ANTICIPATION IS THE BEST PART OF TRAVEL
Cancelling plans can stir emotions akin to grief, one counsellor says
Judy Hohmann loves to imagine her three grandchildren’s screams of delight the first time they witness the Old Faithful geyser erupting at Yellowstone National Park — whenever that might happen.
Hohmann and her husband, Bill, met at the park 52 years ago, when they were university students working summer jobs.
For their 50th wedding anniversary this summer, the couple, who live in St. Petersburg, Fla., are planning to take their two grown sons, daughter-in-law and grandkids, ages seven to 11, on a family trip to Yellowstone with Montana-based tour operator Austin Adventures.
“We started talking about it a year ago and booked last fall,” said Hohmann, 72. “We’ve been very psyched about it and talk about it frequently. Austin sent the children a book about geysers, and they’re so excited to see them.”
The Hohmanns nervously followed the news about the novel coronavirus outbreak. When they learned their June tour would be cancelled, “we moved to an August date, and the absolute last option is to go next year,” Hohmann said. “We were so excited about going that cancellation wasn’t a consideration.”
Those strong feelings of anticipation are a big part of the “high” from travel, said Dan Austin, chief executive and founder of the tour company. They also compound the pain of cancellations and postponements.
“When someone pops your balloon with a pin, it’s hard to take, especially after months or years of buildup,” he said.
“Once you make up your mind and you pay that deposit, then you’ve committed. You’re getting excited, then you start telling everybody. That’s all part of the anticipation.”
Science backs up Austin’s observations. When Dutch researchers conducted a study in 2010 on the effect that vacations have on overall happiness, they noted that the most significant boost in happiness seemed to come from planning the vacation, rather than being on it or looking back on it. That observation was confirmed in a followup study in 2013.
“The anticipation part was an interesting byproduct of the research,” said Jeroen Nawijn, the lead author and a tourism researcher at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. The study showed that anticipation ran at the same levels regardless of trip duration.
Rescheduling a trip is the only concrete way to continue feeling the benefits of anticipation because the commitment is what makes it real, Nawijn said.
“The most obvious answer is to plan something further away, even if it might be cancelled,” he said.
Not everyone can reschedule, such as Bob Maxwell and his wife, Jen, of Mansfield, Ohio. They had planned a trip in June with their four children to celebrate three milestone graduations: high school, an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree. The six-day tour in Alaska, also with Austin Adventures, would have included hiking, kayaking and biking.
“We hadn’t done a big family trip for years and years, and this one was really special, with our two oldest about to go off on their own,” Bob Maxwell said. “Maybe we’ll all travel again sometime, but it’s really the end of an era. Austin tried to rebook us, but no other dates would work.”
Maxwell said he felt disappointment akin to grief, then added that he felt reluctant to call it that “when people are way less well-off than I am right now.”
His response is one that Diane Brennan, a licensed mental health counsellor in New York City who specializes in loss and grief, hears in her work, especially now.
But everyone is entitled to their feelings, she said.
“A grief is a loss and isn’t something to compare,” she said. “What matters is how important it is to the person who’s experienced the loss. The grief is a way for us to shift and adapt. It helps us regain our footing.”
Another loss some people might feel now, whether they can reschedule a trip or not, is of their identity as a traveller, she said.
“If that is an aspect of ourselves, how we see ourselves, and now we can’t travel, that’s a loss,” she said.
One way to address that, she said, is to continue to explore new places and engage in cultural experiences, even if that means staying closer to home or going online.
When 33-year-old Alex Poworoznek of Phoenix proposed to his girlfriend, Carly Benford, 30, during a day hike in Sedona, Ariz., he was on Plan C.
His original plan, to pop the question while on vacation in the United Kingdom, was scrubbed. As was Plan B in Hawaii.
Instead, he proposed during a picnic. In a nod to his original plan, he wrote coded questions on postcards from London, written as if he were there.
Because the now-engaged couple couldn’t get full refunds, they’ve rebooked their U.K. trip for the fall and hope it goes through.
“If we couldn’t travel for the rest of the year, that would really set me back mentally,” Poworoznek said. “Whenever we have downtime, we get online and look at places we want to go.”
Frequent traveller Paula Wright, 74, of Newbury, Mass., has taken to the internet to keep her enthusiasm alive.
As a volunteer ambassador with Road Scholar, a non-profit educational travel organization for adults (formerly known as Elderhostel), she gives travel presentations to seniors groups. She is giving her first on video-call service Zoom this month, about the Arctic and Antarctica.
Wright was about to take her 29th Road Scholar trip this spring, to Tanzania, along with a pre-trip to Botswana with her daughter; both trips involve wildlife safaris. When Road Scholar suspended its tours through May, she quickly rebooked for next year. She also has two trips planned for fall — a Road Scholar tour in Mongolia and a writer’s retreat in Maine.
“I would feel lost if I didn’t have travel scheduled,” she said.
Brennan said that with so much ambiguity around what travel will look like, it’s a good idea to create realistic expectations to temper possible disappointment.
“But you don’t want to miss out on the anticipation of the trip, either,” she said. “Maybe think of it as, ‘It’s going to be different than maybe we’ve planned for, but let’s reimagine it in a way that works.’”
For one couple, there’s even a possible silver lining.
Diane O’dell, 56, and her girlfriend, Lynne Troup, 53, were planning a trip to Europe in April built around a riverboat cruise on the Rhine between Basel, Switzerland and Amsterdam, with Olivia Travel.
The couple, who live in St. Petersburg, had tacked on four days in the mountains.
“My girlfriend had been dreaming of seeing the Swiss Alps ever since she was a little girl and saw Heidi,” O’dell said.
They had done copious research, bought guidebooks and purchased warm clothing — no easy task in Florida. In March, they got word that the riverboat cruise wouldn’t depart and decided to roll over their reservation to the next year.
Meanwhile, to mark this year’s dream, O’dell posted their virtual vacation to Facebook by following the trip itinerary and Photoshopping their images onto places they would have been on a given day.
Although they’re disappointed they couldn’t go this year, the couple has high hopes for next year.
“Rescheduling might actually help us, because a non-stop flight is supposed to start between Tampa and Zurich, and there was a hotel we wanted and couldn’t get that maybe we can get next year,” O’dell said. “So maybe in some ways, it will be even better.”
Once you make up your mind and you pay that deposit, then you’ve committed. You’re getting excited, then you start telling everybody. That’s all part of the anticipation.