No two vacations are the same. However, there are certain moments of any trip that are highlights -- and some that we could do without. What are those joyous moments when we are relaxed or excited or, even better, both at the same time? The most recent Travel Habits Survey from Cheapflights.com looks at how we feel about every stage, from booking our trip to looking back through pictures, to capture the emotional heartbeat of the average American vacation.
For its Travel Pulse, Cheapflights.com asked 1,132 Americans to weigh in on key moments from planning, enjoying and returning from a vacation to create a chart of the most stressful and relaxing points as well as when excitement rules and travel blues set in. The troughs and peaks range from the sad moment when we are fighting our way through the airport for the flight home, which handily beat out returning to your daily routine as the most depressing part of a vacation, to the calm of sleeping in your own bed when you get back, which turns out to be the most relaxing moment.
The good news is that the vacation high points largely outnumber the low points. Also, waking up the first moment and having your first meal are the pinnacle moments of vacation, those magic spots that are tops in both relaxation and excitement. Big stress points? Security personnel and the dreaded question "we paid how much?"
Vacation High Points
Showing that Americans are eager to get to the fun on their vacations, the moment of maximum excitement is when we hit the beach, the slopes or whatever the main attraction is for the destination we're visiting. However, as much fun as we try to pack into these trips, there is no place like home, as underscored by the finding that the most relaxing moment is sleeping in your own bed upon return.
Here's the full rundown on the five vacation moments that excite us most:
Hitting beach/slopes/city or whatever the main attraction is for the destination - 82 percent
Waking up the first morning - 76 percent
Taking a side trip, excursion or moving on to a new venue - 75 percent
Eating your first meal - 75 percent
Arriving at your vacation spot - 73 percent
And the five most relaxing vacation moments:
Sleeping in your own bed (upon return) - 83 percent
Looking back at photos from your trip - 79 percent
Having your first drink - 74 percent
Waking up the first morning - 73 percent
Eating your first meal - 69 percent
The process of getting to where we are going is what stresses U.S. travelers the most, while the prospect of going home is what brings us down. Going through security and airports and getting out the door to leave, on both ends of the trip, were the top stress-inducing moments. The list of truly "depressing" moments is short (note that none of the choices earned even 50 percent of respondents' votes) and is all about leaving the vacation destination behind.
These are the top moments where travel stress can rear its head:
Getting through security at the airport - 59 percent
Getting through airport for return flight - 58 percent
Traveling to airport for return flight - 54 percent
Leaving home - 52 percent
Packing for vacation - 51 percent
Traveling to the airport for vacation - 51 percent
Here are the top points where we get the vacation blues:
Getting through airport for return flight - 44 percent
Waking up last morning - 43 percent
Packing to go home - 43 percent
"The allure of travel is trying new places and getting away from the everyday," said Melisse Hinkle, Cheapflights.com editor and travel expert. "Our Travel Pulse shows the best parts of the trip are the moments when we are getting swept up in being away. It's the promise of that feeling that makes the stress of airports and security worth the effort. Of course, sleeping in our own beds when we get home is still a hard-to-beat moment -- sort of a vacation afterglow!"
A few other findings
While we were on the topic of vacation highs and lows, we asked about a few more points. Here's what we found:
When do Americans start to lose that relaxed vacation feeling? The most common answer was "leaving the hotel" (21 percent), followed by "arriving at work/school the first day back" (19 percent) and then "arriving at the airport for the return flight" (16 percent).
The most stressful question when on vacation? "We paid how much?" (26 percent) followed quite distantly by "did you remember the passports/tickets?" (18 percent). For parents, "we paid how much?" jumped even higher to 31 percent of responses (still the top answer). Number two for parents was "how much longer?" at 14 percent.
When asked "who stresses you out the most on vacation," the top answers were "security personnel"(18 percent), "airline/rental car/hotel representatives" (17 percent) and, in third place, "spouse/significant other" (16 percent).
Finally, it turns out those who use social media, which was 50 percent of respondents, are pretty honest, with 65 percent saying they share their bad travel experiences while the other 35 percent reporting they pretend their vacation was perfect.