Making Vacation Work

Vacations are important. Our brains and bodies need down time to rest and create. To make your vacation “work” for you, here are a few suggestions.


  • Use a good packing list.
  • “Eat down” your perishables before you leave. Take advantage of this emptiness to clean your fridge, and make a list of what you will need to buy as soon as you get back.
  • Plan for your mail/newspapers to be held or picked up, plants to be watered, and pets to be cared for.
  • Investigate and reserve childcare at your destination, if appropriate.
  • Make reservations for restaurants and activities that are in high demand. [Nothing is more frustrating than finding out that everything good has been booked for months.]
  • Thoroughly investigate your lodging so you won’t be disappointed when you arrive (e.g. call to see which room you will be in, confirm all services are up and running, ask what is provided vs. what you need to bring, etc.)
  • Manage expectations at work. Will you be reachable? How often and via which method? Whom should clients/staff contact if needed?
  • Pay any bills that will come due while you are away.
  • Reconfirm all reservations.
  • Empty trash cans (you don’t want to return to a smelly house.)
  • Go through and pick up before you leave. You will find re-entry easier if your space is cleared and ready to go.


  • Try and do something the first day/night that will start the vacation off on a high note (eat a favorite restaurant, participate in a favorite activity, etc.) A bad start can be difficult to recover from.
  • Have a family meeting early on to discuss the plan for the week. Try and accommodate every family member’s desires at least once.
  • Designate spaces for items in your temporary lodging:
  1. A pop-up hamper to hold the dirty clothes
  2. Places for clothes, sunscreen, room keys, wet towels/bathing suits, games, toiletries, etc.
  3. A “kitchen” area (snacks, coffee, soda, etc.)
  • Remember that you don’t have to have constant togetherness. It’s okay for the family to split up one day if some want to golf and others want to shop.
  • If you have to meet work commitments while you are away, establish boundaries and communicate them to the family (e.g. “I have a conference call on Wednesday at 4:00, so let’s plan our activities around this.”)


  • If you are flying or spending a long time in a car, now’s the time to open your email inbox and delete, delete, delete.
  • Unpack and get items to their “final destination” as quickly as possible. Resist the urge to pile items up to be put away later. Take the laundry to the laundry room, hang the beach chairs up in the garage, return games to the shelf in the playroom, take empty suitcases up to the attic, etc.
  • Be brutal with the mail. Quickly sort it, pitching all the catalogs and extraneous reading material. Open the bills, throw away any advertising/outer envelopes, and move the rest to a “to pay” folder. Put any mail requiring an action or response into a separate folder and schedule a time during the upcoming week to take care of it.
  • Move all the photographs to a folder on your computer, and label it with the year and location of the vacation. Even better, schedule a time to upload them and make a photo book of the memories.
  • Keep telling the stories of your trip. Vacations “endorphins” often stick with us longer than those of physical possessions because we can relive the stories over and over. Even the “bad” moments from a vacation often become something to laugh about in later years.

(you can read more about returning from a trip here.)

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Vacations are often seen as a mixed blessing. While they can be a fun change of pace, they definitely require a bit of extra work. Good planning can alleviate a bit of the stress, and help you get the most out of your well-deserved break.

What do you always prioritize on vacation?

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37 thoughts on “Making Vacation Work”

  1. It’s so nice that other people are organized with trips. I so am! I make sure my blog and photo jobs are completed or prepped before I go away. I make insane lists and I don’t grocery shop much before we leave.
    There’s the whole art form to being away of course, and coming home to feeling as refreshed and unpacked as possible.
    Tamara recently posted…Little Remedies Helping You On the Go.My Profile

    1. I love the way you said that… it’s an art form. If the minute you get back from vacation you get all stressed out, that sort of defeats the purpose. I imagine your photos are more organized than anybody else’s, Tamara!

    1. That’s a great compliment, Susannah… and not a bad idea! Vacations are so precious that we want to do all we can to make them be terrific.

  2. Great list! The highlight is managing expectations while away. Keeping up just enough so there is not an avalanche of email and paper to manage when you return makes your trip all the better.

    1. Yes, I agree on the keeping up “just enough”… it is a fine balance, but if checking email once a day means I have a significantly smoother re-entry, I’m going to do it.

    1. Exactly, because frequently you never get around to actually putting the vacation stuff away, and suddenly the holidays are here and you’ve still got your beach chairs out:)

  3. Great list Seana! I always try to leave a mostly empty fridge. It’s a great time to clean the fridge and purge old items. I also like to run the dishwasher. I would rather come home to a load of clean dishes than dirty ones.
    I have to say I’m very bad about piling stuff when I get home from the trip! I’m going to try to be better about it!

  4. One thing you mention that’s worked well for us is making a list, not just of what to pack, but everything we need to do before we go: stuff to buy, arrangements to make, etc. We save it on the computer, print it off when it’s time to get ready for our trip, cross things off as they’re dealt with, and write in new items (to be added to the master list later on). We rented a great cottage this year and we’re thinking of going back to the same one, partly because we know exactly what is available there and what we need to bring from home.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…What does “vacation” mean to YOU?My Profile

    1. I love the master list, and the fact that you make changes to it when you experience something on vacation so you will remember it for next time. I keep all my packing lists on the computer: beach vacation, skiing, camping, etc. How fun to rent a cottage – is it on a lake?

    2. I don’t know why people resist planning. It doesn’t have to be every little thing, but the items you mention just make for a better, more relaxing time! I also make a list for whoever is taking care of my home and pets. Some things are obvious, like feed the cats. But there may be other things that need to be done, and not necessarily everyday. And phone numbers for neighbors, how to reach me, where I’ll be, when I am returning, etc.
      Hazel Thornton recently posted…Hits & Misses #3 — 12 More Things I’ve Tried So You Don’t Have ToMy Profile

      1. Excellent suggestions. Always a good idea to leave contact information and a key with a trusted neighbor… you never know when a storm (and a tree) may come blowing through! Nice to know someone would reach out if something happened, so that you don’t return home from vacation to a disaster.

  5. What a great post with useful lists for before, during and post-vacation. Everything resonated with me as I just returned (last night) from being away for five days. I think the single best and most useful thing I did was ask the family BEFORE we went away if there was anything special they wanted to do. Knowing the expectations in advance alleviated a lot of potential stress.

    Similar to Janet, I save vacation and trip lists on my computer. That way it’s easy to just update the template adjusting for season and type of trip. It also guarantees that I remember the essentials go on most trips.

    As far vacation being a “mixed blessing” because of the pre and after prep, I’d vote heavily on the blessing side. That break is essential whether it’s one day, two or more. And it’s worth the “extras” to get time away from the daily pattern. We need a break from ourselves, from the routine, from the scenery to be able to recharge.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How Motivated Are You to Slow Down?My Profile

    1. I totally agree on managing expectations. You don’t want to find out later that someone was very disappointed, and communicating in advance is a great idea. I think we are all of one mind with the templates on the computer – great minds!

  6. Excellent list! I always do the “cleaning up before departure” things you mentioned like take out the garbage and get rid of perishables. One other thing I like to do before I go is to get a small bottle of milk to have in my coffee the first morning back. Of course I make sure that the expiration date is far enough out but this lets me enjoy some caffeine before heading out to the grocery store to restock the refrigerator.
    Mo recently posted…Words Not Left UnsaidMy Profile

    1. What a nice gift to leave for yourself upon your return! Being able to wake up the first morning back and have coffee is definitely a plus.. I love it!

  7. Your breakdown of before, during and after is so helpful! I’m a big fan of picture books too – so much easier than scrapbooking. And I love your last point about re-telling the fun stories of your trip. What a great way to make a vacation last a little bit longer!

    1. Thanks Sarah. I hope you are getting to take a vacation with your little one this summer… and that it is relaxing and refreshing!

    1. Can’t be safe enough with water! That’s a good one… I’ve know 2 families who came home from vacation to a flood. That’s gotta be the worst!

    1. It really does make for a more pleasant homecoming, doesn’t it? There is so much to do upon re-entry, and the last thing you need is feeling the urgency to take care of items you left strewn about before you left…

  8. I can totally relate! Vacations are so awesome but it’s coming back from them that’s a little stressful! Once I had no choice but to book a flight back home on the day I was also coming back to work.. I felt like a zombie with zero sleep and messy room with all the bags unpacked. I would never do it again, ever again.
    Rea recently posted…Snapshooter: On The Road Again!My Profile

    1. UGH – that is pretty much a nightmare. I would have felt so “out of control” to have to land and go to work. Of course, especially with air travel, you plans can get upended beyond your control… which is why leaving your house in “good” order before you leave can help a lot!

    1. I love my pop-up hamper. If we drive on vacation, I just throw the whole thing into the car, filled with dirty clothes. Makes it easier when I get home to head straight to the laundry room!

    1. Travel is a complicated endeavor when you think about it. A bit of mindful planning can really help the vacation be a lot more fun and refreshing!

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