by Katrina Calihan
Travel invites us to break free from our routines, explore the world, unwind, play and revitalize our hearts and minds. However, limited time off and ever-increasing work demands can make it difficult to get away and spend vacation time traveling. The effort to plan an adventure and the discomfort of a cramped coach seat leave some travelers preferring a “stay-cation.” But for those who make the effort, it’s almost always worthwhile.
Peak-End Rule: The Key to Creating Memorable Experiences
Planning vacations to generate positive memories for a lifetime and to get us packing for the next adventure is not up to chance, it’s science. Psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s research finds that our evaluation of an experience in the moment is quite different than how we remember it.
In fact, as Kahneman discusses in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” what we remember most readily about our experiences is two-fold—we remember our peak moment, which is the time of greatest intensity (positive or negative), and what happens at the end of an experience. This well-researched phenomenon is referred to as peak-end rule, and it has important applications when it comes to planning your long-awaited and well-deserved vacation.
Next time you plan a trip, consider how the peak-end rule can help. Most of the fun of traveling, especially with others, is that the memories last much longer than the experience itself. The length of the vacation may not matter because our remembering self doesn’t catalog duration.
When making choices about how to spend your time during your travels, keep a few things in mind:
Plan one special highlight, or peak experience, on every trip. Even if you’re a die-hard beach bum, do at least one exciting, out-of-the-ordinary activity, perhaps a challenging hike or in-town exploration of the culture.
Save something amazing and memorable for your last day. Go out with a bang! Pull the trigger on that excursion that caught your eye or save the best restaurant for last. Using these peak-end rule tips for travel planning will elevate positive memories from your vacation. And, because how we remember informs how we make future decisions, you’ll be packing soon for your next big adventure.
On a trip to Argentina last year, I booked a guided excursion to ice hike on a glacier and kayak through icebergs. While it was a significant investment, it was the peak of the entire trip, and it’s the first memory that pops into mind when I reminisce about this vacation.
Savor the Present
Positive psychology gives us another practice, called savoring, for maximizing vacation experiences. Most commonly we think of savoring when it comes to food—chocolate, anyone? But savoring can be done as an intentional practice with anything that brings you happiness and pleasure. It is the act of enjoying and sharing what is good in life. Savoring boosts our well-being by deepening gratitude, increasing positive emotions, enabling mindfulness and augmenting meaning in life.
In their book “ Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience,” psychologists Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff outline three forms of savoring: anticipation, savoring the moment itself and reminiscing. Here are a few tips to help you savor your next vacation.
Plan ahead. People who plan well in advance may feel more joy because they anticipate the upcoming experience. It carries you through the long work weeks and gives you something to look forward to.
Be present. Pause from time to time when you’re on vacation to take in the details. Breathe, focus on how you’re feeling and cultivate gratitude for the experience.
Be intentional about reminiscing. When you get back into the swing of work and need a boost, call on the memories and mental photographs from your vacation. Use your photos, perhaps by making a screensaver or creating an album with online tools such as Shutterfly to spark reminiscing. Share a slideshow of those images with your friends and family and recount your trip. Linger in the details. Remember how the food tasted, how the sun felt on your skin, how jubilant you were during your peak experience.
As a positive psychology practitioner, I mindfully and intentionally apply the principles of peak-end theory and savoring research to create standout, memorable travel adventures. I cherish the few times a year I get to travel with my loved ones, and it takes only a small amount of planning and awareness to make these experiences unforgettable.
Don’t cast aside your vacation time again this year because of your increasingly busy life. You earned it. Whether you need an extended weekend or a longer reboot for your well-being, it’s time to start planning—and savoring—a vacation to remember.
Katrina Calihan is a positive psychology expert, yogi and the founder of Point of Arrival, a well-being and leadership coaching and training company. Learn more about Katrina at point-of-arrival.com.