Discover how to erase the anxiety + blues that often accompany the anticipation of a vacation ending, so you can actually enjoy your trip.
I used to slip into a secret mini-depression at the halfway mark of every vacation. I knew I now had more vacation behind me than before me and I could hear 6am wake up calls, incessant emails, and dishes (so many dishes) calling me from the "real world." It was ridiculous. Instead of enjoying the days I had left for meandering through curious towns, floating in a warm ocean, or seeing what's at the end of that dirt road, I would just be thinking about how much better it all was than my day to day life. Despite my efforts, being in the present moment wasn't a thing for me.
On a trip to Nicaragua I realized I wasn't alone. I was working in the lobby of a surf ranch and watched a large group checking out. Setting my computer aside, I became that creepy person watching from the corner, eavesdropping on their conversations. I had found my people - the secret society of travelers who felt more sad than rejuvenated as they prepped to return home. They spoke in murmurs devoid of emotion, aimlessly checking their phones, and looking around with distracted eyes set against tight facial expressions.
While there's a common belief that we're supposed to float away from vacation feeling light and refreshed, ready to tackle our careers, homes and relationships with vigor, vacation just reminds many of us how much we'd rather be on a permanent stay in a beachside villa.
Have I depressed you yet? Let me put some pep back into your vacay step by mentioning that I cracked the code (with a lot of help from people smarter than me.) After being over myself after my 30th-ish trip spent mourning the day when I'd have to go home, I started digging into strategies for how to invite Present Moment on my journeys, leave behind Depression and Anxiety, and shift my perspective of Home so it no longer felt like the enemy. I interviewed psychologists, fellow explorers, and other travel writers, then immediately booked a trip so I could try out their advice... a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. It worked.
The following tips transformed my vacations and pleased my family, as they no longer had to deal with my three-day post-trip bouts of lethargy and long sighs.
1. Plan Your Next Vacation
It's easy to trick ourselves into thinking that the vacation we're currently on might just be the last vacation we'll ever take. Without getting bogged down in thoughts about mortality, we can assume this will not be your last vacation. But your mind wants proof. To offer up this proof, start planning your next adventure.
Even if it's not financially feasible for you to go on this adventure for a year, it can feel lovely to unleash your creativity during discussions about where you'll go and what you'll do, then relish in the anticipation. And sometimes, fantasizing about cloud-like hotel beds, endless room service, and whenever-you-feel-like-it naps, feels better than the reality of those vacation pleasures (sometimes.)
If the idea of not having another sojourn for a year hurts your wanderlusting heart, remember that there's likely hundreds of destination-gems within driving distance that are prime choices for an affordable weekend trip. Heck, you can even book a room at a local hotel and spend two days pretending you're on the other side of the world.
2. Return Home on Not-a-Sunday
Few things pack a punch as dizzying as returning from vacation less than 24-hours before the clock strikes Monday. If possible, give yourself at least one night and one full day to re-acclimatize to civilian life before heading back to work, whether that's being a C.E.O. or packing lunches, cleaning children, and getting said children to school on time (not for the faint of heart.)
To ensure your one-full-day isn't devoured by chores, pre-plan at least one treat you can look forward to, like a family ice cream party, trip to the movies, or some screen time for the kids so you can finish that book you started on the beach.
3. Remember that Even Popular Vacation Destinations Get Old
I used to live on Roatan, Honduras, one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the world. On my first day on the island I promised myself I would never stop appreciating the sight of sparkling turquoise water melting into white sand beaches lined by forests of palm trees. I broke that promise.
After three years living on the island I was sick of always having sand everywhere, not being able to buy fresh produce beyond mangoes and chalky bananas, and having to spend $800 to see my family. I. Was. Over. It. Ironically, my most coveted vacation destination at that time was my parent's stomping grounds of Ojai, CA - where I now live. So if you start feeling down about leaving paradise, find solace in the fact that "paradise" will eventually feel tired, and someone out there thinks of your home as vacation-land.
4. Exercise and Eat (Fairly) Healthy While on Vacation
I used to work out like crazy and do absurd juice fasts leading up to a vacation so I wouldn't feel guilty about skipping exercise and saying yes to lots of carbs, melted cheese and beer. Then, I would start to feel like crap about half way through my trip, coincidentally around the time my pre-post-vacation blues set in. Looking back, I'm confounded as to why I would skimp on the things that filled my body with endorphins and energy while on vacation. I shouldn't have been surprised that journeys filled with booze, fried food, and not-enough-sleep left me super bummed.
While you don't have to go all Ironman on your vacation, and turn away from all cravings, balancing out indulgences with activities and choices that make your body feel good will not only help you optimally enjoy your trip, but also take some pain out of bidding vacation farewell.
5. Infuse Your Itinerary With Spaciousness
Have you ever felt like you needed a vacation after your vacation? Many travelers (ourselves included) often overload their trip with activities, leaving them totally burnt out in the end. Rushing from one location to the next, in an effort to do and see it all, can limit opportunities for spontaneity, introspection, eye-opening conversations with locals, relaxation, and other experiences that allow you to receive lasting growth and rejuvenation from your travels.
When you intentionally carve out many hours, each day of your vacation, to wander down that trail that piqued your interest, post up under a tree with the book you've been trying to read for the past six months, or settle into a prime people-watching table on the front patio of that cafe frequented by locals (one of our favorite ways to discover the authentic vibes of a destination) your vacation will be filled with more substance, sending you home feeling satisfied and excited to implement the ah-ha moments you likely had on that trail, under the tree, or in the cafe, to your day-to-day life.
6. Don't Let Work Snowball
The reality of pretending like your job doesn't exist during holiday is often less satisfying than our mind would have us believe. One reason for this is that (hopefully) you like your job, and get some satisfaction out of engaging in it. The other factor is that those emails and tasks keep on rollin' in, even if you're rocking in a hammock above clear, Caribbean waters. Lastly, when our mind completely closes out of work mode, it's that much harder to reboot it.
So what to do? First off, delegate what you can to colleagues before you leave, and set up that oh-so-lovely auto away-message on your email. Then, set aside an hour or so each day of vacation (my preferred time is first thing in the morning) to check off some essential tasks or emails. You can even sweeten the deal by tacking on some time at the end to start work on a creative project, or another enjoyable activity you have trouble finding time for at home.
7. Transform Your Home Into an Enriching Sanctuary
For many of us, the emotions of tranquility, curiosity, newness, simplicity, and (fill in the blank of how you feel during a dream trip) are what makes a vacation so magical. Those emotions are not exclusive to holiday destinations - they exist in your home, and you can revel in them if you know how to call them out of hiding.
To do this, make a list of everything you love about vacation (e.g., swimming in warm water, trying new foods, sleeping in a luxurious bed, having someone else clean your digs), and how those elements make you feel.
Then, circle everything you can replicate in your home. For example, you could upgrade your bedding, invest in a housecleaner to come every week or so, or delegate more cleaning tasks to family members.
Next, examine the elements that are a little tricker to replicate - like a warm tropical ocean to lounge in - and list ways you could emulate that experience. For example, schedule two baths a week that include coconut bath salts, ocean meditation music, and sea breeze scented candles.
Finally, look over the pleasant emotions you listed next to your favorite vacation elements, and explore additional activities that elicit those emotions. For example, one of the emotions on my list was creativity, which comes alive when I'm on vacation, specifically when I'm outside. Luckily, we have outside where I live, so I created an outdoor creativity nook where I write and my son crafts modern art sculptures out of playdough.
Since making my list (and Eric kind of making his list), our home is now clear of clutter and filled with objects we love (like lots of twinkle lights and organic cotton sheets), outdoor movies nights, French toast in bed, all-day-pj-days, postponed email responses, and margaritas sipped in a two-foot deep kiddie pool. These shifts have made all the difference. Whenever I see the shadow of my old mopey self at the end of vacation, I remind myself that (almost) all of the good feels and luxuries I'm enjoying while away, are waiting for me at home.
8. Be Mindful that You're Taking the Best Part of Vacation Home With You
People are often at the heart of the most transformative journeys. This is especially true when those people are our nearest and dearest. Vacation can strip away many of the to-dos, schedules, and petty tits-for-tats that often coat us at home, exposing the beautiful essence of our core selves.
Eric and I used to say that we're our best selves during vacation. I initially shared this belief with pride, until I realized there was something off about it. Why weren't we trying to take our best selves home with us? What did I need to do to hold on to the loving, appreciative perspective I had of my family members while on vacation?
To address this issue, I now take vacation as an opportunity to observe, soak in, and write down the components of Eric and Hudson (and my parents, brothers, or other special people I'm adventuring with) that I treasure. By the end of the trip, I'm often filled with so much gratitude for my family (that I get to take home with me!) I'm not sad to leave, I'm just stoked that I get to keep hanging out with them. And when they inevitably piss me off with a wet towel on the bed, renegade Lego under my foot, or urine everywhere but the toilet, I pull out that list of treasured traits and my perspective of them regains its sparkle (after I internally bitch a bit.)
9. Reserve a Night to Relive the Memories
Help the essence of your vacation follow you home by planning a night to cook up (or order in!) a version of everyone's favorite dishes from your trip, and watch a slideshow of your family's favorite photos and videos from the getaway. Research has found that looking at pleasing photos, especially those that feature nature, can reduce stress levels and release serotonin (a happy hormone.)
What to do if post-vacation blues doesn't go away after a few days...
If you've tried all of the above tips and still can't kick your bummer mood, this might be life's way of telling you you're ready for a shift. Look at the most important elements of your life and see if any are in need of remodel... or should be totally demolished. For example, maybe your health needs an overhaul, or your heart is yearning for a career transformation, or your family is ready to relocate. Take this blue-period as a shining opportunity to mold your life into what it's ready to become. I'm not saying this is easy. But I've been there - at one point overhauling almost every part of my life - and there were tears and fears, but eventually astonishing relief and a renewed love affair with life.
My hope for us all is that vacation transitions from an escape into an opportunity to clear the mind, nourish the body and enliven the spirit, sending us home with a rejuvenated zest for every day of our lives, regardless of what part of the planet we're inhabiting.