Years of research has found that spending money on an experience – concert tickets, a surfing trip, even a simple meal with friends – is more likely to make us happier than buying a fancy watch, car, or piece of real estate.
And deep down, we know it already: Our brains get bored with possessions, but we never tire of telling stories about our lives.
Yet we still associate economic value with material items. We know how much a piece of jewellery or stereo system costs. But here's the secret: When you sthat wipring for that Mediterranean holiday, you essentially get double the value – the anticipation beforehand and memories afterward.
The best part? Even if it turns out to be not quite as fun as we imagined, our minds will turn it into a humorous story or a character-building episode.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to get lasting value out of your bonus, no matter how much time you have.
If you have a long weekend
Eat the meal of a lifetime
Noma's closed. So if you want to find the new temple to Nordic cooking, that requires a journey to the restaurant at Fäviken in northern Sweden. To get there, you must first go to Stockholm, then take a one-hour flight north to Ostersund.
From there, it's another hour-long drive down country backroads – though you can also take a helicopter and shave 50 minutes off that trip – to reach the picturesque, brick-red farmhouse inn with six cozy rooms set on a 20,000-acre hunting preserve.
Its restaurant, a 12-seat outpost that won two Michelin stars last year, is overseen by Nordic superhero chef Magnus Nilsson 322 kilometres from the Arctic Circle.
On arrival, there's a sauna stocked with splits of Champagne and bottles of craft beer. Before dinner, guests gather in the lounge for translucent slices of aged pork and smoked reindeer broth, then are served upstairs in a barn-style dining room.
Dishes range from the sweetest, lightest king crab you've ever tasted to a leg of fermented and roasted veal leg. After-dinner options include petit fours, cigars, and outside, an immense yurt with a fire pit. For those in the mood for a nightcap, the restaurant has most of the country's allocation of Pappy Van Winkle.
Because good things never last long enough, stays are limited to one night. If you're not in a hurry to leave the area, stop at the nearby ski town of Åre, known as the Aspen of Sweden, where Nilsson has set up a small dining club for those who have stayed at Fäviken.
Give your body a break
One suggestion: Take it to John Lobb. Founded in London in 1866, the master shoemaker expanded to Paris in 1902. Seven decades later, the Lobb family sold its French outpost to Hermès, which has since spun it into a global operation that makes it easier to undertake a bespoke John Lobb experience, whether it's in New York, Taipei, or Beirut.
But a fellow who wants to do it right books a La Première suite on Air France en route to the famed Right Bank workshop – at 32 Rue de Mogador in the Ninth Arrondissement – where each curve is measured and every detail deliberated before the last-maker sculpts a form in the shape of your foot from hornbeam wood.
Whether golf cleats or Chelsea boots, patent-leather pumps or suede driving moccasins, the thoroughness of the craftsmanship, the thoughtfulness of the stitching, and the thickness of the leather all add up to produce a superlative pair of kicks.
For the sake of convenience, book a suite at the Hotel Scribe Paris Opera to provide a base of operations worthy of the occasion. Restaurant Guy Savoy, just across the River Seine in the old French mint building, is a fitting place to celebrate. The bespoke process typically involves a second appointment to test a mock-up, but you can usually arrange for follow-up visits to be conducted at a shop closer to your home.
If circumstances demand that you make a return trip to the City of Lights, well, that is just the price of perfection.
If you have seven days
Drive an epic road trip
The Four Seasons hotels in Milan, Florence, and Cap Ferrat have iniated a program that allows guests to take a vintage, convertible sports car through the mountains of France and Italy. Your choices?
A 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, a Porsche 356 Speedster, or a Mercedes-Benz 190 SL Cabriolet (still one of the most sought-over roadsters of its era).
Create your own itinerary for each day: Begin in the south of France and visit Finalborgo, an ancient Italian village just across the border in the hills of Liguria, before heading back to the hotel spa for the evening. Then take a food tour through Modena and Parma, where you can visit small basalmic vinegar producers or Parma pork farms. End in Florence after winding through a taste of Chianti wine producers.
Throughout the trip, Four Seasons staff will pack and transport your luggage and provide daily picnic boxes prepared by hotel chefs for roadside lunches and snacks. They'll also arrange valet parking at each stop, a gasoline and refueling service, and even a separate radio-connected road assistance driver. You can switch to a modern car at any point during the drive, too – though we're sure you'll resist. Only two of these once-in-a-lifetime packages are available per property. So book yours early.
Measure your game against the best
Choose an adventure that fuses two of Scotland's greatest gifts to humanity: golf and whisky. Fly into Edinburgh and take a 45-minute car to Greywalls, an Edwardian country house at Gullane in East Lothian, which is surrounded by some of the best courses in the world: Muirfield, which has hosted the British Open 16 times and is regarded by some as the toughest test on the golf calendar; Renaissance, the exclusive private member's club that hosts the Scottish Seniors Open this year; and Glen Golf Club, with breathtaking views over a rocky shoreline toward the North Sea.
After a morning on the greens, the hotel will arrange for you to take a helicopter – or a car of your choice, ranging from a Rolls-Royce to various vintage options – to Islay for a visit to the country's world-class Scotch distilleries, whether you prefer smooth-drinking Bowmore or peaty Ardbeg.
After you've gotten your sea legs on the links-style courses, the company can also arrange for a private golf lesson with a Scottish pro such as Colin Montgomerie, who won a record 31 tournaments on the European tour.
If you have 10 days
Bridge an ancient divide
For years, sophisticated travellers have been stymied by the border between Peru and Bolivia. The Incan fortresses that stud the Sacred Valley make a natural pairing with the mystical salt flats of Uyuni, but there have not been luxurious routes connecting the two countries until now.
A major shift in South American travel is underway, thanks to the debut in May of a new Andean Explorer sleeper train that connects Cusco, Peru, to Lake Titicaca, where you'll find the sleek oasis of Titilaka, an 18-room Relais & Chateaux on the Peruvian side of the divide. Across the border in La Paz, Design Hotels has opened Atix, the country's first high-design boutique hotel, and the restaurant is playing a big role in the city's burgeoning culinary renaissance.
Not content with these two developments, the Andes-obsessed travel experts at Aracarihave found clever ways to connect all the dots. From Lake Titicaca, guests have exclusive access to a new hydrofoil transfer that cuts across the water rather than around it, saving a bumpy, multiple-hour ride.
A historic steamship – also exclusive to Aracari – can also take you to the Uros, an indigenous community living on floating reed islands on Suasi Island. And when you finally make it to the salt flats of Uyuni, be prepared for the coolest accommodations yet, in the form of a tricked-out Airstream. All in all, it's a 10-day trip that represents never-been-done-before logistical wizardry.
Hear the world's greatest music
Every summer, the Stresa Music Festival turns the castles, elaborate formal gardens, grottos, and villas that dot northern Italy's Lake Maggiore into concert venues. Founded in 1961 by a wealthy lawyer, the concert first relied on the patronage of the Princess of Borromeo, a local noble, who hosted concerts in the family's massive palazzo on a private island in the middle of the lake.
Since then, the festival has grown to encompass virtually every historic building in the area, which is about an hour and a half's drive north of Milan. There's now a tradition of playing Bach's Suite for Solo Cello in the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, a stunning, whitewashed refuge carved into the rock overlooking the lake; another regular venue is the half-ruined medieval castle of Visconteo di Vogogna, whose manicured grounds overlook the southern Alps.
The area is a longtime destination for Milan's wealthy, and the hotels in the area are accordingly grand. The Villa and Palazzo Aminta, an ornate hotel on the lakeside, has large rooms, private manicured grounds, and an excellent restaurant with a terrace. A second option is the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees & Spa, which Hemingway wrote about in A Farewell to Arms. Built in 1863, the hotel oozes slightly faded, Old World charm. Around the area also are private beach clubs, water sports, a series of beautiful, scenic towns, and, for the more physically adventurous, bike rides into the surrounding mountains.
If you have 30 days
Explore a new frontier
In August, the first luxury ship to cross the Northwest Passage sets sail. The 32-day journey, organised by Crystal Cruises, starts in Anchorage, Alaska, and winds through the Bering Sea, passing through the salmon-rich waters off Kodia Island and a stop in Nome, Alaska, a village closer to Siberia than to Anchorage. As you journey east along Canadian Northwest Territories near the Arctic Circle, look for grizzlies in Ulukhaktok, muskox in Ovayok Territorial Park, and narwhals along Pond Inlet in Nunavut.
You will be cruising on a purpose-built icebreaking ship past the fjords of Baffin Island and Greenland's Disko Bay before rounding home. Stop in Bar Harbor, Maine, for views of Mount Cadillac and lobster rolls; take in Newport, R.I., to gawk at the opulent mansions built at the turn of the 20th century; and end the epic journey with a sightseeing tour through New York City.
See an old favourite from a new perspective
Champagne in summer is a sight to behold. This year, travel outfitter Belmond is giving guests a chance to see the famous wine region from the comfort of a well-appointed barge that will float along the River Marne and nearby canals between Meaux and Châlons-en-Champagne. Itineraries include private visits to family-owned vineyards, breweries, and classic châteaux, as well as visits to historically significant cities in the area, such as Reims, and the region's culinary capital, Strasbourg, in neighbouring Alsace.
The boats can accommodate from four to 12 passengers in four en-suite cabins. The open decks give you the feeling of being in a secret floating garden, and the experienced crew, the handmade furniture in the living and dining rooms, and a swimming pool surrounded by potted plants make you feel right at home. If you've got additional time, create an itinerary around Burgundy, Côte D'Or, Provence, or the Rhône Valley. Or add other activities on, whether cycling along the canal paths, taking tours of the market, or attending a cooking class with the private chef.
Check out the gallery above to see some of the best ways you can spend your money.