(Originally Appearing in Susan K. Perry's CREATING IN FLOW column on Psychology Today Online.)
THE HAPPY TRAVELER, by Associate Professor of Psychology Jaime Kurtz (OXFORD PRESS, 2017), looks misleadingly innocent.
It promises to unlock the secrets of better vacations, for one. That's an admirable goal and certainly worth a page turn or two. And below that the cover says that Dr. Kurtz is a Happiness Researcher, and will share the science behind meaningful travel.
All very gentle and, and a way, purple dinosaur-esque. It suggests this is yet another of the travel books which give you basic ideas, recounted for the umpteenth time, on how to go on a better vacation, how to make the most out of the trip, etc, etc, etc.
But the author is off on a different and much richer tangent than that. That the book was written by a psychologist rather than an armchair travel enthusiast should be the first indication the book isn't quite as innocent as the cover would suggest.
THE HAPPY TRAVELER is actually far more a research piece dealing with the psychology of better understanding yourself and working towards creating and enjoying vacations tailored to appeal to your personal psychological needs rather than simply taking off and hoping you enjoy yourself.
If that sounds a bit dry, it's my fault not the author's. Dr. Kurtz does an excellent job of keeping the language lively and understandable even as she throws a variety of genuine psychologist terminology at the reader. You may find yourself digging through a drawer for a highlighting pen to make sure those important concepts don't get lost before you close the cover at the end of the book.
Early on the author takes on a psychologist's tone as she reviews individual personality traits and how they impact the planning of a terrific trip. The reader learns new, and scientific, terms such as allocentrism and psychocentrism. Words which even my spellcheck doesn't recognize.
But they're important to Dr. Kurtz' thesis. Allocentric people prefer adventurous travel. Novelty. Psychocentrics prefer familiarity and structure. They just want to get away and relax. The key here is understanding which of these two are you, the reader, and where on the spectrum you may fall.
The book reviews these and other concepts, and uses a series of chapters and useful lists of things and ideas to enable people to figure out where they are as a traveler. It provides tools and explanations for the reader to determine which approach best suits their psychological needs, and putting their own wants and needs into one of these traits - or those in between the extremes - to better plan and identify vacations which will best appeal to their own selves.
Throughout the book the author makes effective use of quotes and ideas both from her own travels and research as well as well-known travelers and celebrities. There are dozens of personal anecdotes used to illustrate an idea, as well as descriptions of the expected benefits of truly figuring out who you are and how you get the most out of your vacation efforts. She creates, chapter by chapter, a sequential set of guidelines for better understanding who we are and how we can take the steps to take full advantage of our time off and our travel dollars. And that, in anyone's book, is useful information.
I will admit that at first - entirely due to my expectations - I was a little off put by the researcher-aspect of the book, but as my own expectations began to change I realized what she was onto and how useful the information is to the person who is simply trying to figure out the above. They may be someone who has gone on a half dozen frustrating trips, but they did so without really taking the time to understand their own needs and enjoyment. And they need something a good deal more informed than a light travel guide to help them sort it out.
As a tool for truly planning a more effective and rewarding trip this book excels. It's a self-help guide which is a genuine self-help. Understanding the nature of what you want to do, not just the options once you're there.
It's a unique approach and one which does take a moment to internalize. But as the author notes in the opening paragraphs to chapter two, one of the biggest surprises on a poorly planned trip may be the realization that you've "inadvertently brought myself with me to the island". In other words, plan for yourself and not what you THINK you ought to enjoy.
With THE HAPPY TRAVELER you will get the insight and tools with which to examine yourself and better understand the psychology of planning a terrific trip.