You already have the keys to your vacation state of mind; now learn to use them.
I know it's been a while for most of us, but think back to your last vacay. Some of the most depressing moments of life happen on the last full day of vacation. On cruises it’s luggage-in-the-hallway-by-midnight day, meaning all the fun screeches to a halt, leaving you sitting in a near-empty cruise cabin like Cinderella in her one slipper and tattered gown, surrounded by rodents on a muddy road when her carriage becomes a pumpkin again.
The last day of vacation is when you have to clean out the fridge in your Airbnb, settle your bar bill, check-in for your flights (only to discover you are number 34 on the upgrade list), and figure out how to stuff all those things you bought into the same luggage you came with while hoping not to be that person holding up the check-in line as you pull one piece of dirty vacation laundry at a time from your now 52-pound hard-side clamshell suitcase lying spread-eagle on the floor of the airport.
How did all those days of perfection come down to this?
And even worse, how can you face the long days stretching ahead until the next time you can travel?
Try reconciling the good stuff from vacation with your everyday life
If your vacation was everything you spent months dreaming it would be, then it’s time to analyze the hell out of it and pull some of that feel-good stuff into your non-vacay life. Start with the basics of food, clothing, and shelter.
What and how you eat on vacay is different. If it isn’t, you are in a weird minority. The rest of us eat brownies every damn day and drink mimosas. We let the kids roast anything they want on a stick over open flames. Sometimes we eat out more; sometimes it’s less. Whatever it is that you enjoyed most about the food on vacation, write it down.
Is there a trend on your list that you can replicate at home? Here are some examples:
- If you discovered new foods on your trip, find the recipes or a local source and start eating it at home.
- If you cheated on your diet in a big way on vacation, reconsider your choice of diet once you get home. You may be more in need of a lifestyle change than a trendy diet. But if dieting is still your thing or you eat a certain way at home for health reasons, find ways to savor tiny little moments where you cheat like you are on vacation.
- If the best part of eating on vacation was that you ate as a family every day, re-arrange life so that you do more of that once you are home.
- Or maybe the cooking chores were divided differently than they are at home. If it made your heart happier to do it that way on vacay, change it at home — immediately if possible for the least amount of pushback.
I travel a lot. I used to worry about every change of clothes on every trip. Now I have two rules when I pack: 1) Every piece has to coordinate with every other piece I pack so that I can mix them up any way I want, and 2) Everything has to be comfortable.
What if we adhered to those rules at home? Is THAT all we need to be happy?
Were you happier wearing flip-flops every day on vacation? Then don’t put them away when you get home. We often attach symbolism to our clothing. If flip-flops or sneakers or Hawaiian shirts or skorts or fuzzy ski hats symbolize freedom and happiness to you on vacation, then wear them at every opportunity at home as well.
Notice that we are gradually dealing with harder and harder changes. You may not be quite ready to sell your home and move the family into a treehouse matching the one you stayed in on your glamping vacay, but maybe you could build a little one in your backyard.
Like you did with vacation food, analyze the things you loved about your accommodations while on vacation. Dig deep and make a list of the details you found appealing. Was it the color scheme? Were there fresh flowers on the table? Was it convenient to outdoor activities, shopping, restaurants? Was it tiny (and thus minimalistic)? Or was it luxurious and filled with extravagances like a mini-bar five feet from your bed? You can fix those things at your current house with a little effort.
Maybe your vacation offered total isolation from the world. Maybe there was only one television, forcing the family to spend time watching (and perhaps laughing) together. Maybe the fact that it was cleaned every day turned you on. Or maybe you threw out your home rules and left the beds unmade and your socks on the floor. If changing your routine on vacay felt good to you, maybe it’s time for some changes at home.
One throw pillow in the right color might have the magic to transport you back to your favorite spot from last year’s vacation. Smells invoke even stronger associations.
And if your favorite vacation form of shelter has you questioning where you live, that’s okay too, but proceed with caution. Try making non-relocation life changes first to see if you can replicate whatever it is from the vacay spot that captured your heart.
Here’s an example:
Say that you stayed in a charming Airbnb in a typical Berlin neighborhood, where the markets, bars, restaurants, and train stations are all short walks away. The kitchen was neat and small but equipped well enough for you to enjoy meals of German bread, meats, and cheeses. You washed it all down with a hearty German beer each evening.
You reveled in the smells, flavors and convenience of the lifestyle. You also loved the feeling you got from knowing that you weren’t driving your gas guzzler to the store for a loaf of bread like you do at home.
The things you might consider changing once you return home (beyond moving to a third-floor walk-up in Berlin) include planning your trips to the store more efficiently (and patting yourself on the back for doing it).
Explore your own neighborhood more thoroughly, you might be surprised to find local businesses you’ve been overlooking; German beer is easy to find and who knows, there may even be a German meat market nearby.
Plus, there’s the simple act of walking more. The walking you did on the streets of Berlin may have been more than you normally do in your daily life, which may have released endorphins that made it all seem even more charming and delightful than it would if you lived there every day.
Let’s go beyond the surface stuff
While you are digging into why you loved the basic things about your vacation, try to go deeper. Start another series of lists. These may take you days or even weeks to complete because they involve more than how your senses reacted to your vacation. These are at the deepest heart of why coming home is so hard.
Start with activities
What did you do and how much of it? Were you more or less active on vacation? Did you read more? What did you read and how much? How did you entertain yourself and those who traveled with you when you weren’t active? Were you indoors more than at home or outdoors? Did you learn new things? Was it the new knowledge that excited you or simply the act of learning?
Look at the patterns as you answer the questions and try to focus on what is the farthest from your norm at home. That’s where you start; make the hardest thing the first thing you try to incorporate into your life at home.
Here’s an example:
If your must-do thing every day of vacation was to walk the beach for an hour, but at home, you don’t have a beach and you certainly don’t have a spare hour in the day, that’s probably the thing you need to solve the most.
Find a place near your home that is scenic and peaceful and start with a few minutes each week. If the first place you try doesn’t settle your soul the way the beach did, find a new place. Keep trying until you find your walking spot near home and make it a priority to go there as often as you can. It wasn’t only about the walking (and probably not even about the beach). It may have been more about the act of shutting out the busy-ness of day-to-day life.
This is getting to the really hard stuff, but keep going; you’ve got this.
Did you talk more or less to your travel mates on vacation? What did you talk about? How did you talk to them? Where did you talk? Around the dinner table? While you walked on the beach? Did you tell jokes? Did you laugh more than at home? Did you write someone at home a letter or postcard?
Did you listen more intently?
Did you find yourself sharing more of your inner thoughts? Were you less critical than you are at home? Was there less anger or lowered expectations? Did you exchange more terms of endearment than you do at home? Did you work together to solve problems?
By the way, all of these questions are useful even if you were vacationing alone. Apply them to any communications you had with those at home that you regularly interact with. You may be surprised to learn that you communicate differently with a greater distance between you and the people on the other end.
Your answers may stir emotions you weren’t even aware of, and that’s okay. Even if the answers are scary, learn from them. Let them guide you to better communication patterns in your everyday life.
To be clear, we are only talking about changing your side of the conversation. You can’t force the people you travel through life with to suddenly play nice when they get home from vacation. All you can do is revert to your vacay communication patterns and see where it goes.
And don’t forget vacation brain
Your brain on vacation could either be a brain at rest or a brain solving totally new and different problems. Or it might be a combination of both.
The key is figuring out your brain’s vacay comfort zone and working to replicate that at home. Here are the questions to start with:
Did you sleep more or less on vacation? Did you work on puzzles, read, or play games? Did you veg in a hammock most of the time? Did you spend lots of time at museums or historical landmarks? If so, did you read all of the exhibit placards or did you just stand and take it all in?
Was your vacation visually stimulating — scenery, art, architecture, wildlife? When you discovered something you didn’t know, did you research it at the first opportunity? Did you take photos?
Keep asking questions about what your brain did while you were on vacation and you may be surprised at the answers and how they relate to what you normally do at home.
If you literally put your brain to bed when you left home, you may need to do more of that in your non-vacay life at home. Sleep more, buy a hammock, meditate, zone out.
If your brain questioned every new thing you presented it with during your downtime, you may be depriving it at home. Take online classes, learn to use photo editing software to improve your vacation pics. Write a book about the things you learned.
And if you fell somewhere in between, pick the things you enjoyed the most during your downtime and repeat it at home as often as possible.
And then there’s the J word
Vacationing implies that you normally work. At a job. If you loved your vacay but dreaded going back to work, now is a good time to figure out the dynamics of that. Like we’ve been doing, ask yourself some tough questions.
Did you work while on vacation? How did that make you feel? Did the work you did on vacation seem easier or harder?
Those two or three of you who did not work on vacation, did you think about work while you were away? Lots or just a little? Were they pleasant thoughts?
Did you have any new ideas that either pertain to your existing job or a job you could be doing while you were on vacay? Did you act on them?
Did you ponder other people’s work in your vacay destination? Did you wonder whether or not there were jobs in your destination that you could do? Did you look at want ads? Did you apply for a job? Were you tempted?
Seeing any trends as you review how you felt about work while you were in vacay mode? These may be some of the most revealing questions and answers of our entire exercise.
But let’s get real. We started this lengthy process by saying that you didn’t have to quit your job, and for most of us that’s true. Jobs are a reality. They pay for our vacations. They pay for food, clothing, shelter, and the rust bucket cars in our driveways.
The goal of going on vacation is not to come back, quit your job, and move across the globe. The goal of a good vacation is to come back with a renewed passion for the life you have.
So how do you apply your feelings about work in a way that renews your passion for it when you come home?
I’d wager that while you were away, you felt just a twinge of importance — either at being far enough up the ladder that you can escape your job entirely and not work on vacation, or that you are so valuable that you had to work from your beach lounger.
Capture that feeling of importance. Try to put it into words — one sentence, if you can, that sums up how important you felt answering emails in the airport or on the train in Berlin or in Cozumel when your ship docked.
Take your sentence and write it out with a bold marker. Shoot a photo of that sentence with your phone and make it your phone’s wallpaper for a bit.
Let your sentence remind you, not only of your importance at work but of the importance of leaving work every once in a while, of the importance of brownies and flip flops, and of little changes in your everyday life that make it better until the next time you make your escape.