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Planning your trip is more important than the amount you spend.

Narrow to a pair

Like an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, holiday options can be too much of a good thing. Do you take an ocean cruise? A trek through the mountains? A food tour in Singapore? Research has shown that when the human mind encounters too many options, it shuts down. Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it the paradox of choice. Some choice is better than none, he says, but it doesn’t hold that more is always better than less. So before making the final decision on where to go, narrow down your choices to just two. You’ll forget all the others and feel confident that you picked the best one.

Think far, far ahead

Think far, far ahead
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A week-long trip is actually composed of three things, according to behavioural economist Dan Ariely: months of anticipation, the trip itself and the nostalgia you experience for years afterwards. To maximise your enjoyment, you should cater to all three stages. Airfare is cheapest approximately five months before a domestic flight, according to Skyscanner’s website, so it’s wise to hold off on finalising plans until then. But you can still browse hotels or take virtual roller-coaster rides on YouTube months before that. One 2010 Dutch study found that people were happier before a trip than they were after they returned. That’s because anticipation is a powerful thing – it’s essentially the same reason you’re happier on Friday than on Sunday.

Longer trips aren't better

Longer trips aren't better
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Behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman argues that we’re made up of two selves: our experiencing self and our remembering self. The experiencing self lives in the moment. The remembering self lives in the past. Our remembering self has a hard time telling a one-week holiday from a two-week one because, as Kahneman says, “There are no new memories added. You have not changed the story.” From the perspective of the remembering self, short and long holidays are effectively equal. If you are looking to save some money, shorter is the way to go.

Explore first, savour second

Explore first, savour second
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Brian Christian, a computer scientist and the co-author of Algorithms to Live By, says probability can help us decide when to try new things and when to stick with the familiar. It’s called the explore/exploit trade-off (exploit here is a computing term that basically means ‘savour’). “One should generally be more exploratory at the start of a holiday … and more ‘exploitative’ at the end,” he explains. This is because your chances of finding a place or an experience that you like better than the ones you’ve already tried reduce as time passes. Everything is new on day one, so embrace that. By day seven, you’ll have the highest odds of enjoying yourself if you revisit a favourite spot from earlier in the trip. There’s one exception …

Save one great thing for last

Save one great thing for last
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Another finding from Kahneman is the so-called peak-end rule: people remember the peak and end of an event best. If you were given a list of names, for instance, you’d probably remember the most unique names and the names that appeared at the end of the list. Holidays work the same way. If you can, schedule the river cruise or big winery tour towards the middle of the trip, since you’ll remember it as a ‘peak’. Then make sure you’ve saved some​thing equally as amazing for the end.

Reminisce a lot

Reminisce a lot
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If a cycling trip got you fired up, tell everyone about it after you get back. Research on happiness suggests that people can preserve how they feel about an experience by talking about it. A 2015 study even found that people reported greater happiness levels when they talked about their experiences rather than their material purchases. It’s a sure-fire way to keep the joys of a holiday alive in the months after you return home.

Bonus hint: if you’re looking for the kind of holiday where you can also burn a surprising amount of calories, check these out.

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