Let's face it — We spend hours, days, (even months!) day-dreaming about the upcoming vacation. That thrill of anticipation is matched only by the adrenalin-rush of Internet-browsing — for the place, hotel, best airfares and a do-able itinerary. We imagine walking on that white beach, trekking on that green mountain, digging into those luscious lobsters. There's the flurry of searches, discussions, e-mails, decisions, shopping and some unloading of the plan to friends — “Is there a specific castle I should look up in Austria? I don't want to miss anything!” Pure fun! Who even needs the vacation now?

Short-lived excitement

Exactly what a Dutch study discovered recently — planning steals the happiness in holidaying. Six months of planning? That's six months of unalloyed excitement. Vacation over, happiness level falls to earth. You hit the ground like a failed rocket — how quickly depends on how tired / relaxed you were on the trip.

Travellers who said the vacation was “neutral” or stressful” lost out on post-trip happiness. Those who were “very relaxed” during the vacation felt a surge of joy, but it lasted just two weeks on return. And, the study found no relationship between the length of the vacation and happiness, the study found no relationship.

Is it because of too much seeing-and-doing? We're known for it, the value-for-money thing. How often have we returned needing time off to recover from our holidays. If you've been driving with two kids, it's likely you'll feel as if hit by a wall. May be we've forgotten how to relax. May be we prefer the excitement of research to the excitement of the happening. And, there's this post-break stress of getting back to the routine — the e-mails, the SMSes, files at office, the unpacking, the cleaning and washing, and kids' school work. Can be a real mood-killer, uh?

Jaya Murthy, mom of two teenage boys and a vacationer agrees she “isn't deliriously happy” when she's back. “The ‘rejuvenation' effect lasts for about two days, before the daily grind begins to overtake. Most people I know are sad to be back from vacation, particularly if they'd had a good time!” Cecile, who has several homes around the world and travels on both work and holiday, reports very mixed feelings about returning home. “There's a touch of sadness that the vacation is over, and relief you're home after a lengthy vacation,” she says. “When grown-up kids leave after holidays together, the good times are over, and I'm left with a stab of loneliness.”

Of course, there is no discounting the benefit of well-planned holidays. Going off to where the weather is good, and the surroundings quiet and clean, is fun, but reality hits as the vacation comes to a close. “Sometimes not taking a vacation is actually better,” says Arvind, an avid vacationer. “Then, you don't sigh at how good life on the other side is.”

Nothing beats a break!

But, despite all these, the holidays themselves sure have their uses. “Whenever I feel low, my mom suggests that I plan a vacation,” says Aarti, who'll be off to Japan shortly. “It takes your mind off the current situation, and gives you something to smile about.”

Agrees Jaya's husband Phaneesh, a frequent flier. He considers the week-long break once in six months life saving. “And, yes, for him the happiness lasts for a while,” says Jaya.

So, don't let the planning stress you out. After all, nothing compares to the undiluted joy of taking a break or discovering a new place!

FEEL GOOD

Make an album of the photographs taken; browse through it often

Bring back mementos — souvenirs, brochures, notes... These will help you relive the joy

Go for plenty of short vacations

Avoid disagreements while vacationing

Keep yourself fit

Return with a couple of days to spare

Keywords: holidaystravel plan