By Kristen Manieri

The Happy Traveler

There’s only one thing I am more passionate about than human connection and that’s travel. I spend months planning trips with my family, extending our trips longer and farther away each year. Visiting new places, experiencing new cultures, tasting new foods and having new adventures brings awe, wonderment and enchantment into my life in a way that’s far beyond what I experience in day to day life. Travel is a huge source of joy in my life.  

But after interviewing this week’s guest and reading her book, I’ve learned that there is a way to add more joy, more ease and more meaning to our travel. In fact, there’s a science to understanding how to travel better. 

Jaime Kurtz is the author of The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she regularly teaches courses on Social Psychology, Psychology of Personality, Positive Psychology, and Psychological Research Methods. 

What I loved about this conversation is that with a few small tweaks, maybe even just a small adjustment in our expectations or our itinerary, we can exponentially get more satisfaction from our time away. 

Our vacation time, especially when it’s limited to just a few weeks out of the year, feels so precious. I remember last season when I interviewed Katie Denis from Project: Time Off (LISTEN HERE), she shared that Americans forfeit over 600 million days of vacation time EVERY year. 

And I wonder if much of that lost vacation time is because many of us are just worried we’re not going to get what we actually need from our time away, that it might actually cause more stress and fatigue than if we just stayed home. 

There’s no denying the fact that travel uses up a lot of time, energy and money. It makes sense that we’d want to do it right. And as we’ve just heard from Jaime, there are definitely some secrets to unpacking better travel. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from this conversation: 


1. Travel is a wonderful way to create exciting memories and it bonds us with our travel companions. But unless you’re traveling solo, it pays to lead with empathy and to plan a trip with others’ personalities, energy levels and needs in mind.  

2. Wherever you go, there you are. Changing locations doesn’t always bring us more happiness. We take ourselves with us wherever we go. Remember that happiness is a mindset, not a location. 

3. We can use travel to encourage our personal evolution, to help us move beyond fear, and to provide opportunities to step outside of our comfort zone. We get more meaning from travel when we can build these opportunities into our travel plans.

4. Hedonic adaptation is always at play. Moment by moment we become less enthralled and affected by our surroundings. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding on where to allocate your travel dollars. 

5. Consider practicing strategic deprivation and delayed gratification. Anticipation is such a huge component of the joy we get from our experiences. Consider limiting some key highs of your trip to just a few special moments or delaying them to the last few days of your time away. 

6. Part of what makes travel meaningful is not what we see but HOW we see. For those of us who have a propensity to over plan, our vacations can feel like a giant checklist to be completed rather than moments to be experienced. Try planning less and giving way to whimsy and serendipity. 

7.  Next time you’re abroad, try word painting or sketching. You may find that you’re not only able to drink in the moment more thoroughly, but your memory of it will be much, much richer. 

8. Also, try practicing mindful photography. When we mindlessly snap photos, we outsource our memory to our smartphone and we don’t give our brains the chance to drop into the moment and really experience the object of our photo. Think about limiting your photo-taking and delaying social sharing until later in the day.

9. Having realistic expectations for our travel, even knowing ahead of time what those expectations truly are, can help us to mitigate travel disappointment. Our trips away will inevitably have their ups and downs. Knowing ahead of time that life could throw us a curve ball can help us to better handle (and be prepared for) the rocky moments away. 

10. Add buffer days to your travel so you’re not returning and jumping right back into work. Give yourself the gift of a day or two to ease back in. 

11. Watch where you think you might be saving money. It might not be worth it in the long run. 

12. Amp up anticipation, a key element of happy travel, by immersing yourself in your destination weeks, maybe months, before you depart. Look at photos, learn the language and try the native cuisine as you count down to your departure date. 

13. Spend some time when you get home reflecting on your trip. How were you changed? What did you learn about yourself? How did you grow? 


A big, huge thanks to Jaime Kurtz for being my guests this week. You can connect with her at jaimekurtz.com and you can find her book, The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, wherever you do your book buying. 

If you enjoyed this topic, I encourage you to dive into two more interviews from last season: the interview with Katy Denis from Project: Time Off and with travel writer Rachelle Lucas

Until next time, 

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