It’s that time of the year again: only a few weeks (or days) are separating us from our summer annual leave and we have not planned any holidays yet. Your colleague has just left for their honeymoon in the Maldives, your brother has just come back from a wild trip in Machu Picchu and your friends have already booked their family getaway in Cornwall. Not to mention all the people sharing pics on Instagram! But maybe your brain’s struggling to comprehend planning a holiday after the past two years - don’t worry we’ve got tips, reminders and understand the pressure so keep reading!
We don’t need to rush to the travel agents just because we’ve forgotten where to even start planning a holiday this year - we can but we don’t need to. Our brain can actually be a great travel agent itself: by using our mental skills of planning and organising, not only can we find ourselves relaxing on a exotic beach at sunset in a few weeks time, but our brainpower will benefit too!
Planning holidays is a workout for our brain
It might be hard to believe, but scientists actually use simulations of holiday planning as a task for cognitive rehabilitation . Planning a trip or a holiday requires us to employ a range of different cognitive abilities, including things like decision making; where are you going, navigating the offers and marketing, managing your finances; future thinning; when is the best time to go, how long for, what will you do; gathering and remembering information; the name of the hotel, check in times, boarding passes and passports. Planning holidays takes a great deal of mental effort - even just thinking about it!
Executive function has the responsibility of coordinating all these operations within our brain. Our executive function is like a personal travel agent organising our cognitive abilities to get ready for our dream holiday.
Committing to the job of organising a holiday, rather than getting someone else to organise it on our behalf, is an excellent workout for our brain too. Our cognitive abilities of planning, organising, filtering and holding information, making decisions, solving problems and paying attention are stretched during the process of planning a holiday, and we develop and strengthen capabilities that will be easily transferred in other life tasks or even in our jobs.
Moreover, science shows that thinking about a holiday planned in our next future contributes to our general wellbeing, with more feelings of pleasure and contentment and optimistic thinking . Oh the buzz of a pending holiday!!
Your holiday planning checklist:
If your executive function is still in hibernation and you’re not sure where to start, here is a checklist of things to consider when planning your holibobs. If you are not travelling alone, discuss this with your holiday mates. Two brains are often better than one!
Where and when to go
Make a list of your top destinations, then narrow it down using a pros and cons list or which location suits you and your needs best. Check your availability and consider your upcoming commitments; work, events, other holidays etc. Thinking about the duration of your holiday, consider how much leave you have available, how much time you want at your destination (including the travel), and the finances available.
Think about the cost of travelling and staying at your chosen destination, how much money you might need, or how much you’ll need to save (and how long for). Think about where you want to spend the money, on excursions or day trips, food and drink, extra experiences - perhaps the hotel has spa treatments on offer (dreamy).
Consider your budget, the location of accommodation - is it close by to things or further a field? Does it have the necessary facilities for you, or even your pets? And don’t forget to look at the check-in and out times - they can scuppa your plans last minute!
Evaluate the best options for you - is it easier to fly and hire a car, use the hotel transfers on offer, can you take your car and go on a ferry? Consider your luggage and restrictions, the cost of things like taxis or public transport if you’ll need it. Some places have travel cards that give you discounted travel prices for public transport.
Are you a lay on the beach and read every book you haven’t yet this year, or a thrill seeker looking for adventure? Do you like to take the time to relax or go out and soak up culture, or scenery. Don’t forget a holiday is meant to be at least a little relaxing, so make sure to make time to relax or slow down, and avoid creating a tight itinerary - something bound to go off course.
What will you need when you’re there - and not just clothes, money and your passport. Don’t forget toiletries or can you buy them on the way out? Phone chargers, games or toys for the kids, travel documents - your covid pass! Have a look at what you’ll need for the destination you’re going to as well, like visa’s and health documents. If you’re flying, remember to keep your essentials in your hand luggage or easy access so you don’t have to root through your suitcase for that book you wanted to read on the plane. And check your luggage allowance (twice).
Think about what you need to do before you leave, or what needs doing while you’re gone and who you can ask to help out. Have you organised someone to take care of the cat and water the plants? Or check on the house while you're gone, or cover any work responsibilities during your holiday. Is the house a way you’d be happy to come home too when you’ve been travelling and are tired, are the clothes you’re taking washed and dry?
Before you jet off: Planning is a great activity for our brains and allows us to make our holidays happen how we’d like. But be careful not to over-plan: accept that something(s) will probably go wrong during the trip and allow some flexibility during your holiday. Once you are there, you might find things do not go to plan or stuff happens you couldn’t plan for from your sofa. Good executive function is also about staying open to changing circumstances. Your brainpower will benefit from it, as well as your stress levels.
 Gaspari M. & Donnici M. (2019), A weekend in Rome: a cognitive training exercise based on planning.
 Gilbert G. & Abdullah J. (2002), A study of the impact of the expectation of a holiday on an individual's sense of well-being.