Americans finally have reason to (cautiously) dream about travel again.
f you’re wondering how to be a good traveler in the time of COVID-19, look to the words of ancient Chinese philosopher and author Lao Tzu. Among his many notable wise quotes is this one: “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
Fact is, we don’t know when we’ll be able to travel freely again, but there’s reason to be optimistic we could be catching flights (not feelings) sometime in 2021. In November, we learned that one of the candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, was more than 90 percent effective in preventing volunteers from contracting the virus—news that sparked a dim light at what we hope is the end of the very long tunnel we’ve been wandering in our masks since March.
If all the wandering has stirred up some wanderlust in you, you are not alone. And stoking the fire of your passion for travel is so much more than just a guilty pleasure—it’s an exercise shown by science to boost your mental health and emotional well-being. To which we sing, “Dream on, dream until your dreams come true.” There’s some good news for globe-trotters: Although most people have back-burnered their leisure travel for now, trip planning doesn’t need to be canceled too.
“According to researchers, looking ahead to your next adventure could benefit your mental health,” writes Erica Jackson Curran in National Geographic. “Even if you’re not sure when that adventure will be.”
To back that idea up, Curran points to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder found that people were happier during the planning stages of a vacation than they were after taking one. Put another way, we’re likely to enjoy the anticipation of a trip more than we enjoy reminiscing about it afterward, a theory that was seconded and thirded by later studies.
According to findings by researcher Jeroen Nawijn published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, travelers planning a vacation reported being happier than people who aren’t dreaming of their next escape. That 2010 study found that all vacationers experienced a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of a trip. “For most,” the researchers concluded, “the enjoyment starts weeks, even months before the holiday actually begins.”
We all could benefit from some more enjoyment right now. The global pandemic has taken a toll on American’s well-being, as multiple global surveys and reports have shown. One study revealed that Americans are experiencing the lowest levels of happiness in 50 years. And according to results of the latest Ipsos survey on global happiness released in October, the prevalence of happiness is down more than nine points in the United States compared with last year. Of those surveyed, 25 percent reported being “not very happy” and six percent saying they are “not happy at all.”
If you can relate, now’s the time to start planning your next escape. A new poll conducted by the Institute for Applied Positive Research backed up earlier studies, finding that simply planning a trip can help boost happiness and alleviate stress. According to the institute’s founder Michelle Gielan, “Booking a trip—even just getting it on the calendar—might be the very thing we need to restore our emotional immune system after months of mounting uncertainty and stress.”
If your bank account is laughing at the thought of booking a vacation, first applaud its sense of humor. Then reassure it that dreaming of getting away at any point in the future is not an exercise in futility: planning for life returning to normal can be a comforting activity amid all the uncertainty. Just because you couldn’t swing a trip in the immediate future doesn’t negate the positive impact that anticipating a vacation can have on your mental health.
This is a long way of suggesting you go start a Pinterest board or two to populate with photos of whatever exotic paradise catches your wandering, lusting eye. Because one day—perhaps one day soonish— you can be on your way to finding it. There’s no time like the present to plan your future escape. It’s all but guaranteed to bring joy to your world this holiday season.