Summer is finally here, and many of us are getting ready for some much needed rest and relaxation. We know that taking vacation time helps us feel refreshed and energized; that’s why schools and offices have weekends and scheduled holiday time. Just as sleep helps us recharge after a day of activity, time off of work and/or school makes us “more resilient in the face of stress and more productive and engaged” when we return. This makes time off a hypothetical win-win, with vacationers reaping benefits both personally and professionally.
Yet vacations aren’t always as carefree and rejuvenating as we need them to be, which can leave us more frazzled in their aftermath. One study from the Harvard Business Review found that poorly planned, stressful vacations actually eliminate the positive effects of time away, decreasing our happiness and increasing our feelings of burnout. After all, it’s hard to refresh and recharge if we’re spending all of our vacation time figuring out last-minute transportation, coping with tight itineraries, getting lost in unfamiliar locations, or feeling unsafe or homesick.
Fortunately, a little advance planning can prevent a lot of in-the-moment vacation stressors. Here are some tips for making your trip or staycation as calming as possible.
~Plan ahead: While spontaneity can certainly contribute to vacation fun, planning the essential details (transportation to the airport, hotel check-in, tickets to must-see attractions) at least two weeks in advance will provide you with a travel safety net. Taking care of the basics in advance will also allow you more freedom when scheduling last-minute activities like checking out a nearby breakfast spot or opting into a walking tour. This checklist can help you cover your bases.
~Create vacation goals: It might seem a little counter-intuitive to set goals for a relaxing trip, but they can help you make sure you get what you need out of your precious time off. You know yourself best—what would make this trip the most worthwhile? Connecting with your family? Practicing a different language? Maybe you just want to listen to your body and spend all of your time resting, ideally in a pool chair. Clarify what you want from your time off, and feel free to adjust your goals as necessary throughout your trip.
~Maintain your self-care routine: Going on vacation is often a welcome change of pace. At the same time, it’s an easy chance to neglect self-care routines like working out, getting a full night’s sleep, or eating healthy foods. Consider how you can maintain important aspects of your self-care routine, or activities that meet your emotional, physical, and/or spiritual needs. Maybe you feel emotionally rejuvenated after a quick yoga session, some mindful meditation, a brief jog through the woods, or a bit of reflective journaling. How can you bring those activities on vacation with you? Even if your vacation self-care routine is slightly different from or an abbreviated version of the one you follow at home, it is still important to intentionally create space to take care of yourself.
~Plan to unplug: For many of us, technology is an essential part of our work. It can seem like a monumental task to completely unplug from our phones; in fact, one study found that almost half of employees ages 18-34 check their work messages at least once a day while on vacation.
This makes it especially important to set yourself up for success before leaving the office—let people know in advance about the dates and duration of your trip, make sure you tie up any projects ahead of time or delegate tasks as needed, and set up your ‘out of office’ message. Making your vacation ‘official’ in the minds of others can often make it seem realer for you too.
Of course, you might find yourself checking work email on occasion, but try to use it as an occasional tool rather than a crutch. Downloading an app like Forest, which rewards you with pretty, illustrated trees when you stay away from your phone, could help motivate you!
Do you have vacation plans this summer? What are some things you do to promote a positive vacation experience? We’d love to hear from you!
Erin Ross, MS OTR/L is an occupational therapist and an aspiring science writer in DC. She believes in evidence-based practice, clear communication in healthcare, and diligent inclusion of the Oxford comma.