In my home office, I list the vacations Adam and I are planning to take on a white board that hangs on the wall. The white board is a constant work in progress; destinations are added, removed, and shuffled almost daily. I use the list as a regular source of inspiration, a reminder of all that I have to look forward to when it’s time to use a few vacation days and explore the world.
This year, for the first time in more than a decade, the list has remained static. It has been weeks since we’ve made a change to our travel plans, and it will be many more weeks before we do. Like all of you, COVID-19—the coronavirus—has upended my plans for 2020. With much of the world now facing a period of social distancing and stay-at-home orders aimed at eliminating the virus and minimizing the lives impacted by it, travel is simply not on the horizon in the near future.Millions of people around the world have had their vacations disrupted or cancelled, and it feels counterproductive to think about travel the way we did just a few months ago. For those of us facing a best-case scenario, travel simply isn’t possible right now. For many people, jobs have been furloughed or eliminated, and many employees are being asked to sacrifice vacation time or use it as sick time as companies navigate a professional environment like nothing we have ever seen. Through most lenses, the landscape looks bleak.
We could all use an escape right about now. A vacation, if you will.
Enter the rise of the armchair traveler.
There has never been a better or more needed moment to start planning your next vacation— even if you’re planning a vacation you can’t take now. If you could use a mood boost or an escape to a far-off place, here’s why armchair travel can get you through this surprising global turbulence.
Armchair Travel Boosts Your HappinessAlthough this is one of the most serious episodes in our shared history, planning a vacation you can’t take now is surprisingly good advice—and it’s not new. A 2010 study1 published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that the simple act of planning a vacation boosts happiness levels for adults. Sheer anticipation is responsible for the lift; the study noted that, “For most, the enjoyment starts weeks, even months before the holiday actually begins.”
When you think about it, the study’s findings make sense. Looking ahead to something positive prompts feelings of joy or excitement in many of us. If you’re looking for a way to seek happiness from home, armchair travel can provide you with the same sense of anticipation and excitement without the typical need to spend money or worry about vacation logistics.
Armchair Travel Can Help You Focus
The positivity associated with planning a vacation doesn’t change whether you are setting dates and scheduling time off or keeping your plans fluid and abstract. A 2017 study2 published in eNeuro found that participants who were given something to look forward to were more likely to stay focused on their long-term goals. When you think about it, the findings are not surprising: many of us can relate to the concept of “working for the weekend,” where we diligently dial into conference calls and write up meeting minutes as we wait for Friday evening and two weekend days of carefree bliss as our reward. The promise of the reward—a fun weekend—inspires us to power through more challenging situations.Although vacations serve many purposes, including making us more productive employees, they make great rewards. Over the years, we have planned and strategically scheduled vacations after submitting a major work deliverable or completing a huge project. When tasks felt difficult, a quick glance at the calendar reminded us to stay strong for just a few more weeks before we could finally get on a plane and jet toward a whole new experience. These days, if there is one thing we all need it’s a reward. We need a reward for staying strong in the face of uncertainty, worry, and even fear. We need a reward for displaying agility as we learn to work remotely, use new technology, and communicate with people who no longer sit across the table from us during meetings.
There has been nothing easy about the last few weeks, but the thought of a reward—such as a vacation—might be just the thing to keep us focused.
Armchair Travel Helps Us Escape
There’s a beautiful escapism that comes with planning a vacation, and we’ve never needed that escapism more than we do right now. In a world that constantly reminds us about the negative, the scary, and the ominous, we need moments of peace and levity for balance. That’s why allowing yourself to get lost in Pinterest, fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, or disappear into a sea of Instagram photos might be the very escape you need. Knowing that planning a vacation can boost your happiness and improve your focus, it may be your very best tool in the fight against anxiety, boredom, and the unknown.
Tips for Planning a Vacation You Can’t Take Now
Planning a vacation you can’t take now is a great way to let your inner armchair traveler daydream about the corners of the globe you would love to explore while focusing on building your happiness. Here are a few ideas to help you incorporate some healthy escapism into your day!
► Think about the futureFor many people, taking vacations won’t be a possibility in the coming months, especially if your company is not offering paid time off or requiring you to use it as sick or personal time. While it may be discouraging to think about a year without a vacation, consider when a vacation might work for you toward the end of the year or the beginning of next year. You may want the instant gratification that comes with planning and taking a vacation in quick succession, but planning a vacation for a much later date may be just as fulfilling and adds plenty of extra anticipation. When the time does come to bring your calendar into the mix, be sure to communicate with you team to stagger how you take some time off; that will ensure your work continues while also providing the structure needed to allow everyone the time they need to relax when we’re back to a normal work day.
► Don’t check your calendar
The fun of planning a vacation you can’t take is that dates don’t matter. Wondering what it would be like to spend Christmas in a cabin in the fjords—even though you would never miss the holidays with your family at home in the city? Let your imagination guide your planning and forget about reality for a little while. When you don’t need to worry about limiting your vacation time to specific dates or locations, you’ll have the chance to truly escape into the joy of researching and learning about a new place without the added layer of wondering how to make it work with your schedule. You may even stumble on some ideas for how to make your dream vacation work for you; for example, if the cabin is beautiful at Christmas, would it be just as nice in February?
► Share your plansIn an era where social distancing has become a necessity, sharing your research and plans with friends and family can be a great way to keep social distancing from becoming social isolation. Better still, engage a few people in the planning process! Have you been wishing you could hike Machu Picchu with a few friends from college? This might be the time to talk about how you can make your daydream a reality. Were you hoping to visit family but haven’t found the time? Spend an hour chatting with them about what your trip could look like when it’s safe to travel again. Sharing your plans and including friends and family is a terrific way to build connections, support each other, and inspire joy.
► Keep Your Notes
Although even in a good year we’re limited to no more than three or four weeks of paid vacation time, we often have multiple vacations in the planning stages. In addition to the research-backed happiness and positivity we find from anticipating these trips in the future, we’re also prepared for when we stumble upon great flight deals or even a few days off that we can put toward a weekend trip. If you indulge in some armchair travel, keep your notes or bookmark interesting links so that you have a head start to truly planning a vacation once it is safe to move about the globe again. In addition to browser bookmarks, tools like Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, or Google Docs make it easy to organize your research.
Enjoy Escapism through Armchair Travel!We’ve heard from family, friends, and our readers who join us as we look toward an unpredictable future. It’s an emotional time for everyone: schools are closing, shops and restaurants are shuttering, and many offices are asking employees to work remotely. Still, it’s important to remember that these disruptions are temporary. The coronavirus is serious, and our incredible medical community is serious about finding therapies and cures. Once we have them, we’ll begin our journey back to normalcy. In the meantime, consider armchair travel as a way to bring some much-needed joy into your day. Planning a vacation you can’t take yet is a wonderful way to incorporate happiness into your new routine.
Adam and I have traveled many roads alone over the years, and they have connected us to incredible experiences and people all over the world. For the next few months, we travel together with you. We prepare, we cancel plans, we take precautions; someday soon, though, we will pack, we will wander, and we will explore the planet and the connections that unite us. We can’t wait for that day to come.
There will be plenty of vacations to take when coronavirus is no longer a threat. In the meantime, stay home, stay healthy, and stay curious.
Looking for more travel tips? Here are a few of our posts from the archives!
1 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life
2 2017 study published in eNeuro