Although a vacation can have many goals, I think we all generally agree that coming back with renewed vigor is something we typically strive for, if not outright expect. Yet it is easy to come back and feel like nothing much has changed, or worse, come home bedraggled and in need of a day off to recoup. It’s not necessary that your vacation be made of constant lazing around for it to be relaxing, but it is important to break your habits, do something different, and have exciting experiences, in order to come back feeling like you hit the reset button. Here are some strategies you can use to get the best out of your time off. (Pssssst: it works at home, too!)
1) Take your time
This speaks for itself, right? But you don’t always get weeks of vacation, so you have to make sure you fit your activities to the time you have. I see so many travelers trying to cram everything they want to see and do in as little time as possible. I have lost count of how many times I have said “No, you cannot visit the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii from Rome in one day,” to people who say they saw that very tour somewhere online. And, it’s true, it is theoretically possible to do so if you leave at 5AM and return at 10PM, spend two hours in Pompeii, and drive along the Amalfi Coast to get a glimpse of what it all looks like. But do you really get to experience those places? And is it healthy for you to run around hurriedly, stressing over the waiter taking too long to bring you lunch, and cursing at traffic, because you are afraid you are not going to do all you set out to do? No. So, it is fundamental to take your time, and not let the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) hit you. Start by accepting there is always more to see and do than you can possibly fit in your vacation, and take your time to be truly present to the places and experiences you are actually able to fit in.
2) Get Enough Sleep
This should be a given, but I’m throwing it in here, because jet-lag and the desire to do everything you can possibly do may cause you to miss out on this essential element to rest and renewal. Not everyone needs eight hours, so don’t force yourself to fit the magic number, or cut your sleep short because you “should” have had enough: sleep as much as you need to feel rested. If at all possible, build in a few alarm-less days, so as to give your body the opportunity to sleep until it’s done. If you are aware of your sleep cycles, and know when and how long you prefer to sleep, plan your activities accordingly as much as you can. If you are a night owl, you won’t return as refreshed if you have just returned from a week of 7AM wake-ups. Make sure to discuss this with your travel companions and your travel professional when you are planning your trip: adjustments can often be made, and if you absolutely have to rise early or stay up late for particular activities or with certain people, you can balance things out much easier with a bit of forethought, rather than trying to adjust things in the throes of exhaustion.
3) Don’t get too lazy
It is good to relax, take time to sit poolside, get things like cooking and cleaning done for you, and generally slow down the pace of life. But you can take it too far, and actually end your vacation more fatigued than when you started. Your body needs movement to stay fit, fight stress, and feel awake and alive. Make sure you get the minimum recommended amount of daily exercise–if you never exercise, start slow, but take this opportunity to start a new habit. And it doesn’t have to be time you spend in your hotel gym! (As a matter of fact, I do not recommend spending much time in the gym, especially if that is what you do at home). You can get some good workouts in the pool, walking, hiking, on the beach… There are plenty of ideas out there. This goes for sleeping, as well. While some people need more than eight hours, if you typically get a certain amount and do okay, you don’t want to increase it too much (let’s say, add no more than 10%), or you will become foggy (not to mention miss all the fun). As with everything, balance is key, and self-knowledge a useful guide.
4) Be creative
Take a scrapbook, journal, or sketchbook along and enjoy doodling, sketching, writing, and pasting in things that you collect along the way. Let it be spontaneous and just about yourself. You are not producing something artistic to show to someone, you are just doing this to connect to some of your experiences on more than one level. If you are an artist, you can always come back to these as source materials for future work, but for now, take off the artist hat and enjoy the experiences and the process.
5) Make time for creativity
Just like you might make time for food, shopping, or a guided tour, schedule some time (and place!) for a creative activity. Take a workshop–it is amazing what you can learn from another culture, while immersed in that culture. Create an opportunity to sit and observe and reproduce a particular sight in sketches, pictures, or whatever medium works for you. If there is some landmark you were particularly looking forward to seeing, build in some time to experience it fully: depending on your skills, make a sketch, write a paragraph, or take a picture (but really take your time with composition and lighting, this is not a vacation snapshot, but an opportunity for you to connect to what you’re seeing on a deeper level).
6) Take advantage of transit times
We have all been there: counting down the minutes to the next destination. And, if you are an experienced traveler or commuter, chances are you have devised a strategy (or three!) to make the time go faster: read or listen to a book, play around on your smartphone or tablet, get some work done… And while all these strategies are great, try to make your transit time less like your commute, and make the most of your travel. After all, there is a reason for the maxim “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Don’t just reach out for the habit, after all, you may have noticed a theme, it is about breaking them. Turn the time into a moment to connect to your friends or new people, or to creatively digest your experiences. And whether you’re seated or can move around, this is also a good time to stretch or even exercise (if you are on a train you can easily go for a little walk, for instance).
Do you have any tips on how to get the most renewal from your vacation? Any bad experiences you want to share?