The worst part of a vacation is usually when it ends. Catching up at work and home can be a jarring switch from carefree lounging on the beach. Here’s how to contend with the worst parts of returning to daily life without losing that vacation glow.
A suitcase full of dirty clothes
Unpacking after a long trip can be difficult, but experts say it’s best to get it out of the way as soon as possible and take small actions to make unpacking easier. The first thing Margarita Ibbott, an Ontario-based former professional organizer and travel writer, does is place her suitcase in her laundry room — never directly to her bedroom, she says, in case of bugs or dirt — to air before tossing her dirty clothes into the wash. She tries to do this within 24 hours of getting home.
Before leaving for a trip, she does enough laundry to clear space for her post-trip loads and lightly tidies the house to avoid coming home to chaos. “I’m adamant about this,” she says. Rashelle Isip, a professional organizer and founder of the Order Expert, also recommends a gentle cleaning — enough to get rid of clutter on tables and countertops — to “give the eye a place to rest.”
Sara Bereika, co-founder of Abundance Organizing, advises her clients to clear a space for their suitcase before they leave so there’s no excuse to not unpack. “I can’t tell you how many times people have left a suitcase out because they say they have nowhere to put it,” she says. To make organizing after the trip a little easier, Bereika, who often helps clients pack before trips, advises people to buy small zipper pouches and storage bags for smaller items such as toiletries that can live in a designated spot in the bathroom or closet to make unpacking easier. When they return from a trip, all they have to do is place the pouch back in its designated spot before the next trip.
Returning to a hot house
During summer vacations, Chuck Khiel, vice president of Fred Home Improvement in Bethesda, Maryland, advises leaving your air conditioning running to maintain airflow and decrease moisture instead of turning it off completely. “The idea while you’re gone is to run it so the air in the house passes back through the system,” Khiel says. If no one is staying in the house, he says, it’s not necessary to have it on full blast. “If you keep it at 70 degrees, do 75 or 76 degrees,” he says.
When you return, Khiel says it should take about 15 minutes for a well-maintained unit to cool a house down; a larger home might take a little longer. Many modern units have a helpful “away” or “vacation” mode.
If you have someone coming by to check on your home while you’re away, he suggests having the person wave their hand in front of a vent to check for airflow.
It’s understandable to worry about leaving your home or car unattended for an extended period. Before you leave, double-check that all windows and doors lock properly for both your house and car. Piles of unopened mail and packages are a sign nobody is home and could encourage thieves. Enlist a neighbor or friend to pick up mail and packages while you’re away, or have the Postal Service hold your mail or packages. You can also stop newspaper delivery while you’re away.
“The most common request we get is to check on a resident’s home while they are on vacation,” D.C. police spokeswoman Brianna Jordan said via email. In Washington, residents can file a request for an officer to check on their home periodically by calling their police district and asking to speak with a patrol service lieutenant or captain; check with your local department to see whether this service is offered where you live.
An empty fridge
After a tiring day of travel, the last thing most people want to do is trek to the grocery store. Before leaving, Ibbott stocks the pantry and freezer with food that could make an easy dinner or a snack upon her return, such as pasta and pasta sauce. And in the week before her trip, she makes sure to eat any leftovers and perishables in her refrigerator that could spoil.
To ease back into meal prepping, Isip recommends buying prepared ingredients and restructuring your grocery list around staple items that can be used for multiple meals, so you have options when you return. Buying ingredients for your favorite dishes can be a nice perk when you return, too, she says. She also suggests scheduling grocery delivery the day after you get back to save a trip to the store.
Going back to work
A little preparation before you leave can smooth your transition back to work, Isip says. If it’s possible, reserving a day at home to attend to tasks such as sorting mail, cleaning and laundry could be helpful. “It took time for you to unwind and it takes time to get back to your day-to-day affairs,” she says. If that’s not possible, she recommends returning in the middle or end of the week on a less stressful workday.
Before leaving for vacation, reflect on what will help you enjoy the time off and manage your responsibilities when you return, says Charles Samenow, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University’s medical school. He advises patients to decide which tasks need to be completed before they leave, which can be delegated and which can wait. Then make a plan to get those non-negotiables out of the way. Is it better for you to log off entirely and face it all upon your return, or would a periodic check-in help you enjoy your time more? If thinking about the email accumulating in your inbox will distract you from your trip, checking in could ease some stress. A frequent traveler himself, Samenow “is a checker” and sets aside about 30 minutes early in the morning to look through email and check in with his team before logging off completely.
Samenow advises breaking down your post-vacation to-do list into manageable steps based on urgency. “It can really jolt your system to go from complete relaxation and focusing on loved ones and activities to a high-pressure deadline that you’re not physically or mentally ready for,” he says. You probably won’t be your freshest after traveling, so saving high-stress meetings or projects for later in the week could help.
When you return to work, Isip recommends reserving about an hour of the morning to go through your inbox. When doing this, Isip recommends “looking at the big picture” and scanning for necessary emails that you’re mentioned in; sort by sender or mute long threads you’re not part of to minimize clutter and pinpoint tasks that warrant your attention. “You’re not going to sit and relive the last three weeks,” she says. In your personal inbox, she suggests bulk-deleting promotions and other emails that won’t be useful upon, such as missed editions of daily newsletters or offers for sales that expired while you were away.
The “post-vacation blues” isn’t a scientific term or a recognized condition, but Samenow says the end of something joyous can sometimes bring about a sense of loss or even a low mood, irritability or sleeplessness. It’s normal to miss a pleasant experience, he says, and these feelings usually subside. To prevent them from impairing your ability to function, manage expectations and don’t hinge the entirety of your happiness and well-being on the vacation, Samenow says. “The expectation should not be that I’m going to come back from vacation a changed person, ready to hit the ground running and tackle everything on day one,” Samenow says. “Vacation is wonderful, but it’s not a cure-all.”
Samenow recommends resuming your normal routine as soon as possible; stick to routine meal and bedtimes, and don’t skip regular activities such as workouts or appointments. “Resume normal life and don’t let the fact that you’ve been away consume everything so you’re no longer taking care of yourself,” he says.
Ibbott suggests making relaxation part of getting back in the swing of things. When she returns, she likes to unplug from her phone and go for a walk around the block or accomplish a small, manageable task — maybe sorting through mail or removing irrelevant cards from her wallet or purse. “Sit down for a moment and take in what you just did and bring yourself back to a time that wasn’t stressful.”