How To Make The Most Of Your Vacation: A Scientific Guide

So, you've bought your plane ticket, booked a hotel, packed your suitcase, and achieved your "bikini body" (by which I mean you bought a bathing suit, because all bodies are bikini bodies). Now, you may think you've done everything you need to prepare for summer vacation — but there are actually some less obvious, more mental preparations you can make. Don't worry; there's no drastic action needed on your part. People have already studied how to enjoy vacations so that you can sit back, relax, and, well, enjoy your vacation.

As far as investments go, taking a vacation is one of the surest ways to maximize your happiness per dollar spent. Vacations can not only provide fun experiences during your time off but also give you great memories to enjoy down the road. Whether you're backpacking through the mountains, touring a foreign city, basking in the sun on a tropical beach, or taking a "staycation" in your own town, how you remember your vacation can be as important as whether you remember to pack sunscreen. (Still, though, pack sunscreen.) Here are some psychologically proven ways to get the maximum happiness out of your vacation while it's happening, as well as gain some additional enjoyment long after your plane ride home.

1. Plan ahead... way ahead.


Have you ever experienced the sad realization that you spent more time looking forward to something than you did experiencing it? That doesn't have to be a bad thing. Embrace it by devoting as much time as possible to planning your vacation activities. “People are excited when they're looking forward to the satisfaction they'll get from purchases like vacations," psychologist Amit Kumar told New York Magazine, so why not draw out this excitement?

2. However, manage your expectations.


You can look forward to your vacation without setting up unrealistic expectations. If you simply believe your time off will be good rather than the best experience of your life, you'll more likely be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. Some researchers have theorized that the Danish are among the happiest people in the world because their culture encourages low expectations.

3. Begin and end your vacation with a bang.


The parts of experiences that stick out most in our memories are beginnings and endings, happiness researcher Dr. Margaret Campbell told New York Magazine, so don't muddle your arrival and departure with hasty packing and unpacking or stressful logistical planning. Instead, welcome yourself to your new destination with a swim, walk, or trip to the hotel bar and save your nicest meal or excursion for your day of departure.

4. Forget about last year's vacation — or your friends' vacations.


One surefire way to ruin your enjoyment of an experience is to compare it to another one. The same way that eating a good appetizer can make you enjoy a meal less, loving your vacation is harder when you're aware that it could be better. Campbell recommends focusing on the unique aspects of your vacation rather than likening it to another one of yours or anyone else's — because ultimately, that's comparing apples and oranges.

5. Leave work at work.


If you're working on vacation, you haven't really gone on vacation; you've just gotten yourself a temporary new office. Even though it may not seem like it, just checking your work email can prevent you from getting into the vacation mindset. Instead, set up a vacation auto-response and make sure you've done everything you need to get done before you leave. You may also want to consider disabling your phone's email or even your calls and texts, though I know that's a tall order for all the smartphone addicts out there.

6. Share your best vacation stories.


You may spend a few days or weeks on your vacation, but you'll spend years remembering it — and the stories you tell immediately afterward will set the tone for how you recall it. After all, our memories are often actually memories of memories, so we can shape our own recollections of events by choosing to remember them positively. Keeping photos of our best moments can also help us savor our vacations when we're back at work and carry a piece of summer with us all year round.

Images: GorVlad/Flickr; Giphy (6)