How to handle the post-vacation blues


I’ve returned from Hawaii, the land of sunshine, to a land of gray skies and mid-afternoon sunsets.

Coming home from a vacation or a long trip can often trigger an intense negative emotional crash.  This “post-vacation blues” is real, a reaction to an emotional roller coaster of coming back from an exciting and different destination to the grim realities of “real life”.  A few days ago, you might have been sunning yourself in an exotic locale, and now you’re coming back to an endless winter.  You might have been able to throw your stuff around your room and it would be magically cleaned every day, and now you’re coming back to a place where the only person doing the dishes is you.  you might have been a new and different place, over-stimulated by the change, and now you’re back to the same-old same-old.  It’s no wonder that people coming back from vacation get depressed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  I think there is a way to manage this emotional roller coaster.  So here are some ideas on how to reduce or prevent  the post-vacation blues.

Travel more frequently.  If you only go on a single trip each year or two, then that’s a tremendous build-up.  After all that time saving up (which hopefully is how you do it as opposed to putting it all on a credit card) the trip could come after a bit too much anticipation.  You spend all of your money and energy in a huge release, and come home emotionally depleted and less able to handle the return.  So instead of having a blockbuster trip every year or two, instead have a few (blockbending?) trips in a year.  These trips don’t need to lavish (or expensive) but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be an amazing experience.  And that way, when you come back, you aren’t confronted with such a long stretch of time in your “real life” before the next trip begins.

I’m trying to do this in my life, mainly by traveling cheaply.  Aside from this trip to Hawaii (nine days total), I’ve had a few extended weekend trips, such as seeing the annular eclipse in California, a cabin in the Cascade mountains, and a few days up in the Seattle area.  None of these trips were either very long or very expensive, but knowing that the next trip was around the corner soon helped me come back from this one.

Harness your feelings to promote change.  We might also wonder why we can’t look critically at our “real life” and wonder what’s so depressing about it.  It might be helpful to sit down at a table with a piece of paper (or in a chair with a laptop, whatever) and write down the three things that are weighing you down about returning from a trip.  Is it a job you despise?  Is it a relationship that’s not working out?  Is it a lack of direction in your life?  Spend some time free associating.  See what you learn; it may surprise you.  Then, more importantly, use these insights and put them to work.  It might be time to think about other ways to earn a living or it might be time to schedule a check-in with a significant other.  Or it might be time to spend some time figuring out where your passions lie.  When you get to work based on these results, you’ll be focused on something and not on the depression of coming back from vacation.

(You actually may want to do this free association even if you haven’t just come home from a trip, as the results may be eye-opening.  And if you’re avoiding this exercise, all the more reason that you take action and do it.)

Make your “real life” an adventure.  I reject the notion that your “real life” needs to be drudgery.  There are easy ways to switch things up when you’re not on hold.  If you take public transit to work, you could ride your bus or train to the end of the line.  If you drive, you could take the long way home from work (following roads you’ve never followed).  You could erect a tent in your living room and go camping when it’s snowing outside.  You could turn off all your electronic devices for a day and have a 19th century adventure.

Or you can take this idea to another level.  Ditch your cubicle job and work for a humanitarian organization that permits you to travel.  Plant a garden and commit to eating food from less than a hundred miles away.  Ride your bike somewhere far away.

Routine is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can be a recharging experience to not have to be so over-stimulated.  That said, if you approach your “real life” like you would a vacation you can blur the lines between your big trip, and the big trip that is your life.

So, I enjoyed Hawaii tremendously, and loved the lush green hills and black sand beaches.  Even so, I’m not troubled by post-trip depression right now; I’ve got another small trip lined up in the next month, and lots of other adventures planned.  It’s good to be home.

But enough about me.  How do you handle coming home from a big trip?

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