The scientifically perfect vacation: 8 days long, 5 key activities

Andrew Munro 7 September 2017

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The Journal of Happiness Studies finds the scientifically ideal holiday.

Groundbreaking new research has been published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, undertaken by researchers at the Netherland's Radboud University's Behavioural Science Institute. The objective? To discover the perfect holiday.

It's been well demonstrated that holidays are good for your physical and mental health. But these researchers wanted to find out exactly how good, and to discover some ways to make it better. To this end they enlisted 58 participants going on holiday, and looked at how each holiday affected their health and wellbeing.

The first step was finding a way to define "health and wellbeing," so they had something to measure.

What exactly is health and wellbeing?

This study defined health and well-being (or "H&W" as they call it in the happiness industry) as a combination of health status, fatigue, satisfaction, mood, tension and energy level. Each of the 58 participants gave a daily score for each of these on a scale of 1-10.

So good H&W means you're feeling energetic, satisfied, relaxed and generally in good shape, compared to usual. Bad H&W would be the opposite.

Participants gave their H&W scores for a while before their holiday, to get a baseline, and every single day during vacation, and for a while after.

Key findings
  • Vacations are good for your H&W
  • You reach peak H&W on day 8 of your holiday
  • Your H&W quickly returns back to normal after returning home
  • Happiness researchers are happy to ruin 58 people's vacations with daily surveys

What does the most effective vacation look like?

The most effective vacation is all about getting the biggest H&W improvements during the trip, as well as after you get back.

  • 8 days - Respondents were at their best on day 8. Even in trips of about a month long, they never reached those heights again. 8 days is how you get the most H&W for your buck.
  • After you get back home - Across the board, you generally get around a week of above-average H&W after returning home.

The next step was finding out what people did to get the most H&W. They found five keys.


What are the most effective vacation activities?

The five keys to the perfect holiday are:

  • Pleasure - How much you enjoy the specific activities you do
  • Relaxation - How relaxed you feel, and how much you feel like you're getting away from it all and don't need to worry about anything
  • Sleep - Good sleep and long sleep
  • Control - Simply being able to set your own schedule and follow through, or not, as desired.
  • Savoring - Whether you're having as much fun as they think you should be, and are appreciating the holiday to the fullest. Scoring high on the other metrics almost certainly contributes to this.

Higher scores on these correlated with higher H&W during the trip and after.

So what does it all mean?

The most perfectly effective holiday would be an 8 day getaway during which you score as high as possible as each of the five keys. This means doing things you like and not doing things you don't like, getting plenty of sleep, being in control of the situation, and being able to relax and not worry about a thing.

So according to the Journal of Happiness Studies, the perfect holiday probably involves:

  • Travel insurance - You actually need peace of mind for a good holiday, to score well on the all-important Relaxation and Savoring metrics.
  • Don't do anything you don't want to - Pick a destination you want to go to, not anyone else and do things you want to do. You don't want to drop vacation points on a low Control score.
  • Don't work on holiday - Leave your work at the office. And preferably don't let nosy researchers make you take extensive, daily surveys.
  • Go hunting for deals - Pick up some great travel deals, and you can probably get a nice mental boost to your Control scores, as well as upping your Savoring points.
  • Sleep - No matter what anyone else might say, sleeping is a holiday well spent, not wasted. If anyone says otherwise, tell them you have the science to back it up.

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