Ahead of Sunshine Saturday (January 6) – traditionally the most popular day of the year to book a getaway – an expert has told why we don't just want a holiday, our brains literally ‘need' it.
TV psychotherapist Anna Williamson shared how researching holidays and hitting the ‘book now' button can change our brain chemistry for the better.
The 42-year-old from Hertfordshire also reveals why a weekend break can be better than a longer trip and how many days into a trip really starts to take its toll on our minds and bodies.
Anna also answers a key question: how many vacations do we really need the time to feel rested?
“I'd say we're not the only ones doing it I want holidays… we need them,” said Anna, who worked with TUI on this project.
“By the time the December holidays are over, many people are experiencing a hormonal crisis.
“Our brain chemistry changes from this heightened state of joy and so it craves another hit of oxytocin and dopamine – which are our brain's reward, comfort and love hormones.
“That's why we're trying to book a holiday in January, inspiring the phenomenon known as Sunshine Saturday, to help build the buzz again.”
Studies show that so-called “brains” trigger the release of neurotransmitters and can boost mood, reduce stress and improve cognitive function.
Vacations also improve our ability to think creatively and can have lasting effects on the nervous system, allowing it to recover better from injuries such as strokes and improving heart health.
According to the TUI study, most Britons would have started looking for this year's holiday in the New Year and around four in 10 (37%) are likely to book a summer holiday at this time of year.
On average, it takes the typical adult 53 hours – more than two days – to find their dream vacation.
So what is the optimal number of holidays per year? The answer is a bit complicated.
Anna said: “There is no definitive time that people need to stay healthy, though [at least] two vacations a year is considered a realistic sweet spot for most.
“Many studies show that taking a break every two months, even if it's just a day or two, is essential to avoid feelings of anxiety, stress, fatigue and physical illness.
“Other research shows that little and often can be a very good way to stay rested – as opposed to saving yourself for one trip a year.”
As for what kind of trip you take – a weekend city break or a two-week beach holiday – it's up to you, but there are some interesting facts to consider.
Anna said: “Research has found that three days after a holiday is when people feel more rested, less anxious and in a better mood.
“As a complete curveball on this though, if you prefer a longer vacation, some studies suggest that eight days is the sweet spot.
“Although often the pressure of an annual holiday can be counterproductive due to the stress of trying to enforce fun, which can often overwhelm the meaning of the retreat.”
The joy of vacations and travel doesn't just happen in the trip itself – even planning a trip affects the brain.
Anna said: “When we start scrolling online and looking at holiday deals that tempt us, that first spark of attraction lights up inside our brains, recognizing a potential reward is coming.
“This hormone release is so powerful, it starts producing dopamine, the chemical that is released and reproduces the feelings people feel during activities like eating a nice meal, shopping or having sex.
“Called the ‘pleasure path,' the sensory experience our representational system (see, hear, feel, taste, and smell) passes through is redolent of pleasure—the visuals, the memories released from past vacations, the glossy images of hotel.
Previous TUI research reveals that Brits find a ‘peak' holiday feeling 43 hours after a trip, and the average person loses that feeling around 3.7 days after unpacking.
Meanwhile, more than 2 in 10 people book their next holiday less than a month after returning home.
TUI expects this year's sales to be higher than January 2022 and January 2020, before the pandemic hit.
Vacations are also known to improve sleep patterns, which could last up to two weeks after you get home, according to one study.
What you do while on vacation can also make a difference in how rested you feel afterward.
Neuroscience studies show that the brain receives a “novelty” every time you experience something “new” – like seeing your hotel room or taking your first dip in the pool.
It's even been found that meditating during a trip could help you keep the ‘vacation high' for longer.
Anna said: “Be really clear with yourself and the people you're holidaying with about what you want to get out of the holiday.
“Is it just complete rest and relaxation or do you want to rekindle some passions and explore?
“It's not right or wrong, but choosing the right holiday partner is really essential.
“To achieve complete rest and relaxation, it's worth keeping in mind that everything is about moderation.
“Enjoy yourself, but try to add some form of exercise to your day, even if it's just a few laps around the pool, remember to control the portions at buffets and drink plenty of water.
“Take a walk every morning and after dinner to make sure you're getting plenty of vitamin D and working on your physical health.”
As for Anna herself, the mum-of-two likes to take regular breaks which fit perfectly with her family's ‘free lifestyle'.
He added: “We love family holidays and try to get away about four times a year – usually one of them will be for a week, the rest will be more weekend breaks.
“My husband and I also try to plan a few mini breaks for both of us to reset our relationship a few times a year and I like to take my mum once a year for some mummy/daughter time.
“When time and finances allow, I also try to get away with my best friends for a few days when possible.
“Vacations are necessary to enjoy space and time away from everyday pressures and work on connection and communication.
“Your brain and body will thank you for it.”
After booking a break, 65% said they were “excited”, 35% said they felt “satisfied” and 34% felt happier.
Around one in three (29%) choose a European beach break and 30% go for a week.
12% go for 10 days and 15% book for two weeks.
“For years we have seen huge demand after Christmas to search and book holidays, and we expect this January to be no different,” said Phillip Iveson, TUI UK & I commercial director.
“We know people want to research their future travel plans right now, the appetite for travel has never been higher and we're offering some incredible deals this New Year across all our products, including: savings of up to £300 on selected holidays , thousands of free child seats, £0 deposit to secure your holiday plus extra savings in the TUI app.
“Whether it's a seven-night beach holiday, a three-night city break or a fourteen-night cruise, we cater for all needs and durations.
“With more destinations on offer than ever before and flights from 22 regional airports, we look forward to welcoming new and existing customers on their holidays this year.”
INFO: TOP NINE REASONS TO BOOK A SUMMER HOLIDAY NOW
- Having something to look forward to (44%)
- It's exciting to look for somewhere to go (33%)
- I think it's cheaper to book then (25%)
- It helps me/us get through the worst part of the year (23%)
- I feel like we physically and emotionally need a break (22%)
- Always book summer holidays after Christmas (20%)
- We need to put them out of business before other people get this leave 12%)
- We're exhausted after Christmas and booking a holiday is giving us a headache (12%)
- We're both out of work, so it's easier to find time to look around (11%)
Content provided by 72point.