The Key to Happiness? Travel More Spontaneously, says a Travelzoo Study

Mar 11, 2019

There’s something tempting about the idea of travelling without a plan: setting off with little more than a ticket in hand and a sense of adventure, open to whatever may come your way. Maybe you'll end up witnessing the Great Migration on safari in Tazmania. Eating in a tiny restaurant in Copenhagen that draws foodies from around the world. Getting invited onto a private boat to sail off into the sunset.

If the world at your whim sounds blissfully life-changing, now there’s proof of it. New research by Travelzoo reveals that Canadians who travel spontaneously tend to be happier in life compared to those who avoid it.

To celebrate International Happiness Day on March 20, Travelzoo surveyed over 1,000 Canadians to understand how specific travel habits relate to happiness in life.

The key finding: 53% of Canadians who responded that they were regular spontaneous travellers also claimed to be “happy most of the time” and that others described them as a “happy person.” Only 34% of non-spontaneous travellers reported the same levels of happiness as the spontaneous group.

Whether it’s a last-minute trip or an unexpected destination, the study highlighted that those with a spontaneous streak are 32% more likely to feel connected with friends and family than those who don’t travel by instinct.

The study also found that spontaneous travellers are right now also probably daydreaming of their next getaway. A whopping 42% of self-proclaimed spontaneous travellers took three or more unplanned leisure trips last year. That figure jumps to 45% who say they intend to take as many trips in 2019.

The motivations behind being impulsive vary. Millennials (18-34) want to “do something special” in a new and exciting experience. Gen Xers (35-54) are looking to “unwind and relax.” Baby Boomers (55+) travel spontaneously when there was “a special deal on travel costs, such as airfare.”

So why is spontaneous travel leading to happiness? A June 2018 paper published in Current Opinion in Psychology argues that “when leisure activity is planned rather than spontaneous, we enjoy it less.”

The rationale being that we lump it with other activities that need to be scheduled — like a dentist appointment or a work meeting — which takes away the pleasure and makes the activity a chore. It also keeps our brain focused on productivity and completing tasks, rather than taking enjoyment by living in the moment.

Using that logic, when travel is planned rather than spur of the moment, it becomes a part of our to-do list and we don’t gain as much satisfaction from it.

At its core, travel is about curiosity, reaching outward and a search for authentic encounters. Being impulsive makes us step outside of our self-constructed realities and provides a platform let go and experience our ideal self — who we might be if we could let go of our fears and anxieties.

The reality is that, for many, winging an entire trip is the stuff that panic attacks are made of, particularly if you’re the type of person who usually packs in a full schedule with an itinerary planned down to the minute.

Based on the those surveyed, only half of Canadians are spontaneous travellers. It’s natural to want to organize your time and squeeze in as much as possible.

To inspire Canadians to travel more spontaneously this year, Travelzoo’s deal experts have rounded up special offers to exciting destinations that will be revealed in a limited-time Happiness Flash Sale. Select offers will be announced on International Happiness Day and the sale begins the day after. Mark your calendar for 9:00 a.m. PT / 12:00 p.m. ET on March 21 — this is something you don’t want to miss. As a bonus, a select number of $1 door-crasher deals will be unlocked for the first members who book.  

For some people, spontaneous traveling comes easy. For others, it takes a little planning. Below are some tips to help you take the step towards swaying away into a serendipitous experience.

Five tips on how to travel more spontaneously

Say yes

Just go somewhere. While it may seem obvious, it's worth emphasizing because not enough people actually do it. Stop worrying about your remaining vacation days or finding a dog-sitter. Get off the couch and try out new experiences. Then look around you and take in everything you can. You don't have to be in Lisbon or Prague or anywhere exotic — it can be Winnipeg… next weekend… Once you’re there, say yes again to any opportunity for a detour or change of plans. You’ll be surprised at what you find around the corner.

Pencil it in

"Planning" and "spontaneous" may sound contradictory, but if you’re the type of traveller who adheres to a play-by-play itinerary, then scheduling in spontaneity is key. For example, on a weeklong trip, set aside a day with no set plans apart from exploring a neighbourhood intimately. Go by foot or rent a bike so you have optimal immersion and can stop and go as you please. Don’t set time constraints, and allow yourself to amble about from morning until evening. You’ll be feeling like a local in no time.

Get lost

Wandering is not something we’re used to these days. With smartphones, GPS, and drop-pins, we’re constantly aware of our surroundings and what they have in store for us. It’s sometimes refreshing to go off the grid and wander aimlessly. The best restaurants, shops and parks are often tucked just out of the way. Happening upon them on your own lends to a glorious feeling of discovery, and on the way gives you a better window into another culture. Ditch the map for a day and see where you end up.

Be fine when things go wrong

When you eventually end up lost, don’t panic. Oftentimes, the best part of travelling is when things go wrong. A missed connection, hotel change or closed attraction — they’re actually blessings in disguise. It will force you to go with the flow and ultimately give you a deeper, more authentic experience. You’ll realize you can handle pretty much anything and it will give you an awesome story to tell about the time you happened upon a cozy cafe and then followed the barista's tip on where you chanced upon the best dinner of your life.

Travel in the off-season

If high travel price points prevent you from showing your spirit for spontaneity, consider taking an impromptu jaunt in the off-season. Off-peak season travel comes with big advantages: lower airfare, fewer crowds, luxe hotels for a fraction of the regular rate, better chances of getting coveted restaurant reservations and that increasingly rare feeling of having a place all to your own.

Spontaneous Stories

Need a little impulse inspiration? See what Travelzoo members have to say about their own spur-of-the-moment getaways.

“It’s hard to believe that I travelled to China for eight days and spent only around $1000 in total — so how did I do this? It started as I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a Travelzoo deal. China. $580 (ish). Flights included. Only two spots left at this price! I’m aware that that was probably a ploy to get me to not overthink signing up — a way to make sure I didn’t stop to read any reviews before clicking the button to book. It worked. Within 30 minutes I had booked a sisters' trip for two to China.” — Christine Broderick Hawrylak

“My decision to visit Cambodia and Vietnam was spontaneous in itself — just a few days elapsed between seeing the ad on Travelzoo — and reserving my place. But what I hadn’t expected was that it would inspire even more spontaneous travel, and not just for me.

During my 12-day getaway, my husband took not one but two spontaneous trips. He didn’t think twice when he learned that a production he’d always wanted to see ("Gatz") would be staged in New York City the first weekend I was away. Tickets, flight, hotel — even the company of a theatre-loving friend — were all locked and loaded that same night. Later, when I called home halfway through my trip, he said he’d just been offered tickets to the Super Bowl and would be leaving in a few days for Atlanta.

I found his spontaneous getaways something of a relief. The fact that he was fulfilling his own interests eased any guilt I felt about leaving him at home with the kids. It worked both ways; I knew he would have thought twice about his trips if he’d been leaving me at home two weekends in a row. (Leaving the kids was less of a concern; they were thrilled to trade parents for the far-more-fun older sister and grandmother.)

Need more proof that spontaneity is both contagious and conducive to happiness? In the final days of my trip, a trio of fellow travellers asked if I’d like to join them on an overnight cruise in Vietnam’s Halong Bay. I froze for a minute, my mind buzzing with concerns about the cost, the risk that we wouldn’t get along, the awkwardness of sharing a room — and then I said, “I’m in.” The cruise (and my new friends) turned out to be the best part of an already exceptional holiday. Even if we’d had a terrible time, I don’t think I’d have any regrets — just funny stories and lessons learned. There will always be reasons not to take a spontaneous trip, but I think it’s a great policy to ignore them every now and then.”  — Susan Catto


Don't miss the Happiness Flash Sale starting March 21. Come back to the website and keep an eye on your email for door-crasher deals.

Not yet a Travelzoo member? Sign up for free to be the first to know when the Flash Sale offers are released.

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