How To Make Coming Back From Vacation Less Horrible

Vacations are great. Going back to work afterwards isn’t. Here’s how to lessen the pain of settling back in.

How To Make Coming Back From Vacation Less Horrible
[Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images]

You probably don’t need to be convinced that taking a vacation, or even just a long weekend, is a pretty good idea. Neither do scientists, who have found taking time off work to be good for your health and productivity. But you’ll quickly undo all those benefits if you return to an overflowing inbox and a calendar jammed with back-to-back meetings.


The good news is there are plenty of things you can do before you leave to hold onto your vacation bliss once you’re back in the office. Here’s a roundup of the best advice we could find on planning, taking, and returning from a vacation that makes your first day back at work as minimally painful as possible.

1. Back Away From Your Inbox–Slowly

Think you can just set your out-of-office message the night before you go away? Think again. Do that, and you can count on having a lot of collateral damage to clean up when you get back. If you’re going to be away for a week or more, start informing everyone you work closely with a few weeks in advance that you’ll be gone between X and Y dates. Then, when you hit the two-week mark, set an auto-message warning anyone who contacts you that you’re going off the grid soon. It might feel like you’re shouting ostentatiously about your travel plans, but you’re actually doing your colleagues a favor by giving them plenty of time to prepare.

Read more: How To Take An Email Sabbatical

2. Have Another Trip Already Planned

No matter how great your vacation is overall, parts of it will suck. Some days it will rain. You’ll get that weird bug bite, then another. If you’ve saved up all your vacation days for a long, once-in-a-lifetime, picture-perfect trip, you’re probably setting yourself up to be disappointed.

As time-management expert Laura Vanderkam explains, “Smaller pleasures experienced frequently contribute more to overall well-being than major but less infrequent ones.” At a minimum, you’re hedging your bets. Whatever might go wrong on a shorter trip, it’ll irk you less if you’ve got a fresh excursion to look forward to a few months away.

What’s more, merely looking forward to getting away can make us even happier than actually being away. “When you think about the fun you’ll be having,” Vanderkam says, “you feel much of the same joy the experience itself will bring. The difference is that it can last a lot longer.” So if you’ve already got another trip planned even before you get back from the one you’re on, the return to office life won’t feel as overwhelmingly terrible.


Read more: The Scientifically Proven Way To Have The Best Vacation Ever

3. Treat Yourself

It’s great to break out of your usual routines while you’re traveling, but nonstop adventuring can be exhausting–even if the exhaustion doesn’t catch up with you until you’re home. You might worry you’re wasting precious time in a foreign place by doing what you do on an ordinary weekend at home. But so what? Look up a nearby gym that sells day passes. Find a yoga studio in the city where you’re staying. If you spend a day or two–or even a few hours–just relaxing while you’re on vacation, you’ll have more energy during the rest of the trip and less fatigue to cope with once it’s over.

Read more: 7 Ways To Return From Vacation Restored And Not Stressed

4. Don’t Take The Red-Eye Home

I once watched the sun rise from a purgatorial customs queue at Newark International Airport after returning on a 16-hour flight from 10 days in Hong Kong. By the time noon rolled around on the most punishing Monday of my existence, I felt certain I was on death’s door. Give yourself a buffer day to recover from traveling. Fly back on Saturday, rest up on Sunday, and go back to work less exhausted on Monday morning.

Read more: The Scientifically Proven Way To Have The Best Vacation Ever

5. Exit Through The Gift Shop

The pressure to buy tchotchkes for your loved ones while you’re traveling is real. But it might actually be more important for you to take home a souvenir for yourself. After all, you were the one who was actually there, and part of easing back into real life after vacation is savoring the memories you’ve just made. Bring something back that you can put on your desk to remind you of your trip. It’ll also give you something to show coworkers who ask how your vacation was.


About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.