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.