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Vacation Optimization

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Thursday morning my family will get on a jet in Virginia and, if all goes well, 35 hours or so later we'll be getting off in Sydney, Australia. And for five weeks after that, we'll be kicking around under the equator.

Here's the general plan:

DatesLocationEvents
Sept 19-21SydneyHarbor tour, Aquarium, City Tour
Sept 22-25PerthVisit with friends, swim with dolphins, hang out
Sept 25-29Alice Springs/Ayers RockSee the big rock, drive/hike in the outback
Sept 30-Oct 5CairnsDive, Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, Rain forest tour, relax
Oct 6SydneyReload for NZ
Oct 7 - Oct 18Drive Tour New Zealand. Stops in Auckland, Rotura, Tongariro, Wellington, Nelson, Greymouth, Fox glacier, Te Anau, InvercargillHike Tongariro, take lots of pictures!, local touring each stop
Oct 19-22SydneyHike, museum tour

Now that we've got the "what" out of the way, the more interesting question is "why?" Why take six weeks out of your life and spend it somewhere far away where nobody knows you and you have no comforts of home? Why travel and see a bunch of stuff you could easily catch one night on the National Geographic Channel?

Experiences make you more happy than possessions. Study after study has shown that things, while nifty and cool and all of that, do not make you happy. I always tell people I don't want to be rich -- I just want a 150-foot yacht that you can land a helicopter on -- and the helicopter. That and a few private jets and I'm a happy camper. But that joke is very misleading. Even if I had all of that stuff, over a few months my brain would gradually adjust to it and I'd be just as unhappy as before. Things get old. You adjust and they become background noise. Or worse, they start ruling your life. Your things start to own you, instead of the other way around.

Experiences, on the other hand, just turn into memories and become more cherished. You'll remember that trip you took for a thousand bucks where you tried parasailing. It will make you a lot happier in the long run than spending that same thousand dollars on a flat screen TV.

Vacations answer the question: what would you do if you only had a few months left to live? Of course you'd spend time with your family, you'd probably go places, or see something new. You might just sit around the house and fix things up. Vacations give you that chance to take a week (or a few) and think about exactly what would you want to do the most for this one day? We should do this every day, but a little bit is better than nothing.

Travel makes you appreciate home more. I've traveled all over the United States in my job, and a little in Canada too. I love traveling because it reminds me so much of what I have at home. Travel makes you step out of your comfort zone and think about everything differently. Then you go back home, wiser.

It gives you something to look forward to. Everyday for the last couple of weeks my wife has been posting on her FaceBook account, "10 more days to go!" and "9 more days to go!"

Due to the way consulting works, I pre-pay for all of my vacations. So we've known about this trip since December. And that entire time it's given us something to talk about, something to look forward to, and something to fantasize about. Hell, the anticipation and dreams we have about our trip is going to be a hundred times better than the actual trip! And that's awesome. It goes back to my first point: we'll have fun planning, waiting, then doing, then remembering what we did. We'll be talking about this trip ten years from now.

I don't think it has to do with the amount of money you spend, either. It's all about experiences, and it stands to reason that you should plan your trips around experiences: how to have the most indelible, fantastic experiences you can given the time and budget you have. Whitewater rafting down a nearby river on a borrowed boat and camping out under the stars can be very exciting. Spending the summer in the best location in Europe in a mansion can be very boring. It's not about where or how much.

Which takes us to the really interesting question: what's the optimum configuration for traveling?

How long is too long? How much experience and memory can you cram into one trip before you have to come back? I can't imagine, say, six months of exciting activity one after the other. I think at some point you get oversaturated. This trip, by being our longest to date, should begin to test that limit.

It's the anticipation, planning, newness of experience, and memories that are important, not the location, duration, or cost.

In music synthesis, we talk about breaking up a sound, like a note you'd play on the piano, into 4 separate parts. It's called the Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release Envelope.


ADSR Envelope
Can emotional experiences be compared to musical notes?




Attack is how quickly a sound begins. A bell has a sharp attack -- you hit it with a stick. A flute has a softer attack. Decay is how a sound drops from it's initial peak down to the sustain level. Sustain is how the note sounds if the key is continued to be pressed. A piano has a nice sustain. A drum has almost no sustain at all. Release is how quickly a sound drops off.

Trips have similar characteristics: the planning (attack), beginning the trip (peak), continuing the trip (sustain), and ending the trip (release) We can talk about the intensity of emotional experiences around a trip the same way as we do the intensity of sound when playing a musical note.

So. Does each person have their own optimum "holiday envelope", or it something that's the same for everybody?

Maybe the optimum sustain and rest configuration is 4, 2-week trips a year. Or maybe 6 1-week trips. Maybe it's taking a long weekend each month?

Maybe the optimum attack configuration is to plan for a month ahead of time. Maybe a year is too long. Perhaps different types of trips have have different optimization strategies for attack.

Ending a trip is also an interesting affair. Should it end suddenly -- a sharp release? Or should you transition from intense emotional activities into milder activities and then gradually go back to normal, much like an athlete who walks off a strenuous run?

Hey I don't know. I just work here. Anybody out there with any ideas?

What I do know is that it's fun finding out!

1 Comment

Sounds wonderful and I envy you, if only to get away from US politics. Safe travels and will be looking for updates while you are on the road.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on September 15, 2009 6:19 PM.

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  • Kurt: Sounds wonderful and I envy you, if only to get read more

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