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7 Ways To Return From Vacation Restored, Not Stressed

We all deserve some time off from work every now and then. Here’s how to actually enjoy the vacation you so desperately need.

7 Ways To Return From Vacation Restored, Not Stressed
[Photo: Flickr user San Sharma]

For an entrepreneur or busy professional, it can seem impossible to imagine achieving any sort of work-life balance, especially during a planned vacation. No matter how well we pencil in our travels, it seems like there is no ideal time to take off from work.

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Often during vacations we are tempted to check email, join a few conference calls, or, dare I say it, reschedule the trip. It gets even worse when coworkers and clients know you are trying to enjoy a staycation and not jetting off to a remote island.

Whether your idea of a vacation involves running errands and tackling some home improvement projects, riding elephants on a safari or lounging on a sunny beach with a margarita in hand, vacation is vacation, and it’s incredibly important for our mental health, relationships, and our productivity at work.

So how can we truly get away during our vacation time, actually enjoy it, and really relax? Here is some advice that will make that coveted vacation seem more attainable and memorable.

1. Plan Ahead

There are always the go-to busy seasons for every industry. In mine, technology marketing, the start of the year is critical. September is also usually crazy. Make a concerted effort to plan your time off around those high-intensity periods.

Taking a vacation when everyone’s kids are on winter or spring break or during July or August is a good time, largely because your colleagues and customers might be on vacation then too.

Next, take a step back and really assess what kind of vacation you need and how much energy you have. A trip to Rome or Paris is going to busy with lots of sightseeing and walking around. A trip to Barbados is naturally going to give you more lounge time. Pick a location and venue that will be restorative for you.

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2. Don’t Overextend Yourself

Careful planning will let you give your family and friends the time and attention they deserve during a vacation. Mapping out your trip and prioritizing activities are key, since leaving all the planning to the last minute will add stress and decrease the likelihood that you will see and do all the things you had hoped to.

But be careful you don’t over-schedule, especially if you have young children. Kids need downtime–and nap time! Making too many plans can make vacation more hectic than relaxing. Until your kids are older, you may need to accept that you can’t do it all while on vacation; grasping this will make vacation time so much more pleasant for them and you.

At the end of the day, you won’t regret having an extra hour to read a book or have a drink at the bar instead of getting on a hot, crowded tour bus.

3. Schedule Some You-Time

Staycations make this part easy: Hit your gym or book some time at your favorite spa. If you are traveling, research local gyms and yoga studios close by where you are staying before you go so you can get some stress-reducing exercise and still maintain some type of routine while away. Book a massage, take a walk, take a nap, or go to bed early a few times. If all else fails, step away and meditate for five minutes. This might sound unrealistic, but it will help you add peace to your vacation–even if it is brimming with activity the rest of the time.

4. Turn On Your Out-of-Office Notices

Remember to set up out-of-office responses and voice mails so no one expects immediate action during your vacation. Even if you have made some time to work a bit, this will give you some flexibility if something needs to be accomplished by a deadline. In today’s highly connected world, don’t forget social channels as well. Also make it known via Facebook or LinkedIn that you are off the grid, or you may be contacted there too.

5. Force Yourself To Unplug

It’s hard to imagine a world without cell phones. Not too long ago they didn’t exist, and people weren’t as accessible as they are today. Can you imagine leaving your cell phone at home or in your hotel room while you head to the beach?

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It turns out, you can. If you are really brave, try not bringing your work-from-anywhere security blanket at all and just leave a phone number for your hotel with a colleague or assistant if you have one. If it’s truly an emergency, someone can call your hotel and leave word.

Another tip to truly unplug: Stay at places where there is very poor cell reception and wireless service. Or better yet, visit places where cell phones are not even permitted. Do whatever it takes to pry the phone away from your hands.

6. If You Absolutely Must Work, Be Strategic About It

Many of us have to get a few things done here and there during a vacation. If you are one of those people, block time off to do this each day, but don’t allow more than one to two hours a day.

A colleague of mine in our San Francisco office travels to see her family on the East Coast often, and she uses the three-hour time difference to get things accomplished before the workday begins in California. She also plans lots of breakfasts with family and friends while the West Coast is still sleeping. For meetings, if there are a few conference calls you absolutely have to attend, book them between meals or during your kids’ naps and make sure you have child care on call if something needs to be addressed urgently.

7. Get Over Your High Expectations

The perfect vacation doesn’t exist, so stop obsessing about it. We are all guilty of this, especially parents of young children. Two-year-olds don’t care if their suntan lotion was made from scratch with organic ingredients and essential oils. Kids don’t read travel magazines or scope out Pinterest boards wishing their vacations looked that glamorous, so stop trying to make it happen.

When all is said and done, you may need to meet a deadline during your vacation–to help ease the guilt, take a step back and remember why you do what you do. Vacations might not be perfect, and that’s okay. Learn to cut corners and ask for help. You cannot do everything, and you need to let go. The guilt will not help you be successful in either case.

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What are you waiting for? Book that vacation, and make sure you enjoy it.

Sabrina Horn is the founder, president, and CEO of the Horn Group, Inc., a digital-communications agency that combines public relations, social, and interactive services to help companies in the technology, digital media, and consumer markets. In her 23 years as CEO and 16 years as Mom (13 of them as a single mom to two girls), Sabrina has evolved her thinking on how to manage these two roles. Her guiding principles are grounded in optimism, acceptance, ingenuity, and planning.