Have you ever come back from a vacation feeling more tired and stressed than you did before you left? You may need to reevaluate your approach to vacations!
The goal of a true vacation (and no, working from home during the holiday break doesn’t count as a vacation) is to relax, and refresh your mind and body from the stresses of your daily life.
Managing stress is very important for maintaining your health, as stress is known to increase your risk of everything from headaches to serious conditions such as heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and more. Even if you have a handle on your everyday stress, it’s important to take opportunities to decompress for extended periods and give your body and mind a well-deserved break to reset.
Here are a few strategies you can use to make your next vacation a more relaxing experience.
1. Plan a Relaxing Schedule
Your to-do list shouldn’t get longer when you’re on vacation. Planning activities is fine, of course, but make a point of building plenty of free time into your schedule. This is important for a number of reasons:
- It allows you to improvise if you discover a new activity you want to pursue.
- It creates wiggle room so unexpected delays and detours don’t destroy your entire itinerary.
- Downtime is a precious resource — use the ample time you’ve left in between planned activities to sit quietly and read a book, or take a nap! Few things are as relaxing as pressure-free naptime.
Don’t forget to consider your entire vacation period in this schedule, including travel time. If you are leaving town for your vacation, give yourself a day or so at home between work and travel, both before and after your trip. You need a little time to make your final preparations before you leave, as well as to unpack and recover a bit from your travels before you jump back into your workday routine.
2. Create a Realistic Budget
Make sure your vacation is affordable. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to look at simply the cost of transportation and accommodations and forget about other costs that pop up on vacation. Research the costs for your travel, lodging, meals, tourist activities, souvenir shopping, and other expected expenses well in advance. Build in extra room for unplanned expenses, as well — you may realize you forgot a bathing suit and need to buy one when you arrive, spontaneously decide to take a guided tour of the area, or (hopefully not) have a mishap with your luggage or hotel.
If you’ve prepared a budget with some buffer for unexpected costs, you won’t trigger a stress spike every time you have to reach for your wallet. Plus, knowing which activities you can afford will help manage your family’s expectations, as well as your own.
3. Unplug from Work
It’s hard to relax if you always have one eye on your email or other reminders of your everyday responsibilities. Before your vacation, make a plan to delegate your work duties so they won’t derail your vacation. Set an away message for your work email (and even your personal email, if you use it for work), and leave a contact that people can reach if their message requires urgent attention. The most ideal vacation is one where you can turn off your ‘working self’ until you return, but that’s not a realistic option for everyone.
If it’s not possible for you to completely cut off work-related communication, set a limit on the amount of time per day you’ll spend on work. If that time is up and you receive another email, you can answer it tomorrow. Alternatively, you could build time into each day specifically for checking your work emails — say, for 30 minutes each afternoon you will browse your inbox, respond to anything important, and then set work aside again for the rest of the evening.
4. Be Honest with Yourself
If you want to relax, you must be honest with yourself about what you truly find relaxing. If spending time with extended family or visiting crowded tourist destinations is actually a source of stress, it doesn’t help to pressure yourself to feel relaxed at these times. Acknowledge that a weekend with your relatives or a busy tourist spot is a relaxing option for you. A weekend getaway at a spa might be more your style, or a trip to the countryside where you can explore in nature.
Remember, a vacation is as much for you as it is for your family members. Many parents default to a self-sacrificing attitude to make sure their kids are constantly having a great time, but they leave out time for themselves to feel refreshed. Set a good example for your children by practicing self-care and demonstrating how to share priorities; perhaps you can split your days between outdoor activities with your kids, and reading or movie time at your hotel.
5. Bring a Relaxed Mindset with You
One of the most important things to remember is that de-stressing won’t happen magically just because you’re in a new environment. Begin creating a relaxed mental space around this vacation while you’re planning it. Prepare for the things you can control, but remind yourself there will be unexpected events and schedule changes, and that’s okay. Practice fostering a mindset where you can roll with the punches, and adapt to whatever each day brings on vacation. Putting extra pressure on yourself to relax creates additional stress, which is counterproductive.