I hate to generalize along gender lines, but when it comes to planning holiday getaways, women have men beat. According to surveys of travel habits, women spend significantly more time planning vacations and they book trips further in advance. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to wait until the last minute to book holiday travel. Perhaps in an effort to best William Shatner's negotiating skills or outwit that wily roaming gnome, they also tend to waste their time and effort on hunting down the best airfare -- despite the fact that travel to and from the destination is only a small portion of the trip's budget (and of the trip itself).
No one returns home from a vacation and brags to their friends about how well they planned their air and ground transportation. You want to come back from a trip with amazing stories about eating the world's best macaroon in Paris, finding a secluded beach in Brazil or zip-lining through the jungle in Costa Rica. Thankfully, for us procrastinating, deal-obsessed men, it would seem that women are also more likely to plan the trip.
Women seem to better understand what studies have demonstrated: It's what you do when you actually get to your destination that matters, and that's where the memories are made.
According to an article in The New York Times, Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman found "that people tend to judge experiences largely on peak moments, either good or bad, that stood out." Following up on recommendations from friends and family, booking a tour that gives you special insight into the local culture, researching seasonal outdoor activities, finding the hotel located closest to the area you want to explore -- all of this planning can lead to more peak experiences. And it's just this kind of planning that women are more likely to do.
And just to point out the gender differences even a bit more, women get more enjoyment out of researching trips, and, according to a 2010 study by Jeroen Nawijn, a tourism research lecturer in the Netherlands, planning a trip can bring more happiness than the trip itself.
In a post on The New York Times' Well blog, Nawijn said, "We found people who are anticipating holiday trips show signs of increased happiness, and afterward there is hardly an effect." He later suggested that discussing the trip more ahead of time could increase the anticipation effect. In other words: Guys, stop trying to win the airfare war, walk away from the maddening price fluctuations on the computer screen and start talking with your partner about what you actually want to do on your vacation.
The best travel planning isn't about creating a strict list of monuments and local attractions to conquer as quickly as possible. That may be the best way to win on "The Amazing Race," but it's not how you create lasting memories. Men would be wise to stop seeing travel planning -- and the trip itself -- as a competition. It's not about how fast you get to the top of the mountain (although getting to the top in record speed can feel damn good), it's about the guy you meet along the way who shares a pint of his home brewed beer and the hundred-year-old lodge with a fireplace at the end of the trail.
But no matter how much you plan for a trip ahead of time, you can't always control what happens when you actually get there -- nor should you try to. The joy of discovery is a big part of the pleasure of travel. Even if countless backpackers armed with their dog-eared Lonely Planet guidebooks have blazed the trail before us, we all like to feel like we're the first one to have stumbled upon a bakery in the middle of a forest in Bavaria or a family-run wine shop in downtown Lisbon.
These peak experiences might also lead to more happiness within your relationship, and perhaps smooth over any remaining regarding who did all work researching and planning all these activities. Research has shown that the more couples participate in novel and new experiences together, the more satisfied they are with the relationship.
Man and woman alike are all seeking the same thing, a great experience full of memories and pictures that they can post on Facebook when they get home and share with friends planning similar vacations.
In reality though, the vacation starts before you get on the plane or in the car: It starts when you open up your browser, or maybe the travel guide, to start looking for that quaint bed and breakfast that will make your experience all the better. Men would be wise to take note of this travel paradox and follow the path that women have been forging for years.