might want to take an art history class to learn more about what you’ll be seeing in the many galleries or even try your hand at a painting or pottery class. The list is virtually endless, but the point is to try something new that’ll help enrich your experience of the destination when you finally get there.

5. Learn the language. You don’t have to be fluent in another language to travel, but picking up even a few phrases can certainly enhance your travel experience. Travel can be a great motivation to learn a language and vice versa – in my experience, the more time you spend learning a language, the more driven you are to visit the country and put your skills to the test.

Fully enjoying the destination

6. See the things that are most important to you. Few tourists have the time to do absolutely everything a city or country has to offer, so to get the most out of the experience, you’ll need to prioritize what’s important to you. Do you like art galleries, nightlife, archaeological sites, shopping, or lounging by the beach? Pick the activities that matter most to you and enjoy them without worrying about what other people say are their “must-dos”.

7. That said, push yourself out of your comfort zone. Some of the best experiences in life are the unexpected ones, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Just because you’re not usually drawn to religious sites or street food or museums or whatever it might be, doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy this particular one. Certain experiences can be very different from country to country, so disliking something back home doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll dislike it at your vacation destination. To give you an example, I normally hate camping and it’s not something I would voluntarily do at home. However, when I was in Jordan, I camped in the Wadi Rum Desert with the Bedouins and it was one of the most magical, memorable experiences I’ve had.

8. Socialize. Meeting people – both locals and other travelers – is really one of the best parts of travel. The way I see it, a city is so much more than buildings and monuments – it’s the people that bring it alive. I’ve talked before about how the social aspect of travel is what makes the experience so memorable and you can read some of my tips on how to meet the locals here.

9. Splurge a little if it’ll save you time. If you’re only vacationing for a short period of time, there’s no point wasting those precious days navigating complex transit systems, or staying far from downtown to save money on your hotel, or wasting hours haggling over pennies at markets. Instead, spend a little extra and take a cab, stay in a more costly but centrally-located hotel, and cough up a little extra dough so you can limit the time spent souvenir-shopping.

Savoring your vacation once you’re home

10. Collect your memories. Whether you make a scrapbook, keep a journal, send trip-related emails to friends, or something else, recording memories of your vacation is a great way to extend the pleasure of the travel experience. As an added bonus, jotting down your thoughts will be useful years down the line when you’re struggling to remember the name of the amazing restaurant you ate at or when you forget the funny anecdotes from your vacation.

11. Organize, share, and frame your photos. Going through your travel photos can be a fun way to reminisce about your trip, and organizing them while the vacation details are still fresh in your mind is much easier than after the particulars of your journey become fuzzy memories. Sharing photos on facebook encourages people to ask you about your trip giving you another chance to relive the memories. And finally, by framing your favorite pictures and putting them somewhere prominent, you’ll have a constant reminder of the great trip you took.

What do you think? Do you do any of these things? How do you eke out the maximum pleasure from your travels?

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