Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel
Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel
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Can planning your next trip make you happier?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Can planning a trip help your mental health? That’s the question we recently looked into. The surprising answer, according to researchers, is that planning and anticipating a trip can be almost as enjoyable as going on the trip itself.

“As humans, we spend a lot of our mental lives living in the future,” says Matthew Killingsworth, one of the co-authors of the study. “Our future-mindedness can be a source of joy if we know good things are coming, and travel is an especially good thing to have to look forward to.”

There’s another reason travel planning can produce happiness: We often know enough about a trip to look forward to it—but there’s enough novelty to keep our minds interested. “In a sense, we start to ‘consume’ a trip as soon as we start thinking about it,” Killingsworth says. “When we imagine eating gelato in a piazza in Rome or going water skiing with friends we don’t see as much as we’d like, we get to experience a version of those events in our mind.”

Experiences rather than possessions (below, instant photos of Chicago’s Loop), tend to make travel more enriching.

Our story on distant trip planning has resonated with travelers. On Facebook, reader Adam Beneventi remains optimistic. “Planning trips is exciting,” he writes. “The wife and I had a few trips planned for this year. We will just push them off. No big deal. We still look forward to when we can take them, and the anticipation is exciting. We talk about the places we will visit and the foods we will eat.”

NBA All-Star Kevin Love, who is a fan of National Geographic, reached out to us to share how his travel experiences have influenced his work supporting mental health—Love is the NBA’s unofficial spokesman on mental health. “A friend told me something this past summer,” recounts Love, “that I now relate to all my travel. He said, ‘Get over the self-limiting belief that it's too complicated and too expensive and too dangerous to crack the world wide open.' That sentiment has stuck with me from the moment I heard it. I have always found a lot of happiness in my curiosity. Engaging in other people's cultures and lives can be incredibly fulfilling.”

May is Mental Health Month—so Love’s message is especially timely, when so many people are weathering pandemic pressures. Mental Health America is offering a set of practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency in our time of COVID-19 and social distancing. If planning your next holiday brings you happiness—why hold back?

Who's flying now?

In case you had any doubts, we’re not anywhere near ready to take to the skies just yet.

Only 2 percent of 2,200 Americans polled by National Geographic and Morning Consult said they would jump on a plane right now, and only another 8 percent would consider doing so this summer. The results come from a poll taken this weekend. That was as parts of the United States reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 90,000 Americans and 319,000 people worldwide.

The poll shows broad no-fly sentiment among Americans of different political persuasions and regions of the country. Nearly 4 in 10 of respondents simply said they didn’t know when they would be comfortable flying again, with nearly a quarter saying not until 2022 (6 percent) or only when a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available (17 percent).

Younger Americans are more than twice as likely to say they would plan on traveling this summer or fall compared to older Americans, with 11 percent of younger Americans (18-34) saying they would consider flying in summer 2020 and 11 percent saying they would fly in fall 2020. Comparatively, just 4 percent of older Americans (65 and older) said they would fly in summer and 5 percent said they would fly in fall.

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Today in a minute

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Still open: The one national park in Hawaii that must remain operational is on the remote island of Molokai. Why? It has to do with the island’s history as a quarantine zone. Fewer than a dozen residents still live on the secluded peninsula that is the Kalaupapa National Historical Park. They are the only people remaining from the thousands of afflicted who were exiled here under a quarantine law, the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.” With limited medical resources and an elderly community that’s considered high risk for COVID-19, this refuge, created to keep ill people in, is now doing what it can to keep ill people out, writes Sunny Fitzgerald for Nat Geo.

Reimagining Venice: What will this northern Italian tourist paradise (or overtouristed hell, depending on the season) look like after the pandemic passes? “This allows us to rethink life in the historic center,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro tells the Associated Press. Brugnaro is pushing for a local university to restore student housing in apartments that had been converted to tourist rentals. He also wants to create a center for climate change that could attract scientists to live there.

Creative Seattle: In the U.S. city where COVID-19 first gained a foothold, officials are encouraging an outpouring of a creativity along with measures to keep the pandemic at bay. A community response called Seattle Together is aimed at growing social networks and supporting neighborhoods right now by art-bombing streets and front yards. It’s unconventional thinking in a historically introverted place, but it has created an improbable wave of optimism, Amanda Castleman and Corinne Whiting write for Nat Geo.

Escape to Africa:
Nat Geo’s Amy Alipio writes: Our in-house Travel Book Club is next reading Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah, his memoir of growing up in the last years of apartheid South Africa. The book also appears on our list of 10 great reads set in Africa. Readers weighed in with their own picks. Sandy Salle recommends Jane Goodall’s autobiography, Africa in My Blood. Matthew Surridge sings the praises of Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain. And Yasmin Khan says, The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, is my favorite book about the continent and also my favorite travel book of all time.” Send in your own #lockdownreading tips to travelbookclub@natgeo.com to be featured in an upcoming newsletter.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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When in Hanoi: The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square is one of the most visited attractions in Vietnam’s capital. The massive granite structure is the final resting place of the nation’s independence leader (and U.S. foe) Ho Chi Minh, known among the people as “Uncle Ho.”

See: Mesmerizing photos of Vietnam from above

Subscriber exclusive: The mountain trek that is a spice lover’s dream

Travel on Instagram: Are you one of our 38 million followers? (If not, follow us now.)

The big takeaway

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What color is your silo? The rural Australian cotton- and sheep-farming town of Thallon was on its knees. People were leaving. It needed to do something. It turned to two muralists, who came up with a massive piece of artwork for four towering silos. Dubbed “The Watering Hole,” the mural depicts a fiery sunset over a landscape dotted with sheep, rainbow-hued rosella parrots, and a scarred tree—a nod to the region’s indigenous community, which strips bark to make weapons. The move has turned the town into a tourist destination, writes Sarah Reid for Nat Geo.

In a few words

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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

The last glimpse

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In the steps of the Romans: Along the 400-mile Jordan Trail, the terrain ranges from olive tree–studded slopes in the north to water-lapped shores in the south. In between is Petra and the otherworldly sandstone formations of Wadi Rum—often a movie stand-in for Mars—where inscriptions from the Nabataean culture date back more than two millennia. Aaron Gulley, writing for Nat Geo, makes a strong case for this wild journey on a post-pandemic adventure list.

Subscriber exclusive: Walking along the Jordan Trail

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!