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Travel Tips, Anticipation and Happiness

Posted on Jun 3, 2014 in Travel

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Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God. – Kurt Vonnegut

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag 

The map is not the territory. – Alfred Korzybski 

Travel brings love and power back into your life – Rumi

Later today I am off to Washington DC for a brief overnight trip for a client event. I lived in DC for many years and I travel back there every month for work, so it’s not objectively something that should make me “excited.” But I am. Every time.  In fact, the anticipation of getting on a plane is already making me happy today. Gretchen Rubin wrote a nice piece about anticipation as a source of happiness that I completely agree with.

And last night, my friend Lora who is planning a trip to Sweden sent me a text asking for “my pre-travel to-do list” – she’s getting overwhelmed with the planning details and worry about forgetting something that needs to happen before she leaves. I can relate to this too. Before I left for my big trip to Asia, my tabbed excel spreadsheet included get a mammogram, get the windows washed, make an amend to ____, visit the dentist, fix the doorknob…. you get the idea. My travel plans are like planning my own funeral, every detail needs to be tied up on the way out.

But I’ve come to reconcile these two things – the happy anticipation and the obsessive worry of tying up the planning details. So Lora, this one is for you! Here are a few ways I squeeze maximum happiness out of travel:

  1. If you are an obsessive planner, just accepted the pre-planning madness and use it as a fun way to get things done that you put off.  It can be great a tool for tackling procrastination.  You can do this proactively too! If I’ve got a lot of “chores” on my list, planning a little trip (sometimes a just party works too, and my mother of all lists actually happened before Ironman) is a great way to accomplish things quickly
  2. While you are at it, add things to the list like send ____ a thank you note, tell ____ I love them, and apologize to ____ for my snippy remark last week.  These are the things that will really give you a boost
  3. Purchase a travel book. I always buy the actual book and read it on and off before I leave and on the plane. It’s a great way to anticipate the trip, learn a little about the culture, practice a few phrases if they don’t speak your native language, and – remember your trip! Write notes in the book about the things you actually did do and stuff it with your tickets and your souvenirs, and the names and contact information for the new friends you made
  4. Buy stuff. One of may favorite things about travel, especially to far-away lands, is the packing list. Before I left for Asia I bought so many cool things I finally joined REI. Backpack, a good Patagonia rain jacket, hiking sandals, scuba gear…it was a blast. My friend Chris just posted on his Facebook page yesterday “You know your life is in a weird and wonderful place when these are on the list of your vacation supplies” with a pic of a GoPro (I want one!), and Counter Assault Bear Deterrent spray.
  5. Just get there. Try not to plan too many things that actually happen on the trip itself – just before it. This takes some courage, but adds to the adventure factor big time. Cover the basics if you must, like hotel and obviously your flight, but leave space on the agenda for things you don’t know you even want to do yet and be open to changing your plans when you get there. Be flexible. Be open to surprises. If you approach it like an adventure and be curious, you will discover so much more than you could have ever planned.
  6. Carry a small notebook on the trip. This is one of my favorites! Keep little notes along the way. Don’t force yourself to do a journal; you want your head up not down in a book. Record names and numbers, interesting things people said, moments of awe, hotels that rocked. It helps you savor the experience, remember it, and experience it again even years later.
  7. Send postcards. Sharing your happy experience with others heightens your happiness. It’s also a great way savor the moment and reflect on your pleasant experiences by browsing pictures of the sights you love. I still love the old-fashioned paper cards in the tourist shops, but now they also have fancy apps that are cool too
  8. Bring back souvenirs, but think outside the box. Sure, you can get a magnet or a shot glass, but open your mind a bit about what you actually want to remember, and the feeling of it. I love to buy things at local markets and take a picture of the person who made it or sold it to me. I have a great scarf from Thailand and a photo of the woman who hand made it, and every time I wear it I can see her face! I recently met a guy who brings back a cup of sand from every journey and carefully stores it in little glass jars labeled with the date and place. I. Love. That.
  9. Wave goodbye. Remember when people used to clap when the plane landed? There is something great about taking a moment to just acknowledge the wonder of it and appreciate the moment and the experience. Sometimes it is sad to leave, like an old friend. But saying goodbye to the ocean, to the mountain, to the city, to a person– helps us to wave hello to another.

I’d love to hear your travel tips, please share!

Lora, see you in a few hours. One of the very best things about airplanes is that I can look forward to dinner this evening with people I love in Washington DC while I write a morning blog post from my home in Chicago.



  1. DZ
    June 3, 2014

    I bring a small rock back with me from everywhere I’ve gone. I have a friend who collects them. The best one was a rock from the great pyramid of Giza when I climbed to the top.

    For my religious friends I brought a vile of water back from the Jordan river.

    I bring a handful of books and my old race shirts to give out to children in some of the poorer areas I’ve been too.

    I buy medical trip insurance that covers me if I get sick ex: in eastern Asia I can be evacuated to a state side hospital or a major country like Japan to be treated.

    I make a xerox copy of my passport and birth cert and store it in my gear.

    On any overseas flight I stop at Crumbs or Sweet Mandy B’s to buy cupcakes for the flight attendants on my flight. It never fails to bring a smile to their faces.


    • Kelly O'Brien
      June 3, 2014

      I just LOVE this! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Lora Engdahl
    June 3, 2014

    I love the idea of embracing the pre-trip to-do list. My to-do list is named the “SuperMassiveToDoList” and it has everything from “have the back yard mowed’ to “do my toenails.” Every single trip I take, I am up almost the entire night before packing and then around 3am I remember my toenails and I spend the next hour filing, trimming cuticles and polishing when I should be sleeping. Please oh please God let this trip be different.

    So let’s get those toes in shape ahead of time. And at your suggestion Kelly I am adding a few things, such as calling my friend Catherine to thank her for putting me in touch with her Swedish friend Maria, and I am adding a small notebook to my packing list. Most importantly I am going to use this upcoming trip to finally do something I’ve been meaning to do forever–research my swedish ancestors. fortunately I just so happen to have a friend who does that for a living and I am outsourcing it to her capable hands.

    DZ your cupcake idea is genius. maybe I will bring some of my world famous zucchini nut bread to share with my seatmates.

    I am also using this time to make a couple of big purchuses I have been procrastinating on, including buying a camera and, most notably, buying a smart phone. So long, my cute little retro flip : (


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