Anatomy of a Vacation

Note: This post was automatically generated from John’s weekly newsletter, The Daly Grind. If you encounter broken links or images, you can go here to read from the original newsletter: Read More

The older I get, the more I look forward to getting out of the house and going on trips. Part of it comes from working at home, which I’ve been doing for well over a decade now. On weekdays, unless I’m running an errand or helping out a family member, I’m sitting alone in a room, punching away on a keyboard for hours on-end, and not really talking to anyone (except the dogs at times). Being a fairly social guy, that can get kind of old. So, whenever there’s an opportunity to drive or fly off somewhere for a few days, I jump at it.

A lot of people think of vacations as relaxing, but I’ve never really viewed them that way. I’m not big on lying around on a beach, in a hammock, or in a pool, and just enjoying the weather (though I understand why others like that). I’m more into it for the change of gears. I like doing things I haven’t done and seeing things I haven’t seen. And because of that, I’m also not big on long vacations. I’d rather fit a lot into a few days, and then get while the gettin’s good, because after four or so days in the same spot, some monotony sets in, and I start to feel like I’ve overstayed my welcome.

My family thinks I’m weird in that sense (and in other senses too, believe me). They favor long, restful vacations, so whenever we travel together, there are definitely compromises made.

I recently read a piece by Cass Sunstein and Tali Sharot — one of the psychological nature — that put into words why my approach to vacations, and why it may even carry with it a little sense. It has to do with habituation.

From the article:

Habituation. That’s our brain’s tendency to respond less and less to things that are constant, that don’t change. As we get used to the pleasant aspects of our life, both big (a loving spouse, a comfortable home, a good job) and small (a great view, a tasty dish), we notice and appreciate them less. Unless, that is, you break up the experience.

Specifically on the topic of vacations, the two wrote about a series of interviews Sharot conducted a while back at a resort in the Dominican Republic, where she asked vacationers what makes them happy and why:

When the data was in, she noticed one word that appeared again and again: first. Vacationers spoke of the joy of “seeing the ocean for the first time”, the “first swim in the pool”, the “first sip of a holiday cocktail”. Firsts seemed hugely important. You cannot habituate to a first.

As firsts usually happen earlier in a vacation, Tali wondered if people had a better time at the start of their trips. Luckily, the large travel company with which she was working had asked customers from around the world to rate their feelings throughout their holidays. Crunching those numbers revealed that joy peaked 43 hours in. At the end of day two, after people had got their bearings, was when they were happiest. Thereafter it was all downhill.

The two were careful to note that it wasn’t as if the interviewees found themselves miserable by the end of their vacations. The high points were just felt to be in the first couple of days.

This evidence suggests that you might benefit most from several small trips spread through the year, rather than one long escape. That way, you will maximize firsts and afterglows, not to mention the pleasure of anticipation, which you will experience more often.


All that said, I do have some favorite long-weekend destinations that I haven’t grown tired of yet. Estes Park, Colorado, where I wrote this week’s newsletter (and is just a little over an hour’s drive from my house), has yet to get old. And unlike a lot of travelers who visit this place, I like Estes in the winter just as much as in the summer…

… even at times when 36 inches of snow drop over just two days.

… and especially with my family (with the kids on Spring break).


Do you have a vacation formula you prefer? Tell me about in an email or in the comment section below.

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Random Thought

Obligatory Dog Shot

Well, I coulda’ been an actor, but I wound up here.
I just have to look good, I don’t have to be clear.
Come and whisper in my ear.
Give us dirty laundry.

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