How to Beat the Post-Vacation Blues, According to a Travel Psychologist
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Vacations are hugely beneficial for our mental and physical health, and both psychologists and physicians have devoted research to how travelers can make the positive effects last long after the vacation ends.
Because, unfortunately, the good feelings can start disappearing before you’ve even boarded your flight home.
On vacations, we let go of daily stressors. Our blood pressure drops, concentration improves, we sleep more deeply and become distinctly more aware of our emotions and thoughts. In fact, according to the Framingham Heart Study and the American Medical Association, our blood pressure can fall so significantly while on vacation that it can stay down even after we’re back home. The risk of strokes and heart attacks is correspondingly lessened, too.
But as the vacation winds down, we all too often start to experience a looming sense of melancholy. And before we know it, our blood pressure is rising and our anxiety is returning. It’s a typical case of the post-vacation blues.
Fortunately, travelers can take deliberate steps during and after a vacation to prolong the feel-good (and good-for-you) effects of a leisurely getaway.
Buy experiences, not souvenirs
One key way to make the positive effects of a vacation last after you return home, according to the University of Chicago postdoctoral research fellow Amit Kumar and Cornell professor Thomas Gilovich, both psychologists, is to focus on making experiential “purchases” while on vacation, rather than shopping for material goods. These experiences become part of our personalities and can shape our outlooks.
In the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Kumar and Gilovich wrote that ”[e]xperiential purchases (many of which were travel-related) made people happier than material purchases — and this was explained by the fact that experiences provided more conversational value.”
Though traveling in and of itself is an experience, their research also suggests that spending money on tours and activities brings more emotional value than a suitcase full of souvenirs. So much as taking away someone’s ability to talk about an experience diminishes the satisfaction he or she derives from it, the pair found. Bragging rights, it turns out, count for something real after all.
“Imagine that you just returned from a week of hiking in the Sierras … or a week of sampling the restaurants, art galleries and theater offerings in New York City,” Kumar and Gilovich said. “How likely would you be to tell others about your trip? … Now imagine that you spent a similar sum of money on a home theater system, new furniture or some high-end clothing you have been eyeing. How likely would you be to tell others about these purchases?”
Plan your next vacation
On a pragmatic level, you can also plan ahead. When I was a kid, my father usually rebooked the house we had rented for the summer on the day before we left, making it immediately something to look forward to for the next year. That anticipation became part of the vacation itself.
The University of Chicago’s Kumar agrees: “Even though the vacation can seem fleeting — that is, our trips seem to come and go in a flash — we also ‘consume’ our anticipation of our travel experiences and derive utility from discussing them with others after the fact.”
Don’t discount what you just did on your vacation, but when you start planning your next getaway, start with a straightforward list of how you’ll do things even better next time — or even something as simple as the places you want to go or the activities you want to do.
Psychologists Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and E.J. Masicampo of Wake Forest, studied what’s called the Zeigarnik effect, the tendency to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks more clearly than those we have finished. They found that planning (making a list, for example) can free your mind of intrusive thoughts and leave you feeling clearheaded and, frankly, more earnest about making your next trip a reality.
“Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal, but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits,” the researchers said.
Even if that means tackling your untouched inbox, you’ll be able to do so with less distraction or anxiety.
Consider yourself lucky
Bear in mind that if you get to take a vacation, you’re one lucky human being: More than half of Americans don’t use all of their paid vacation days, and last year some 24% of US workers didn’t use any vacation days at all. Being grateful that you were able to break away from the office is a good place to start. It will help you appreciate the time away and, as a result, make you feel less disappointed that you have to come back to reality.
In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologists Robert Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, and Michael McCullough, of the University of Miami, said that their research had found “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”
Being grateful for the privilege of breaking up a tired routine is a good place to start when thinking about your time spent away.
So enjoy what you experience, and try to make it last.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees