One of the great joys in life is traveling. Simply getting away, even for a short time, can reinvigorate us when life’s stresses seem overwhelming.

Or not. We can all likely recall that incredible vacation where everything seemingly went right, and we were left restored and enriched. But we can also recall that time when everything seemed to go awry, and the vacation turned into anything but.

Was the difference just a matter of luck? Probably not. Over the past two decades, I have studied what makes people happy with what they consume, and we can apply that knowledge—often in surprising ways—to make our travel experiences bring more joy and less misery.

Do less

If you love the beach, you should get in as many beach days as possible. Or if you want to enjoy an art museum, you should make sure to see every painting and go to every museum you can.

Sounds logical—but only if you want to have a not-so-enjoyable vacation. You would think that more of a fun experience is always better, but, the reality is that it often isn’t. Indeed, one of the primary reasons that vacations, or any enjoyable activities, fall flat is because of an inalienable truth about hedonic consumption: Enjoyment declines with time.

The more we consume something, almost always, the less we enjoy it. That first bite of chocolate cake is divine, but the last one is merely tasty. A massage starts off feeling amazing and rejuvenating, but by the end of the hour, we are often bored and ready to move on. And the daylong respite on the beach begins as a blissful escape from reality, but often ends with annoyance about the baking sun and the itchy sand. All things, no matter how enjoyable at first, become decidedly less so with time.

So how do we combat this inevitable decline in enjoyment? My research points to one general recommendation: Do less!

Indeed, my colleagues and I have identified three ways that you can do less: via quantity , variety and timing . For quantity, the recommendation is straightforward enough: Even when tempted to stay on the beach for longer, just don’t. End on a high note, even if staying longer might seem like a good idea in the moment. This will stave off the inevitable decline in enjoyment that will shortly follow, and will have the added benefit of leaving you with more positive memories of your trip.

For variety, when you schedule your vacation, try to mix things up as much as possible, even within the span of a single day. Rather than have one beach day followed by one hiking day, mix those up within a single day; relax on the beach in the morning, and hike in the afternoon. Even though you’re cutting your beach time short, the more variety you introduce, the less you experience that drop in enjoyment for any one experience.

And for timing, this is where things get even less intuitive: Take breaks from even the most enjoyable experiences. If you have a massage planned, ask the masseuse to take a five-minute break somewhere in the middle of the massage. Yes, you will have less total massage time, but you will enjoy the second half of your massage much more. That’s because the break resets the decline in enjoyment, and the second half of the massage starts out almost as enjoyable as the first few moments were.

The same goes for that beach day: Take 10 minutes to check your email inside the air-conditioned hotel lobby. Even if you’re at a nightclub, bring a book and, after an hour of dancing, read for 20 minutes before returning to the dance floor. The breaks need not be long, but they can have a profound effect on how much you wind up enjoying your time because they reset the decline in enjoyment that is all but inevitable without them.

Limit your choices

When planning a trip, it’s critical to compare hotels, tours and restaurants to make the best choices possible, right? Again, not so fast. When planning a trip, it can be tempting to ferret out all the possible options. I’m personally guilty of spending days optimizing every moment of a trip, only to find myself disappointed with the choices that I’ve made.

The reason is because in doing all that pre-work and scanning every option for every moment of my trip, I’m creating a mental catalog of what are called counterfactuals. I’m teaching myself what other options exist.

In planning, this seems like a great thing to do: I can carefully weigh all the pros and cons of every option and then pick the one that seems best for me. But when it comes time to experience the choices I’ve made, I can’t just ignore that I know about all the other options out there. And if anything at all goes wrong with the choices that I’ve made, I have many alternatives in that mental catalog to compare against and second-guess if I made the right choices. I begin to experience regret.

This “choice overload,” as it’s commonly called, is easily addressed by acting as a “satisficer”— a person who upon finding the first acceptable option among a set of options, accepts it. This contrasts with a maximizer, who, like me, considers every option in front of them and tries to make the best choice.

Think of the satisficer as someone who reads a restaurant menu and orders the first dish that sounds tasty. And think of a maximizer as the person who first carefully reads about every single dish on the menu and then, eventually, makes a choice. The maximizer might make a better choice, but if they make a bad one, they have so many other dishes to regret not picking. But the satisficer simply doesn’t know any better and enjoys the meal. Ignorance, here, truly is bliss.

Similarly, if you research every hotel option and the one you chose doesn’t live up to your expectations, you will have many other hotels to regret skipping. In general, research shows that satisficers are happier in life because they avoid the problem of choice overload.

Do something uncomfortable

Vacations are often meant to relax and restore us. Resting is part of the goal, so avoiding anything negative makes sense.

To see why that kind of thinking might backfire, consider that humans, by nature, are creatures of comparison. We compare our salaries to those of our peers. We compare our cars to those of our neighbors. And we even compare the dishes we choose at a restaurant against the dishes that our dinner companions chose. Those comparisons are what make us happy…or not .

Now, think about a vacation. If all we include on our vacations are positive experiences, then that is likely all we will have to compare against, making each comparison not all that positive itself.

But what if you did something drastically different and intentionally introduced some less-enjoyable experiences? Consider taking local public transportation instead of a taxi. It will be a bit less comfortable, but that’s the point. Rather than staying at the nicest hotel, go down market a bit. By comparison, everything else you do will shine. Leave your phone at the hotel and just get a bit lost wondering in a city. You might feel some anxiety, but then the thrill of exploration will be that much more enjoyable.

The idea is to introduce just a bit of negativity—a bit of hardship—to make everything else that you do stand out by comparison. This contrast that you create will elevate the joy you get from all the positive aspects of your vacation beyond what you would have experienced otherwise.

Putting it all together

What does this all add up to? A vacation that is counterintuitive—and more enjoyable.

You don’t plan as much, you do less of what you like, you take a break from enjoying yourself, and you make yourself do things that are actually uncomfortable. If that sounds like the recipe for a lousy trip, that’s understandable. But science suggests otherwise. So my advice is to forget about what feels like the smart thing to do and embrace the opposite. The result may very well become the stories you cherish and share long after your return.

Jeff Galak is an associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. He can be reached at