You’d think planning and going on a vacation would be a dream. But, for a surprising number of people, taking time off of work, family, and daily responsibilities can be a stressful nightmare. So much so that more than half of Americans forgo taking a trip every year.
In 2015, Healthline surveyed more than 2,000 working adults and found that 62 percent of respondents had “very or somewhat” elevated levels of stress during their winter vacations. But stress is the last thing that should be holding us back from taking time off. Here are five ways to keep stress at bay when planning, taking, and returning from a vacation — so you can enjoy your hard-earned getaway.
Don’t be so hard on yourself to begin with.
“If you're someone that works, you're checking your emails, you're getting text messages, maybe you're going onto social media, you're digesting a lot of information, so it's no wonder that we're going to have a hard time settling down from that and quieting our mind on vacation,” Dr. Megan Jones Bell, clinical psychologist and chief science officer at meditation and mindfulness app Headspace, told Travel + Leisure. “It's a lot to expect that you just go flip a switch.”
To help combat the stress of planning travel, try to unpack what is actually making you stressed in the first place. Is it the idea of unplugging that has you worried? Then maybe book a vacation where you know there will be reliable Wi-Fi. Are you stressed about feeling like you have to check in with work but don’t really want to? Try one of these internet-free vacations instead. Worried you can’t plan the ultimate trip? Hire these A-list travel agents to do it for you. No matter the source of your stress there is always a way to help ease it.
Start the relaxation process before you leave.
According to Bell, you should begin the relaxation process before you even leave for the airport. This, Bell explained, can be done by building in rituals and routines you can perform before, during, and after a trip “that help anchor you and act as a buffer to the stress that’s going to try to creep back in.”
For Bell, this entails settling in for a Headspace meditation routine, which means she begins a new 10-minute daily practice several days before leaving for an excursion. If you’re new to meditation, you can always sign up for the app for free and work your way up minute by minute each day until you find a comfortable length.
For others, those rituals could also mean journaling what you hope to gain from your vacation or creating a personalized itinerary so you can ensure you get to see everything you want to while away. Just make sure you make your routine your own.
Make sure all your vacation goals are achievable.
Making plans for your vacation is a great idea, but stuffing your days with too many to-dos can be a real buzzkill. In fact, multiple studies have proven that meticulously planning your leisure time can seriously ruin your fun. And it’s not the activity, but rather the act of assigning a time to an activity that will do you in.
To combat this itinerary-induced stress, Bell suggested starting each morning of your trip by setting an intention. Taking just a few minutes to quiet your mind and think about what you’d like to accomplish that day will help mitigate any stress you may feel later on.
And before your departure, try creating a looser itinerary for your journey. Create a list off all the “must-see” places and another of “would like to see.” This way you can prioritize your time without feeling constrained by the clock.
Use vacation time to kickstart healthy new routines.
Instead of thinking of vacation as a few days away from your real life, think of it as a few days away to help improve your every day.
“Vacation is a really great time to initiate healthy habits that you just don't have the time or energy to start during your day to day life,” Bell said, noting that you’re much more likely to pull healthy routines back into your life if you can start them in a happy, conducive environment.
To do this, look into a vacation that is tailor-made for your goals such as a yoga retreat in Montana, or a culinary journey to improve your kitchen skills, or even an all-around wellness getaway to renew your mind, body, and soul. Or, as Bell suggested, use it as a great time to — you guessed it — start a meditation practice, which has some seriously impressive, scientifically backed health benefits.
Keep up your new habits for at least 10 days after you return.
According to Bell, it takes just 10 days to form a new habit, meaning if you start a new one on your vacation you should bring it home with you to reap all the rewards.
“Our research at Headspace has shown that the use of our app for just 10 days can reduce stress,” Bell said. “So that's where I'd say before your vacation, if you start meditating and you can do just 10 minutes a day during it, it's gonna help reduce your vulnerability to stress.”
But really, no matter what new habits you form or how relaxed you were on vacation, re-entering your normal life can get you down. To combat the post-vacation blues make sure to build in an adjustment day to settle in, decorate your home with your new souvenirs, and stay in the vacation mindset as long as you can. Follow these steps and you'll be a master at beating vacation stress in no time. Now, there’s only one thing left to do: Plan your next stress-free adventure.