The experience of travel is filled with discovery, relaxation and joy. Returning home to the daily grind often feels like the exact opposite.
“There is a well-known post-vacation blues phenomenon where our mood dips down for at least a week to 10 days, sometimes to even pre-vacation levels,” said Sue Varma, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “With all of the excitement of new places and connecting with new people, our brains were being bathed in high amounts of dopamine and serotonin while we were having fun.”
But the return to your normal routine doesn’t have to be so painful. Below, Varma and several travel experts share their advice for making the transition suck less and staving off the post-vacation blues.
Unpack your suitcase when you get home
Many of us have a habit of dropping our bags by the door as soon as we get back from a trip and letting them sit there for days. But this move doesn’t help with the transition out of vacation mode since it makes the home feel less inviting.
“Unless you arrive home in the middle of the night, I recommend unpacking your suitcase the same day you get home,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “This signals to your brain that the vacation is officially over and it is time to return to normal life.”
He also advised doing laundry as soon as possible “to reduce clutter and ease your mind.”
Bring home a souvenir you can use in daily life
“One thing that I always do when I travel is buy a souvenir for my apartment that is something I will see or use in everyday life,” Katie McIntosh, the travel blogger behind The Katie Show, told HuffPost.
She has collected items such as pillowcases, artwork, a small rug, drinking glasses, decorative plates and a coffee maker.
“These usually last a lot longer than the cheap, generic knickknacks sold in most souvenir stores, and they always make me smile with fond memories when I see or use them,” McIntosh said. “It’s like having a piece of the destination with you each day.”
Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights, also endorsed this idea.
“Bring home things that make you nostalgic and happy,” he told HuffPost. “Even something simple like a bottle of shampoo. I’ll see that foreign language label in the shower and it gives me that little warm feeling, brings back memories and seem like, ‘Yeah, I still have a piece of this place with me.’”
Seek out meals you tried while traveling
“From the cold weather to the back-to-work feeling, beating post-vacation blues is always difficult,” said Naveen Dittakavi, CEO and co-founder of the flight deal website Next Vacay. “Yet, there are plenty of ways to infuse your home life with the excitement you felt on your trip. One of the best parts of traveling is trying out new foods and flavors, so why not take a trip to the grocery store and prepare yourself some exciting meals based on your vacation go-to foods?”
If you want to enjoy a dish you tried while you were on your trip, consider exploring grocery stores and restaurants in neighborhoods that have large communities from that region.
“I also buy unique packaged foods or ingredients when I’m abroad, such as Coco Ichibanya curry packets in Japan,” said travel blogger and TV host La Carmina. “Then when I’m home, I can still eat authentic flavors from the destination and feel as if I’m extending my trip ― as well as share them with friends.”
Plan your next trip
“One of the best ways to get over the post-vacation blues is to start focusing on your next trip,” McIntosh said. “Even if you don’t book anything immediately, it’s helpful to get your mind focused again. Dream up your next destination, search for exciting new travel adventures, find the perfect accommodation and even drool over the cuisine.”
Research shows that the act of planning a trip can boost your mental health, so make a bucket list of vacation spots you’d like to visit in the near and distant future.
“One of the first things I do after getting back from vacation is to decide where I want to go next,” Dengler said. “Whether it is a weeklong trip or a weekend getaway, having my next destination set relieves a lot of my post-vacation blues. Starting the research and planning process again for a new trip gives me something to look forward to and makes me forget the sadness I may feel having just come home from an awesome beach or hiking trip.”
And if you fell in the love with the place you just visited, think about the things you’d want to do on a return trip.
Do vacation activities in your everyday life
You don’t have to be a completely different person who does different things on vacation compared to your day-to-day life.
“Take inspiration from the activities you did on your trip, whether it’s swimming, snorkeling or taking part in a yoga class, and add that physical activity to your everyday life,” Dittakavi said. “This is a perfect reminder to yourself that there are many ways to replicate the feel-good boost you get on vacation.”
Plan fun experiences with friends in your area
“When coming back from a big trip, I’ve found the best way to deal with those post-vacation blues is to make a plan to do something fun with friends a day or so after I get back,” said Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet.
La Carmina said she also makes plans with local friends right after a trip and likes doing something special, such as trying a new restaurant.
“This gives me something to look forward to upon returning, and I know my friends will want to catch up and hear about my recent travel experiences,” she said.
“For me, I find that looking through my photo albums helps me think back and relive many of my favorite travel memories,” said Rocky Trifari, travel blogger at The Rocky Safari. “Other possibilities include scrapbooking, blogging, journaling, even making some type of collage.”
Even if you don’t create a physical album, look through your camera roll when you’re feeling nostalgic and share your travel photos and memories with loved ones.
“If I’ve taken a vacation with some girlfriends and had an incredible time, we make sure to create a WhatsApp chat group where we send pictures for days afterward and laugh about funny memories,” Varma said. “We talk about our favorite parts of the trip, any debacles — if there were any — and what we look forward to doing on our next adventure. If we are organized enough, we might even throw out a few dates.”
Explore your hometown
“I recommend finding something new to do in your hometown,” Dengler said. “Just because you are back from vacation does not mean you can’t have any fun. Find a new hike or a new brewery. Go to a museum or concert hall. The key is to associate your hometown with fun so you do not view it as a depressing place to come back to.”
Similarly, Varma suggested being “a tourist at home” by checking out new restaurants and experiences in your community. You can even plan a staycation by taking a day or two off from work and booking a room at a local hotel.
“You won’t have the same novelty of a completely new place, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out excitement,” she said. “Vacation allows us both relaxation and stimulation, and make sure that your daily life has a good balance of both.”
Reflect on bigger changes you could make to your life
“Taking a vacation shouldn’t be an ′escape’ from life. It should be an enhancement,” said Stephanie Be, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena. “Using the time to recharge and explore yourself in a different environment is a time to reflect on what makes you feel fulfilled.”
As you transition from vacation mode back to your normal routine, think about bigger changes you might want to make. For Be, this process led her to realize she wanted to leave her corporate job and launch her own lifestyle company. For others, it might be improving their work-life balance or finally starting that home renovation project they keep talking about.
For you, maybe that means sleeping longer than usual, reading more books, getting massages or going for hikes. Maybe you’re unplugging and connecting with the people in your life. Or maybe you’re soaking in the beautiful, serene surroundings.
“Create a life from which you don’t need to escape,” Varma said. “Take note about what it is that you’re doing on vacation that feels so precious to you.”