The Reason ‘Vacation Brain’ Makes You Want to up and Move to Paradise, Stat

Photo: Getty Images/ Igor Ustynskyy
I think it took, oh, 14 hours and two tomato-jam-slathered egg sandwiches before I decided we were moving away to Providence, Rhode Island. My significant other and I picked the vacation spot on a whim and fell head over heels in a forever way. Cut to: The two of us googling real estate options by a river, because uhh...honestly, eff our home in New York City, a sweaty, godless rat palace where dreams curdle and rent costs eclipse even the thought of first-born child.

We're never moving to Providence, by the way. I'm such a New York lifer that I've spent many a post-happy-hour blur weeping while just looking at the Manhattan skyline. My boyfriend is such a New York lifer that he wrote an entire album about—of all boroughs—Staten Island. But ever since we left [googles nickname for Providence] the Divine City, I've been wondering why so many of us delude ourselves into aggressively fantasizing about our vacation spots as a possible next home. Especially when going through with the change-up often just isn't feasible in actuality.

As it turns out, vacation brain leads many of us confuse leisure experiences with real life. "This is a very common dynamic," says clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin, PsyD. "We tend to idealize places when we are catered to, are not working, are not cleaning or cooking." It makes sense that we'd romanticize the places where we have fun—and for us, Providence was a blast. It was filled with lavender lattes, adorable bookstores, and zero obligation visits to friends or relatives. Of course I want to vacation is locales where I feel free versus, like, Fort Lauderdale (sorry, Aunt Ida, love you—but, like, seeing you does not a vacation make). Still, while all play, no work (social, or otherwise) lends itself to a great, restorative vacation, real life requires more ingredients than just the sugar on top.

All play, no work lends itself to a great, restorative vacation, but real life requires more ingredients than just the sugar on top.

Dr. Irwin notes that recognizing the thought of "nice place to visit, but I couldn't live there" is a smart strategy for finding peace with the place you're already in. "A good way to learn to separate fantasy from reality is to make more trips back to that place and see if your feelings change," she says. "Research job opportunities there, what schools are like, what crime is like, political environment. Make an informed decision of really being able to live in such a place." In other words, try to figure out if you really could and also would move there.

Sure, return trips aren't 100 percent simple if your preferred vacation spot is some 10-hour-plane trip, tropical-paradise situation. It is, however, very easy to do some clicking around online to see if you can reasonably live in your preferred travel locale. At the very least, doing a bit of extra research when you're not on vacation brain may facilitate a newfound sense of gratitude for where you already live. Furthermore, you can almost certainly replicate what you love about you vacation on a small scale. I mean, lavender lattes and charming bookstores also exist in New York.

Looking for an easy mental getaway? Rebranding your weekend as a vacation will help you banish your weekly Sunday Scaries. And for those feeling adventurous, a rough and tumble vacay may reduce your stress.

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