Now that fall is fast approaching, many families are embarking on their last getaway of the season. Wondering how to best capitalize on your time off? Scientists have studied the smartest ways to holiday, and their suggestions might surprise you.
Longer isn’t always better
Working parents often dream about taking long, luxurious vacations with their families, far away from work and day-to-day responsibilities. However, research suggests that it’s not the length of the vacation that determines how satisfying it is—it’s actually how far in advance you plan it. A group of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that people are happier during the planning stages of a holiday—when they’re gleefully imagining what they might do, wear, or eat on a trip—than they are after the vacation ends. Common sense backs this up; studies have found that parents often return to a greater workload, tight deadlines, and higher stress levels for both themselves and their children (who may have grown accustomed to a looser schedule), which can counteract many of the benefits the break itself provided.
Comparatively, in the eight weeks leading up to a holiday, both parents and children get to daydream about the trip, which lowers stress levels and boosts feelings of happiness and anticipation. In order to get the most out of your time off, scientists propose that vacationers should try to take two or more shorter breaks throughout the year, rather than one long trip—and schedule it at least two months in advance for the best pre-holiday mood boost.
Make the first few days great and end with a bang
So, how do you get the most out of a vacation? Before it starts, allow yourself to spend time anticipating and planning. Planning is especially important for vacationing families—knowing what activities you’ll do with and without the kids, deciding how you’ll schedule your time, and obtaining a summer nanny are integral steps for capitalizing on a holiday’s relaxation potential.
During the trip itself, you want to make especially sure that it starts well and ends well. Studies suggest that due to the way the human brain categorizes experiences, people don’t remember a vacation in a day-to-day context; rather, how we feel about the beginning and the end of a trip tends to color our memory of the whole experience. This is supported by the “Peak-End Rule,” which is a theory stating that people tend to judge a given experience by its most intense point (good or bad) and its end. According to happiness researcher Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, there is solid evidence that the beginning of a vacation leaves the most intense impact on a person’s memory, so be sure to frontload your trip with the activities you’re most excited about.
Relaxation, relaxation, relaxation!
The terrible truth of holidays is that the happiness that comes after taking one doesn’t last. In fact, it tends to fade almost entirely by our first day back at work. However, a study conducted by Dutch researcher Jeroen Nawijn found that vacationers who said that their trips were “very relaxing” (as opposed to simply “relaxing”) reported feelings of happiness that lingered for several weeks after the vacations ended. A separate study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, found that people felt better after time off that included lots of relaxation, sleep, and passive activities.
What does this mean to you? Partnering with a summer nanny agency to find a temporary vacation nanny to look after and play with your children while you relax could be the difference between a vacation high that lasts for weeks and one that fades within days of your return. After all, holidays aren’t just for the kids—oftentimes; parents need the break even more. Getting a break, however small, from your children and your work life will make you a more relaxed and supportive parent. And who doesn’t want that?