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Trip report

My original intent was to write two different reports: One that talked only about the good things that happened on our spring break trip, and a second that talked about the bad things. The point would have been to demonstrate that you can choose to see mostly good or mostly bad in the very same event.

Instead I am going to talk about both the good and the bad in one report, and I have decided to talk about the trip in the context of a robust research finding concerning the way we think about our past feelings and anticipate future feelings. This research indicates that we generally overestimate how good we will feel about an event we are looking forward to, and that we generally remember a past event that was supposed to be enjoyable (e.g., a vacation) as more positive than it actually was. These biases are easily demonstrated by recording how one expects to feel about a future event or how one remembers feeling about a past event, and then comparing these impressions to feelings that are recorded at the actual time one is experiencing the event. A representative article of this kind of research is Wirtz D., Kruger J., Napa Scollon C., & Diener E. (2003). What to do on spring break?: The role of predicted, on-line, and remembered experience in future choice. Psychological Science, 14, 520-524. An on-line prepublication copy of the article is available at http://personal.tcu.edu/~cscollon/Wirtz_et_al.pdf .

Read on if you care to hear what happened on our spring break vacation.


Objectively speaking, there were proportionally more unpleasant than pleasant events on our spring break trip. First, of course, there was the negative stress of traveling, which involved driving the seven of us down to BWI airport, going through airport security, taking a Delta hop to Atlanta, taking another Delta hop to Daytona Beach, renting two cars, and driving to the timeshare on New Smyrna Beach. We were exhausted and it was dark when we arrived, and we had trouble finding the place. They didn't have any room in their parking lot, so we had to park three blocks away. It was bike week, and the bikers staying where we stayed were constantly gunning their engines at all hours of the night and day. We had to listen to a two-hour sales pitch for the timeshare (the price of free lodging and car rental). The next day we walked the boardwalk in Daytona, but it was too cold to swim. I suppose it is just as well that we did no. I heard on the news the next day that the bacteria count in the water there was dangerously high.

After two days in New Smyrna Beach/Daytona Beach, we left for Orlando. I headed north on I95 because I remembered seeing the exit for I4 near Daytona, but got a call from the other car telling me we should be going south, according to the directions we had printed from the Internet. Of course the directions were wrong so we had to travel on a circuitous course using route 50, which took us right through the heart of Orlando. We just barely made the appointment for our next timeshare talk.

I'm not going to say anything about the constipation suffered on the trip except that it happened.

It took the Radisson front desk a long time to find us adjoining rooms. You would think a place like the Radisson would have wireless or wired Internet connections. All they had was one Internet-enabled computer in their Business Center, which cost 25 cents a minute. So we hung out in our rooms—my three youngest sons in one room, and Carolyn and I and my son Martin and his fiancée Carrie in the other. That was cozy.

I woke up really early the next morning after not sleeping terribly well, hoping to get a good start. The forecast indicated a chance of rain showers starting late in the afternoon, so it looked like we could get in a good day at Universal. But Paul woke up really sick. And then it started raining—harder and harder. So we went to malls all day. As if I can't do that at home. We stopped at a Nike outlet, and since I had been wanting to get some Air Jordans for years, I decided I would buy some, no matter what the price. They had exactly the Retro Air Jordans I wanted—but not in my size.

After another sleepless night, I got up early, but Michael, Paul, and Patrick didn't want to go out because they had been up late. So Carolyn took Martin and Carrie to Universal and I waited around until noon for everyone else to get up and get ready. So I spent a half day at the park. We wanted to have dinner at Emeril's since my sons love his show so much, but nothing was available until after 10 PM. I can't remember what we did for dinner.

The next day on our two-day pass also started around noon because nobody wanted to get up. Again Emeril's had no tables until after 10 PM. I suggested that we eat at Bob Marley's or Pat O'Brien's. I was overruled by others who wanted to eat at TGI Fridays. As if I can't do that at home. Someone thought we would see a TGIF on the way back to the hotel, but we did not. We got directions to the nearest one at the hotel and drove for a few miles to wait in line during which time I started getting a headache.

The next day we got on I4 okay, but were held up for an hour about 20 miles outside of Daytona Beach by an accident. I discovered a T-1 Internet connection at the Daytona airport, but only had 10 minutes to use it before our flight was called. Another hop to Atlanta and then Baltimore, and then the 3-hour drive back to State College. Trip done.

Okay, now the good parts. Walking on the boardwalk at Daytona Beach was okay. We had a good dinner at the Hard Rock Café on the rainy Wednesday. It was very sunny and pleasantly warm on Thursday and Friday, so I did not even mind waiting in lines for the Universal attractions, which I enjoyed. I especially liked Men in Black. And the Blues Brothers act. I enjoyed having a couple of beers with Carolyn at the bar in the hotel one evening. The food at TGIF was tasty. Being aware of the research on the proportion of negatives and positives on most vacations, I made a conscious effort to make the best of every single situation, being compassionate and forgiving toward my kids, paying attention to the here-and-now, and being grateful for every moment. Objectively, the trip wasn't worth it, but I made it worth it.