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5 Ways to be a Happier Traveler: A Weekend in Raleigh

Raleigh World

Last week, I shared how I had ditched my travel bucket list in favor of choosing to travel to one new place each year with intention. This year’s trip was to Raleigh, NC. In addition to sharing about my trip, I would like to show how I applied what I have learned about happiness over the years to this trip in order to make it a little more magical.

1. Money Does Not a Good Experience Make. This was a bit of a budget trip for my husband and I; we each spent an average of about $300 including food, hotel, and transportation. Because I knew going into the trip that we would be watching our dollars, and because I knew that I didn’t have to spend money to have a good time, I searched for free things to do in the city. Raleigh happens to have a fantastic -and huge– natural science museum. We spent hours checking out the dinosaur and whale bones, local gem stones, and creepy crawlies. There was even a butterfly room that also had an adorable sloth! While our time there was free, I did make a small donation as a token of thanks and also purchased a bar of fair trade chocolate from the gift shop.

Raleigh bones

2. But Novel Experiences are Worth the Splurge. I suppose an experience can be novel without being a splurge, but there was one novel experience that we wanted to splurge on while we were there: Brewery Bhavana. It’s a creative space that is part brewery, part book store, part florist, and part dim sum restaurant. Oh, and did I mention it’s gorgeous? The dim sum restaurant, which has been internationally ranked, was well worth the splurge and was one of the best meals we have ever had. We celebrated our anniversary there.

Brewery Bhavana

3. Spend on experiences, not things. Knowing that experiences bring more happiness than physical things, I spent most of my money on the experience. I did purchase one non-food souvenir, my weekly purchase for that week, at the Raleigh Flea Market. It’s a ring which I believe is made out of rhodochrosite. I thought that was perfect for me because it is supposed to represent the heart, both giving to others but also self-care. It’s also native to North Carolina. It was a nice little memento to remind me of the trip.

rhodochrosite

4. Travel according to your values. I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when my actions align with my values. When my husband wanted to check out the local farmer’s market, I was all on board. Raleigh has a very nice market that is a lot bigger than the one near our home. We enjoyed looking at all the local vendors and had lunch at a seafood restaurant on-site afterwards.

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It was pouring down rain at the market and none of my photos turned out. I guess that just means I’ll have to go back! Fortunately, the whole market was covered so we stayed dry.

5. Leave time to recharge. Because we had our own transportation, we had a little leeway in terms of planning and decided not to plan every second of the trip. This left us with some time to wander, to relax with a cup of tea or coffee, and also some time to recharge in our hotel room. As an introvert myself, I always appreciate taking a little time to relax when away from home, and I always find that a hotel room is the perfect place for a little extra pampering and self-care.

raleigh coffee cup

Now, I’d like to clarify that I wan’t going around calculating the way to maximize my percentage of happiness on my trip minute-by-minute. That would be no fun at all! I simply naturally found myself applying these skills because I have been cultivating them for years at this point. So, if you are trying to go for a happier trip, maybe try to incorporate one or two of these skills, or maybe read over the list ahead of time, but ditch any “formulas” for the trip itself. After all, having an intentional, mindful experience is also key for a happy vacation!

What do you do when you travel that makes the experience more magical?

Why I Ditched my Travel Bucket List

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When I was younger, I had a dream of visiting all seven continents. Ambitious? Maybe. But truth be told, I was very fortunate to be off to a good start. I had already visited Africa and Europe and I live in North America. Since my husband is Korean American, there was a good chance that we would visit Asia at some point in our lifetimes as well. I’d had a good friend who had already accomplished this goal of visiting every continent in her early twenties, which made it seem even more achievable.

Despite the fact that I was farther along with this goal than many people my age, I realized it wasn’t making me happy. The reason was that I was focusing on this one big goal rather than traveling with intention. I have talked about before the impact that daily intentional activities have on our happiness. Trips that didn’t help me reach that goal felt insignificant, rather than the gifts that they were. Furthermore, I worried how disappointed I would feel if I never met my goal, rather than feeling gratitude that I had the ability to travel, a privilege denied to many.

As I have grown older, I have focused less on big life goals and more on living with daily intention. While going through this change, I came across this quote:

Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.

This quote is often falsely attributed to the Dalai Lama and I can’t find its originator, but nevertheless, it stuck with me. To me, this became a much more proactive, intentional way to vacation than focusing on one big bucket list. Moreover, it depended much less on how much time I had because the trip could be the next town over or a cross-country road trip. It depended less on how much money I had, because I could camp out in a tent or splurge on a five-star hotel. It also depended less on personal limitations, like who would watch my dog or if I had a physical condition later in life that limited travel.

The main reason I like this philosophy of travel better, though, is that I had four continents left, but *hopefully* I could have 60+ years. That is potentially 56 more opportunities to get excited, to plan, to daydream about my upcoming trips, than if I was focusing on reaching the remaining continents. It means every year I will go somewhere new! I think that’s pretty exciting! And hey, maybe I will still get to visit every continent, but if I do, my mindset for going will be, in my opinion, more healthy.

I even keep this philosophy in mind on a weekly or even daily basis. Since I have recently moved to a new city, I have ample opportunity to explore new places regularly, whether it be a new grocery store or a park down the road. When given the choice, nine times out of ten I will choose a novel choice over a familiar one because novelty has been shown to be correlated with happiness.

The first year I started this new plan was the year of our honeymoon; we went on a cruise, so I got to visit three new places: Haiti, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. Last year, we didn’t go on any big trips (though we attended two out-of-town weddings at locations we had been before), but we did go to Cherokee Casino, and I had never been to Cherokee, NC before. And this year we are going to… Raleigh, NC!

I’ve stopped in a mall in Raleigh, once, and spent some time in Durham, but I haven’t spent time in Raleigh Proper, so I’m pretty excited. Pictures and details to come!

Have you ever had a time when you re-evaluated a life goal because it wasn’t making you happy?

Happy Travels


This week, a lot of us will be traveling to visit family. Travel can be stressful during the best of times. During the holidays it can be a nightmare. I have a few suggestions as to how to make the trip a little more enchanted.

  • Start before you leave. Plan ahead. Pack only what you know you will need. Take your time. Take a little breather once you have finished packing so you won’t  start your travels feeling rushed.
  • Practice mindfulness. Try to be present. Notice the scenery around you. What would you do differently if you were driving or riding or flying for the sheer enjoyment of it rather than as a means to get from here to there?
  • Use the opportunity. Is there a book you have been wanting to read or listen to on tape? Maybe a favorite magazine you don’t usually indulge in? An album of holiday music to put you in the mood?
  • Look for opportunities to practice kindness. If you are looking at big crowds and long lines during your travel, perhaps the opportunity will arise to give someone a hand, hold a door, give a smile, or strike up a nice conversation with the person waiting next to you.
  • Remember gratitude. It’s not always easy during this stressful time, and it is certainly okay if you are feeling stressed as well, but you may find that practicing a little gratitude can lift your mood. Maybe for you it is gratitude for the meaning behind the holiday you are celebrating, or the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, or simply having the means to travel.

What do you do to make your holiday season a little more enchanted?

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