Will traveling make you happy?

Is there a formula for a happy vacation?

Even if your personality is perfectly suited to derive enjoyment from vacation, you won't enjoy one that's gone terribly awry. Jet lag from a long flight, getting sick from eating local food and even spending your vacation days waiting in lines at theme parks could knock your vacation out of the "relaxing" category deemed joy-producing [source: Nawijn].

One study showed that a person's ability to gain "life satisfaction" from traveling banked on whether he or she didn't experience certain things, like feeling tired, getting sick, gaining weight or worrying about catching a disease. Concerns about running out of money on the trip and returning from the trip broke, and spending money on frivolous things also made that list [source: Virginia Tech]. Basically, as long as the trip didn't trigger those types of negative thoughts, it was considered relaxing enough to provide satisfaction.

You might think taking a longer trip will mean more happiness for you, but research shows that length of vacation doesn't affect happiness levels at all [source: Nawijn]. And since vacation anticipation is so important, a spontaneous, last-minute trip can't be the best option for accruing happiness points.

But what about those vacations that aren't intended to be relaxing? A mission trip to a poverty-stricken area in Africa or a backpacking wilderness challenge in the Sierra Nevada surely can't be as relaxing as a week lying on the beach doing nothing. Can such trips also provide happiness?

Mission trips and wilderness challenges fall into the category of the transformative trip -- a trip that is designed to be a life-changing experience for the vacationer. On such a trip, the traveler is thrust into completely unfamiliar territory and faced with unfamiliar challenges. In this territory, away from the pressures and influences of everyday life, the traveler is likely to come up with solutions that would have seemed futile in his or her home environment. Such trips can help travelers break unhealthy patterns and experiment with new ones [source: Ross].

Therefore, there's great potential to solve problems at home by vacationing someplace else [source: Lehrer]. Some researchers even believe travel could be prescribed as treatment for the clinically depressed [source: Science Alert].

Whatever your reasons for traveling, in most cases, happiness levels drop off pretty quickly post-vacation. So, what's a traveler to do about that sad fact? Plan another trip. A few short trips a year, with plenty of eager anticipation time in between, may just increase one's happiness levels over the long haul.

For more travel articles, check out the links below.

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  • Akerstrom, Lola. "The 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time." Matadornetwork.com. March 7, 2008. (June 16, 2011) http://matadornetwork.com/bnt/50-most-inspiring-travel-quotes-of-all-time/
  • Bryant, Fred B. "Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savoring." Journal of Mental Health. 2003. (June 16, 2011) http://www.carolinemiller.com/info/Savoring_Belief_Inventory_Bryant.pdf
  • De Botton, Alain. "The Art of Travel." Vintage Books. New York. 2002.
  • "Holidays Help Boost Happiness Levels." Science Alert. July 20, 2010. (June 16, 2011) http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20102007-21156.html
  • Lehrer, Jonah. "Why We Travel." The Observer. March 14, 2010. (June 16, 2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/mar/14/why-travel-makes-you-smarter
  • "Marketing Professor Studies Vacation's Impact on Happiness." Virginia Tech. July 2, 2009. (June 16, 2011) http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2009/07/2009-510.html
  • Nawijn, Jeroen; Miquelle A. Marchand; Ruut Veenhoven; Ad J. Vingerhoets. "Vacationers Happier, but Most Not Happier After a Holiday." The International Society for Applied Quality-of-life Studies. Feb. 10, 2010. (June 16, 2011) http://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=105695
  • Parker, Tara. "How Vacations Affect Your Happiness." The New York Times. Feb. 18, 2010. (June 16, 2011) http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/how-vacations-affect-your-happiness/
  • Rosenbloom, Stephanie. "But will it make you happy?" The New York Times. Aug. 7, 2010. (June 16, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1308241131-sHmkZ0AI2la6k7BsJvz/Ew&pagewanted=1
  • Ross, Susan. "Transformative Travel: An Enjoyable Way to Foster Radical Change." ReVision. (June 16, 2011) http://www.transformationintegration.com/uploads/ROSS_TT_ARTICLE.pdf