Travel can be more than just the act of going somewhere new. In reality, travel is a long process. It can start weeks or months before your trip and doesn’t end until long after you’ve returned. And at each step of the way, there are delightful rituals that make the effort and cost of travel worth it. They’re the little joys of travel that we sometimes take for granted but which together make travel so incredible.
Like all decisions in life, travel begins with an idea. This is the first little joy of travel because it necessarily precedes every other action. It’s the first time you see a photo of a place or see it depicted in a movie or hear a story about it and wonder to yourself what it would be like to visit that place. Sometimes there can be months, even years, between the idea and the trip. The longer you want to do something, the more intense your feeling of anticipation.
The next little joy of travel is what usually what takes your idea and turns it into a plan, the research. You look up the most popular cities, the most picturesque landscapes, the most delicious dishes, and look up the practicalities that would make your idea a reality. How long would you need to visit? What’s the best time of year to go? How much would you spend there?
If conditions are right and you find that a trip is possible, you get to experience the little joy of booking your trip. Sometimes this is the best part, when you get to click “Book now” on international airfare. When the confirmation lands in your inbox and you take the time off work and you add the trip to your calendar. This is the part of travel that takes the most courage which brings a little joy in and of itself.
Next comes the planning. Because not everyone gets joy out of planning, it’s an activity that’s done by individuals to different degrees. But there’s a happy sense of purpose associated with looking up information about a place that you know you’ll be visiting soon. It’s all the excitement and curiosity of exploration without the longing for something that is out of your reach. Once you’ve booked your trip, all of your research makes you feel a sense of giddy anticipation.
The next little joy of travel is the packing. Travel is one of the only times in life when you have to carefully consider what you want to wear over a short period of time. This step can bring other little joys like shopping for a new bathing suit or a new winter coat. You might try on outfits and send pictures to friends. You might buy fun accessories to add to your wardrobe.
Up until this point, travel has brought you days and weeks of joy without even leaving your house. But then it’s time to get going. Everyone hates flying, but there’s an exciting aspect of being on the brink of your vacation. This little joy is tiring and sometimes frustrating, but when you’re airborne and your home is behind you, you can’t help but feel a little cheerful.
When you arrive at your destination, the “real” fun begins. The act of traveling is full of little joys mostly because everything is new. And that’s an experience most of don’t get to have again after childhood. But suddenly you’re in another continent and the language is new and the people are exotic and the streets look different and there’s brand new foods and experiences awating you. It’s like being five and going to a toy store for the first time.
After you’ve dropped off your bags and thrown yourself on the clean white linens of a nice hotel room, you’re ready to begin your sightseeing. Finally, it’s time to explore your destination. It’s time to see all the things in person that you’ve only ever seen in photos. It’s time to indulge in foods you’ve never seen or heard of. You get to admire the streets, the parks, the buildings – so familiar and so foreign at the same time.
Technology has contributed to another little joy of travel: sharing. Because after all, happiness is only real when shared. So you sit down for a coffee and you post your favorite picture of the day on social media, you send your friends pictures of the cute dog sitting next to you, and you take a cheesy selfie to send your mom. Next time you go home, you might see the same photo framed in the living room.
Traveling provides you many opportunities to achieve tiny accomplishments. Simply buying a ticket and taking the metro can give you a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, they’re bigger, like climbing 300 steps up the bell tower of a church or hiking 6 km to a beautiful lake or ordering dinner in a language you haven’t practiced since high school. These little accomplishments are satisfying and joy-provoking. They make you feel confident and capable, so you’re a little better off than you were before you arrived.
For many, the end of a vacation can be a little depressing. But there are little joys in going home, too. Arriving at a familiar place, getting undressed and climbing into your own bed after days of being in strange rooms, the comfort of the familiar and the routine. After you’ve spent days enjoying bizarre cuisine, there’s a little joy in having your favorite breakfast and cooking something you usually eat every week.
There’s a joy in drinking the wine you took home as a souvenir or coming across pictures you forgot you took. Maybe it will be months or years before you find the change in your purse and you remember that was from the last tuk tuk ride you took in Thailand. If you ever see that church or that square in a movie, you’ll always remember you were there once. That’s how travel provides joy not just for weeks and months before it but for a lifetime afterward. Travel is not one fleeting experience of happiness but endless little moments of joy.