Inside: Do you dread going back to work after a good vacation? If so, you’re not alone. Check out these 10 ways to cope with the post-travel blues.
Vacations have a remarkable way of capturing both our highs and lows. Think back to your last trip. You had a slight skip in your step in the days leading up to it. Like a high school senior on the last day of school, you relished the taste of sweet freedom—if only for a few days.
Then the opposite happened.
Near the end of the vacation, a sense of dread built up as you remembered the mountain of work awaiting you. The thought of returning to the daily grind gave you a sinking feeling. Your life at home seemed more vanilla than the ice cream you just ate.
When you came back, you might have had a case of the post-travel blues.
More than half of Americans experience a form of post-trip blues at the end of a vacation. Even people who are happy in their jobs can go through a sense of letdown.
Here’s what you can do about it.
What is the Meaning of Post-Travel Blues?
The post-travel blues refers to the low mood that people can experience upon returning from an enjoyable vacation. Although it’s not a formally-recognized medical term, post-travel blues has many names. It’s also known as the post-trip blues, post-vacation blues, and even post-travel depression (PTD).
In describing post-vacation depression, psychologist Alisha Powell writes, “You may feel a sense of relief to have made it home safely, but still have concurrent feelings of grief because life will return to your usual routine.”
Symptoms might include:
- Lack of motivation
- Sleep problems
How Long Does Post-Travel Blues Last?
The post-travel blues can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. The longer or more enjoyable the trip, the more intense the post-trip blues may be.
Usually, time will help, but if it lasts for more than a couple of weeks or is severe, it may be depression. Consider seeing a professional if this is the case.
Why Do People Get Post-Travel Blues?
Post-trip blues can set in for a variety of reasons. Typically, vacations help us rest and disconnect from our everyday stressors. Regular time off improves our stress level, mental health, and work productivity. The mere anticipation of an upcoming trip increases our happiness and well-being.
The time leading up to the vacation can be more enjoyable than the vacation itself. But studies show that the happiness of a vacation doesn’t last long after it ends. People return to their baseline levels of happiness within a few days as they return quickly to their daily routines, leading to a sense of letdown.
In fact, neuroscience shows that our brains release dopamine when we are on vacation (or excitedly planning for one). It’s the chemical that our brain releases when we’re doing something enjoyable. When we come back, the dopamine levels in our brains drop to normal levels again.
What Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You
Many people with post-trip blues struggle with the abrupt change upon return. They go from exhilarating freedom to the constraints of daily responsibilities. Or they compare their mountaintop vacation experience to day-to-day life.
They come back only to conclude that their life is boring because it’s not Instagram-worthy.
The post-trip blues may be worse for those who work in an already stressful environment. If they took the vacation hoping to escape a job (or life) they dislike, they’ll dread going back to work. If they were burned out before the trip, they may be sorely disappointed if they don’t feel much better when they come back.
And you thought the Sunday Scaries was bad.
So How Do You Minimize the Post-Travel Blues?
While the reasons behind the post-vacation blues are understandable, there are ways to cope. Here are 10 ways to lessen the post-travel blues:
1. Tie up loose ends before you leave.
Imagine coming back to a house that looks like a tornado passed through when you were gone. An inbox full of half-written unsent e-mails. Or 157 red notification bubbles on your phone the minute you step off the airplane.
One survey found that 87% of knowledge workers dread going back to the office after vacation. The most dreaded tasks were re-establishing a routine (37%), doing administrative tasks (31%), and feeling overwhelmed by busy work (27%).
By addressing these kinds of stressors beforehand, you can ease your transition back. Before you leave, tidy up the house and take care of administrative tasks as much as possible.
It’s worth the extra effort. That way, you can focus only on essential tasks upon your return without feeling overwhelmed.
2. Plan some downtime during your vacation.
What we do on vacation matters in terms of our post-vacation mood.
One study found that people who had “very relaxing” trips were happier afterward compared to those who had jammed-packed ones. In another study, people who participated in laid-back activities experienced greater health and well-being during and after the trip.
In other words, stressful vacations negate the benefits of the time off.
Although tempting, avoid cramming a vacation with back-to-back activities. It’ll lead to the inevitable energy crash when you come back. Allow some downtime for your body, mind, and soul.
Whatever you do, plan your time off in a way that you don’t need a vacation after your vacation.
3. Bring a piece of vacation back with you.
Bring back memories to continue to enjoy when you arrive home. Look for an object that reminds you of the vacation and place it on your work desk.
Or take a special picture that captures the essence of your trip. Save it as your screensaver on your phone or computer. Hang a new family picture on the wall. If you have the time, create a journal, scrapbook, or photo album.
Take the time to think back on these memories. Share them with family, friends, or co-workers. Avoid the temptation to jump back into the daily grind without looking back on your good memories. Studies show that the act of reminiscing about a vacation brings joy and gratitude.
4. Maintain a buffer day (or two).
In The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes about our need to slow down. He says, “We stop, whether by choice or through circumstance, so that we can be alert and attentive and receptive to what God is doing in and for us, in and for others, on the way. We wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”
After a trip, give your soul time to catch up with your body.
As tempting as it might be, don’t return the night before you go back to work. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to slowly get back to speed. Enjoy the last day or two of vacation at home.
Your soul will thank you for it.
5. Ease back into your normal routine.
On that last day at home, do something enjoyable, even if it’s small. Plan something that you look forward to during your first week back as well. Or if you love traveling, start thinking about your next trip.
Minimize reentry shock by not going from 0 to 100. If possible, begin with easier tasks. Your first day back is not the ideal time to hold back-to-back Zoom meetings or tackle that project you’ve been procrastinating on.
Make an extra effort to reflect on the simple joys in your everyday life. After a vacation, it’s easy to dwell on what you miss from your trip and forget about the blessings in your day-to-day life. Take the time to give God thanks for them.
6. Incorporate more meaning into your daily life.
Vacations often give us a much-needed shift in perspective. We have the time to reflect on what matters most.
Most of us enjoy increased meaning during vacations. Consider ways to incorporate these aspects of your vacation into your day-to-day life.
Resolve to keep in better touch with your family or friends. Cherish and strengthen those bonds in between trips. Enjoy the beauty of nature more frequently. Or pick up a new hobby that you discovered on your trip.
7. Live a life you don’t need to escape.
Repeated bouts of post-vacation blues may also be a warning sign that our daily routine is too stressful. If you break into a sweat every time you come back from vacation (or every Sunday evening), it may be time to reconsider your lifestyle.
Don’t ignore what your body (or gut) is trying to tell you. Many of us live at an unsustainable pace. We’d feel better coming back if we learned to slow down.
Seth Godin once wrote, “Instead of wondering when our next vacation is, we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from.”
Consider ways to add more breathing room to your schedule. Stop over-committing. And learn to let go of other people’s expectations.
You might have to say no when someone asks you for a favor. Postpone that bathroom remodel for the future. Or tell the kids they don’t need one more extracurricular activity.
8. Enjoy your day-to-day life.
For Christians, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we shouldn’t enjoy life as we seek to obey God. But we can—and should—enjoy life while being faithful to Him.
In Ecclesiastes 8:15, King Solomon reminds us, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun” (NIV).
Find ways to add more fun to your everyday life. Get out of your comfort zone. Do something different than usual. Even if it’s not pre-scheduled in your time-blocked calendar.
When we enjoy everyday life, it lessens the post-travel blues—and helps protect us from burnout. We won’t arrive at our travel destination in a state of deprivation. Or secretly dread coming back to a life devoid of joy.
God is the giver of all good things! So enjoy your life in between vacations. It’s okay to do so—it really is.
9. Remind yourself of your “why.”
Rest is essential, but it isn’t the main purpose of our lives. Our purpose is to glorify God, and one of the main ways we do this is through our work.
Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
One way to alleviate the post-travel blues when you come back is to read (or listen to) a Christian book on work. By reminding ourselves of our true purpose, we remember why we came back (even when we’d rather be relaxing on the beach).
These kinds of books help us take our eyes off ourselves and onto God’s greater purposes. You might even come away with a renewed perspective and passion for your job.
Here are three books you might consider:
- Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado
- The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
- Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller
10. Remember where your true hope lies.
Vacations offer a welcome break from life’s thorns and thistles, giving us a taste of a time when everything is “as it should be.” But it’s easy to place too much hope in the perfect vacation experience as if it’ll rescue us from today’s problems.
For Christians, there’s good news. This longing for perfection will ultimately be fulfilled in Heaven, where all things will be restored as they were meant to be. And work will never feel like toil.
So if you’re going through the post-travel blues, place your hope in God and His promises. In heaven, all things will be perfect. And unlike your last vacation, it won’t ever come to an end.
Recap: How to Minimize the Post-Travel Blues
- Tie up loose ends before you leave.
- Plan some downtime during your vacation.
- Bring a piece of vacation back with you.
- Maintain a buffer day (or two).
- Ease back into your normal routine.
- Incorporate more meaning into your daily life.
- Live a life you don’t need to escape.
- Enjoy your day-to-day life.
- Remind yourself of your “why.”
- Remember where your true hope lies.
How do you usually feel when you come back from vacation? What can you do to ease the post-travel blues?
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