I can’t afford a big trip this year. How can I make a cheap vacation feel better?

By Stephanie BankIllustration of Stephanie Bank

For starters, let’s talk about what not to do…

If you focus on your vacation being "cheap," it’s going to feel cheap. This is explained by something called Confirmation Bias. That is, we tend to pay special attention to information that confirms our preconceptions. So when you consider your vacation to be cheap, a casual meal will likely feel like a budget dinner and a merely good hotel will feel like disappointing accommodations. Instead shift your focus to the things that are free (also known as the things we would otherwise take for granted). This could be anything from: admiring the scenery, going for a walk or a hike or just cherishing quality time with your travel buddy.

Now that you’re in the right headspace, we can explore some other tricks for making it the best vacation possible.

When researching your vacation, check out your favorite travel editorial or blogger to find out their top recommendations (you can finally use the New York Times 36 Hours column or Goop City Guides instead of just reading them wistfully). Then select two indulgent, envy-inducing activities that excite you. Schedule one activity in the middle of the trip and the other one at the end to make the experience as memorable as possible.

Wondering why these instructions are so specific? There are two reasons. One has to do with something called Authority Bias: the idea that we are influenced by those we perceive to be experts. By pulling recommendations from well-respected sources you're more likely to value those activities. The other involves something called Peak-end Rule. We have a tendency to judge an experience based on how we felt at its peak and at the end, which is why we recommend scheduling any splurge-worthy activities strategically. You’ll see how an epic vacation-capping meal at that restaurant David Chang’s been raving about on Instagram can become the cornerstone of an otherwise spartan weekend strolling the streets of Manhattan.

Equipped with a good mindset and a great plan, you can make three nights at a budget Best Western feel like the Taj Mahal.

Stephanie Bank is one of three resident Behavioural Economists working at Evree. Before joining Evree, she worked as a social architect at Ogilvy Change. Got a sticky situation and don’t know where to turn? Just ask us! We’d love to help. Send your questions to [email protected]


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