photo by Laura Chouette via Unsplash

Recovering from Vacation

August 2, 2021

by anna rogers

In our April issue we explored ideas for “Preparing for Smooth Vacation,” equipping you for a smooth transition from work/home life to vacation and making the process of preparation a little less overwhelming. This companion article sets you up to transition back into your routine at home after a relaxing (or maybe, not-so-relaxing) trip away.  

It’s the end of vacation, and the thought of heading home simultaneously helps us breathe easily and looms ominously. On one hand, we can sleep in our own beds, cook in our own kitchens, and enjoy the simple and familiar comforts of home. On the other hand, the pile of laundry is astronomical, and the usual obligations are filling up a schedule that’s been in “out of office” mode.  

How can we make this transition home from vacation a little more laid back, preparing our minds for the passage back to reality, but holding on to a little piece of paradise in the midst of the mundane? 

The Pregame 

A stress-free recovery from vacation starts before you leave for your trip. Set yourself up for success by ensuring someone has taken care of things while you’re gone so you come home to a watered yard, gathered mail and packages, cared-for pets, and any other maintenance items that just wouldn’t keep during your vacation. Returning to a cared-for home provides a sense of ease and no urgency to tackle a list of tasks upon return. 

In your vacation prep, you will likely clear the fridge of perishables, but don’t leave a completely empty kitchen. Stock the freezer with frozen vegetables, meats, fruits, broths or already-made soups, and a loaf of bread. Check that your pantry is filled with dried goods like grains, beans, peanut butter, and sauces, so that you can enjoy a couple nourishing meals upon your return without a rushed trip to the grocery store. 

The Cool-Down 

It’s normal to feel pressure to hit the ground running when you get home from vacation, but force yourself to ease back into life instead of taking a head-first plunge. Plan a “buffer day” if you’re able – a down day to sleep in, grocery shop, and catch up on laundry. Check back into work emails and create a list of what you’ll need to do upon your return to work.  

If you have kids, coming home from vacation can be all the more difficult. If you’re a stay-at-home or part-time working parent, or a working parent who has a buffer day, consider scheduling a sitter to come for a couple hours the day after you return to engage with the kids and play with them outside while you settle in and get organized. 

Even if you don’t have the luxury of a buffer day, you can still ease back into life by limiting any extracurriculars. Don’t commit to social engagements for the day or day after you return, and don’t feel like all the laundry and chores need to get done immediately. Hold on to a little of that vacation spirit and take it slow. 

The Detox 

Did you indulge a little extra on vacation? (I hope so.) Was family time a little much? (I hope not.) Do the simple, everyday tasks feel insurmountable upon your return? (I feel you.)  

It’s time for a vacation detox.  

Take care of your body and your mind so that you don’t undo all the hard-earned relaxation you just enjoyed. Plan simple and healthy meals with those frozen vegetables, meats and broths you left yourself. Make nutritious meals so that your body can recover along with your mind – a simple roasted sheet pan dinner or a stir-fry of meat and veggies over rice will do the trick without taking too much time or brainpower. 

Get outside to exercise by taking a walk, run, or bike ride around your neighborhood. This is a three-fold therapy – energizing your body through movement, re-centering your focus with fresh air, and reconnecting you to your community. If you spent a long day traveling back in a cramped car or plane, this exercise is essential. 

If your vacation wasn’t very relaxing for you – filled with difficult family time, or just socially draining – allow yourself a little break from social engagements, phone calls, and social media. Spend some time feeding the introvert inside of you by reading books, laying in a hammock reflecting, or just taking a nap.  

Keep in mind that after a low-key summer of 2020 in which many of us spent time with family, minimized travel, and enjoyed close-to-home adventures like camping and hiking in the wildness and openness of Montana, it’s normal to feel some post-pandemic overwhelmed-ness in 2021. If your vacation involved big crowds and a jam-packed schedule, you might feel like you need a vacation from your vacation. Be patient with yourself as you process through this and hold on to a little bit of that pandemic slow way-of-life. 

The Full Recovery  

If you’re anything like me, you find it easy to be patient with yourself for a day or two after vacation, but then expect to be firing on all cylinders after a too-short grace period. A full recovery takes time, and healthy expectations free us from the burden of burnout. 

Remember that it can take a few days for the wear and tear of travel to catch up with you, especially if you’re coming and going from another time zone. Don’t expect to feel 100% the very next day, or even by the next week. Protect the weekend after your vacation and avoid a big camping trip or outing, even if it feels like you should be jumping back in or you’ll be missing out. Give yourself the gift of a slow weekend to take it easy, knowing that it will set you up to avoid exhaustion and enjoy the following weekend even more. 

Lastly, take time to meditate on what filled you up during vacation. Look through photos from the trip and lock in the memories. Hold your loved ones close and talk together about what you experienced. When you feel overwhelmed getting back into the swing of real life, close your eyes and imagine yourself back on that beach or up in the mountains without a care in the world, and channel that energy into the new day and week ahead. 

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