How Waiting to #GoLater Can Actually Boost Your Mood, According to Experts

See recent posts by Megan Wood

Postponing a planned trip isn't the worst case scenario in these uncertain COVID-19 times. But that doesn't mean you're not disappointed and disheartened to cancel a much-anticipated vacation. Studies show, and experts agree, that there are mood benefits and pleasure hormones associated with looking forward to something positive -- like a week in Hawaii. We can't book you an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation to make it better, but we did reach out to psychologists, mental health experts, and productivity strategists to come up with 9 things you can do that have similar mood-improving benefits, instead of traveling. Stay home and stay safe now, and then #GoLater. 

Have your own #GoLater story that you want to share? Check out our #GoLater Instagram campaign on Jetsetter now

Start a Shelter-In-Place Journal

Bullet journal
Bullet journal; Estée Janssens/Unsplash

Kanesha Baynard, a productivity strategist in the Bay Area, canceled a biennial mother/daughter trip to Paris just as COVID-19 hit in March. To deal with the disappointment, she got proactive. “I bought some novels that take place in cities and countries I want to visit in the near future,” she says. “I’m keeping a ‘shelter-in-place’ travel journal where I can keep track of the things I learn from the novels. It’s been new and fun to do travel research by reading fiction.”

Journaling of any sort has been shown to reduce stress and help organize chaotic thoughts. Whether you start a gratitude journal to list all of the things you’re grateful for in these stressful times, dig out the colored pencils and stickers to make an efficient bullet journal, or just jot down what you made for dinner each night — having a shelter-in-place journal is a soothing way to sort out your feelings and keep track of days that feel monotonous. You can also check out the 52 Lists for Calm Journal and other self-care essentials from to help weather the lockdown.

Donate Money to a Worthy Cause or Consider Mutual Aid

Showing up in person to help friends, families, and charity organizations isn’t necessarily possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. While social isolation keeps us safe, it also cuts us off from lending a helping hand and getting a dopamine boost from assisting others and causes we believe in. Consider recreating those feel-good vibes by joining a mutual aid group or donating money or miles (check out SmarterTravel’s guide to donating during the COVID era here). Louise Sattler, founder and owner of Louise Sattler Consulting and Signing Families in Los Angeles, agrees: “Endorphins are created for a variety of reasons and so anything that gives you a rush for feeling good can be of help!”

Mutual aids groups — like those that have sprung up in Brooklyn, NY — are helping alleviate some of the stress for community members who cannot accomplish required tasks like shopping for food. These informal networks virtually link neighbors that have low risk factors for COVID-19 complications with the immunocompromised or elderly in their community to help them run errands, like venturing to the pharmacy or grocery store. The person running the errand picks up the requested items and drops them off without ever making person-to-person contact. Other mutual aid tactics include checking in on people via phone calls and micro-fundraising.

Millions of restaurant workers are temporarily unemployed due to restaurant closings across the country. A donation to the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation supplies direct relief to individual restaurant workers and zero-interest loans to restaurant owners. Alternatively, The Bail Project provides free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent, and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release before trial contingent on paying bail. Jails are known hotbeds of coronavirus infections, and paying bail can save lives and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Learn to Cook Something from a Favorite Destination

Cooking tomatoes
Cooking; Max Delsid/Unsplash

Getting in the kitchen can also act upon the same pleasure centers in the brain as travel. Baynard says, “Taking an online cooking class or finding a great recipe for the cuisine of a specific country is another way to travel from the safety of your home. This allows you to explore different food ingredients, stimulate all five of your senses, and imagine being physically in the locale of the cuisine.” Looking for somewhere so start? Check out SmarterTravel’s 15 favorite international recipes to make at home now.

Make Your Post-COVID Travel Lists

Cristina Castagnini, Ph.D., CEDS, in San Ramon, CA, canceled a trip to Ojai to visit her son. But she plans on making the most of this isolated time by researching trips to Aruba and Hawaii. “Dopamine is released in large amounts when we anticipate a pleasurable experience, such as taking a fun trip or vacation,” she explains. “It’s also triggered when we plan, dream, imagine, and actively strive to get things we desire, like a trip or a vacation. People also feel the hope-inducing, motivational power of dopamine whenever they start to do things like plan a trip online.”

Along those lines, Castagnini says “I can still search the internet and seek out information and travel tips about the places I want to go so that I can plan out my future trips. I may not be able to actually book my trips, but when the time comes, I can have every detail of my trips ready to go.” You can also check out how several of our own travel editors are adopting the same strategy with their canceled trips.

Watch a Travel Show or Documentary

Baynard also suggests turning on the TV to deliver travel euphoria feelings at home. “Watching travel shows, documentaries, or feature films about a place in the world you want to visit can mentally transport you to a new location,” she tells us. “Visualization is such a powerful tool for relaxation, creativity, and pleasure.”

Take a Travel-Related Online Tour

Sattler explains that when you’re anticipating an upcoming trip, “Emotionally you get a sense of hope and anticipation. Planning for future positive events gives a person a sense of hopefulness and purpose.” To fight feelings of disappointment and sadness over canceled events, she recommends taking virtual visits to museums or tours. And she’s learning from her own advice. After canceling a trip to New York this year, she’s looking forward to visiting Spain and Italy in 2021. She says, “Mentally leap forwards — not backwards.” With that in mind, check out our list of bucket-list destinations that are streaming or can be explored virtually.

Sew Masks for Friends and Family

Face masks
Face masks; Vera Davidova/Unsplash

New York State governor Andrew Cuomo recently required New Yorkers to wear masks in any instance where social distancing wasn’t possible, and the CDC recommends people wear masks while in public. But, masks are still difficult to find and may be too expensive for some families to afford. If you can sew (or master a no-sew mask), give yourself an endorphin rush and make masks to safely distribute to friends and neighbors.

Fire Up Your Pinterest Boards for Home Projects (and Travel)

Castagnini reminds us that it’s important to focus on what is in our control rather than what’s not. “Whereby we used to be able to make it through a hectic work week by knowing we had fun plans with friends or family for the weekend, we now do not have that,” she says. “But that does not mean we have to completely abandon all future plans. We do know that at some point in time, we will be out of this situation and be able to travel, see friends, and so on.”

There are plenty of outlets for doing this online but we suggest heading to Pinterest to keep track of your travel inspiration and ideas. If you’re a visual person, you’ll be inspired and maybe transported by the thousands of sunset, beach, and cocktail images other users have pinned and shared. What’s more? Pinterest functions like a picture-driven search engine, and can help you come up with other ideas for replicating peak experiences at home. And that’s important.

According to Yaron Peer, LCSW, “Having something to look forward to — a peak experience — is psychologically helpful since anticipation helps release endorphins, similar to exercise. Additionally, looking forward helps us endure psychic pain because there is a sense that the reward will make it worth it. In other words, the end goal seems bigger than whatever we are currently experiencing.”

If you can’t or don’t want to focus exclusively on travel, opt for a project that you can take care of at the moment to cultivate that sense of satisfaction. Even something as simple as rearranging the furniture or redecorating your bedroom can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your mood (according to experts).

Meditate and Take a Break

While there is certainly a tendency to tackle projects — or feel like you should tackle them — doing the opposite can also be helpful. Licensed mental health therapist Brie Shelly, MS, LMHC, RYT reminds us that there are positive benefits in toning down our drive to accomplish right now. “Initially, I was eager to accomplish a lot of projects I had on my backlog,” she says. “But I’ve instead decided to give myself some time and space to enjoy the unique opportunity we have to pause. The world has literally come to a stop and there are very few times that this is possible.”

Part of her strategy has been to work on mindfulness and self-care. “I’ve been alone for the better portion of the quarantine,” Shelly adds. “I’m trying to practice being comfortable with myself, my thoughts, and hopes as well as being brave with making new friends when possible. I’ve connected with some of the most fascinating people who I never would have had the chance to before, and it can be a great reminder that we are all enduring this and can come together as a result.”

If you don’t have outdoor space to find some tranquility, and don’t feel like meeting new people online, you can turn to mediation. Headspace is offering free guided meditation trials. You can also check out SmarterTravel’s guided meditative audio tours for destinations like Paris and Zion National Park. Go now (in your mind) and #GoLater when it’s safe.

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