One of the running jokes on my recent trip to Turkey with two friends was "first-world problems." You know, problems that really aren't problems at all in the grand scheme of life, that have little consequence on your life, that you sometimes feel embarrassed to vocalize. Our problems were of the first-world variety: during a trip to the Aegean Sea, it cost $150 to fill up the tank of our rented Volkswagen Golf; after sitting on the veranda late into the night chatting with my girlfriends, I was covered in two dozen very swollen mosquito bites; we didn't have time to go to the gym and make it to a friend's house on the Asian side of town for cooking class in the same day. Each time we "complained" about one of the aforementioned "problems," one of us would exclaim, "First-world problems!" and we would all laugh and remember we were on vacation. The joy of being on vacation is that you can live in the moment without worrying about anything else back home.
While in real life we're all globally-conscious, career-minded women who juggle stressful and busy (but happy and fulfilling) personal and professional lives, for those weeks we spent together in Istanbul and on the Aegean coast, we could forget it all.
One friend went home after one week and soon posted on Facebook that the post-vacation blues were descending upon her. An engineer who's training for her fourth marathon and preparing to demolish and renovate her kitchen, she quickly felt the peaceful ocean breezes and laid-back mindset evanesce.
For me, I must admit that as much as I love my life, those first few days after a vacation can be rough for me--and I'm sure I'm not alone. As fantastic as your vacation might have been and as much as you enjoy your life back home, the actual and proverbial distance between the two can be rough on the psyche, especially if you face a long journey home. To ease the transition into real life (and by now I think you've caught on that I know I am fortunate to have a pretty wonderful life whether I'm at home or away and that this too might seem like a first-world problem), I have a few tips:
- Eat right. I've said before that I get cranky if I don't eat my vegetables. On some trips (rural Guatemala, theme parks with family, road trips), it has been difficult for me to eat enough fruits and vegetables to make my body happy and maintain a healthy vegetarian diet. That wasn't the case on this trip. I ate salads at least twice a day and often finished meals with fresh fruits like cherries and melon.
Then I began a 23-hour journey home starting at 3 a.m. Knowing that I would be eating three meals plus at least two snacks on planes and in airports, I planned ahead. I packed some snacks and loaded up on water after I passed security. During a long layover in Amsterdam, I sought out yogurt and a veggie sandwich on whole wheat bread so I wouldn't need to rely on questionable airplane food. I ate all the veggies in my airplane meals, skipped the cookies, and asked for a banana and a fruit cup instead. (I was upgraded to first class because the headphone jack in my seat was broken--sweet!) Even though I was exhausted and didn't want to cook, I went to the supermarket and bought plenty of salad ingredients and prepped them so I could eat right without much effort.
Traveling is stressful, and your immune system needs all the help it can get to ward off all those new germs. Eating right can help. Even if you need to take a few shortcuts from the supermarket, your body will thank you later for reaching for a healthy meal instead of heading to the nearest fast-food joint.
If you've perhaps stretched the definition of moderation while on holiday, consider those first few days back home a way to get back on track.
- Start talking. Or writing. Whether you're gone two days or two weeks, vacations have a magical power. For me, they're like the reset button. No matter how stressed I am before I leave or what I have to do at home when I get off that plane, I am able to return with a clear mind and calm demeanor. Holding on to that mood isn't always easy, and as you return to life's daily tasks, it helps to have something to remind you of the feelings and experiences.
While I try not to be one of those annoying people who talk incessantly about their vacations, I do like sharing photos, mementos, and stories with those I love. Not only does it help me cling to that feeling of sheer bliss, but it allows them to learn more about me. Whether you catch up with friends over a cup of coffee, call your mom on your way home from the airport, or show photos to your co-workers, talk about your vacation.
- Dip your toe back in to real life. When I was younger, I was determined to stay on vacation until the very last moment. That meant flights at odd hours, rushed trips from the airport to the office, and a rough first day back. These days, I am much more relaxed. I try to return home with at least one day to rest before I have to go back to work.
I arrived home on Friday night, with two days to unpack, put away laundry, call friends, cuddle with my cats, and prep for the week ahead. I was able to enjoy a restful weekend and arrive in the office today with a smile on my face.
Instead of returning every personal email, cleaning the entire house, and trying to attend every social engagement to which I was invited, I spent a low-key weekend at home, leaving only to go to the supermarket and a wedding shower.
If you find yourself stressed even before you arrive home, build some R&R into the tail end of your next vacation. After three days in the car with the whole family, ask your partner to give you a few hours to yourself, then reciprocate. If you've just returned from a week on a remote beach with no access to email or the news, start slowly. You'll feel better and more relaxed as you ease your way into the daily grind.
- Catch up on sleep. As I said above, I have broken my habit of stretching vacations until the last moment. That means that when I come home, I make sure to get a good night's sleep. Even though I really wanted to drink a cup of coffee and stay up late talking with my boyfriend about my trip, I crashed at 9 p.m. Instead of pushing myself to go for a run, I napped on the couch. And instead of staying late at the wedding shower, I went home so I could get to bed early.
Lack of sleep affects so many aspects of our lives. By waking up on the right side of the bed, you'll be ready to ease back in to your healthy habits and alleviate lingering jet lag effects.
- Let the vacation live on. Among the items I brought back with me were tiny, hand-painted ceramic bowls, several nazars (evil eyes), and a cookbook on Turkish cooking. Today for lunch I packed a salad with bulgur, arugula, carrots, beets, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and Greek yogurt. Every bite reminded me of my trip. I'm excited to try more recipes to continue to evoke memories of Istanbul. As for the other trinkets, they'll also bring the trip to the forefront of my memory.
Whether it's a T-shirt, a dish, or a piece of art, something tangible from your trip will be a lasting reminder of that special time in your life. Make room in your budget for something special, or just print some photos from your trip. Whatever it is, don't pack it away. Integrating objects from my travels into my home décor makes me feel like my memories will never fade.
All those tickets, trinkets, and receipts that piled up in the bottom of your bags can become time capsules, scrapbook materials, or the basis for your next Vision Collage.
- Plan your next trip--or a mini vacation! Part of the excitement of a trip is the planning. My friend and I pored over guidebooks, imagined ourselves lounging on beaches, and monitored the currency exchange for months. Though I'm a firm believer of living in the moment, having something to anticipate is fun. When your employer and wallet will allow, start planning another trip. Imagine the adventures that could await you!
What is your best tip for avoiding the post-vacation blues? How soon after a vacation do you start planning the next one? Do you always go to the same places or choose different ones?