An important goal of our vacations these days is to take pictures of the unique, interesting, and memorable experiences of our trip. We will go out of our way to get the perfect picture, whether it is with a celebrity, atop a waterfall, or with a plate of food at a busy restaurant where we had to wait an hour for a table. The actual experience of getting to the point where we can take our famed picture may require a long wait in a cold line, a difficult hike up a steep mountain, or a boring car ride for miles to get to a random yet delicious dinner in the middle of no where. We put ourselves through unpleasant experiences while on vacation because the remembering self wants a story to tell about the trip we took.
Getting back to the office, returning to school, or catching up with family after our trip is where the remembering self will be in action. Telling our friends and family that we went to the same beach as last year, sat on the shore, read, and didn’t do anything novel or exciting will make the whole vacation feel less meaningful. Perhaps we really just need a boring and relaxing break, but the remembering self doesn’t want us to have a forgettable experience.
So instead of the boring and uninspiring vacation where we caught up on sleep and enjoyed lounging around eating simple food, we set out for the perfect Instagram vacation. We relentlessly photograph all the interesting things we do, the famous people we can pose next to for 2 seconds, and the tasty food we eat. We give up a little of the present moment experience in order to capture a picture that we likely won’t spend much time looking at in the future. As Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking Fast and Slow, “The photographer does not view the scene as a moment to be savored, but as a future memory to be designed.”
Instead of taking vacations to get away, relax, and relieve stress, we plan vacations to give us the best possible memories. “In many cases,” Kahneman writes, “we evaluate touristic vacations by the story and the memories that we expect to store.” In his book Kahneman shares research to suggest that students misremember how enjoyable a vacation was when it didn’t have unique and memorable experiences. They become less likely to say they would repeat the trip if it was enjoyable but not unique.
This ties in with ideas from Robin Hanson in The Elephant in the Brian. Hanson would argue that vacations are not about relaxing and taking time away from work or school. He would go further than Kahneman and say that vacations are not about memories but are instead about showing off our wealth, our connections, and how interesting we are by traveling to unique places. We pick memorable vacations because the remembering self wants to craft an interesting story about who we are and the trips we take. We want to signal something to the people around us. We want to impress them, and a boring vacation at the same beach as last year just won’t cut it, even if we would enjoy it more in the moment.