“Re-entry” After Vacation

Ever get a sick feeling as you are driving up to your house after a vacation? Thoughts of laundry, mail and bills tumble together with concerns about backlogged work and unknown challenges. I call this time “re-entry,” and it can be a tricky time. Here are some ideas on how to make it as smooth as possible:

 1. Manage your expectations ahead of time.

No one should expect to step seamlessly back into the daily routine after having been gone. The first week back will involve some extra work, some compromises and frequently a feeling of being “off your game.” This doesn’t mean that your vacation failed to refresh you. Quite the contrary! It means that you successfully detached from regular life and now need to start again. This is normal and even desirable. The key is to mentally prepare for this to be a week of adjustment during which you will be ramping back up to speed. By the end of the week, with the benefit of having been away, you will likely be moving even faster and more efficiently than before you left.

 2. Use the trip home to tackle anything you can:

  • Cull through emails and delete anything unwanted.
  • Students, check teacher websites for any “surprises” posted while you were away.
  • Check voice mail on your home number and return calls while waiting for flights/riding in the car. Capture a list of anything you will need to follow up on when you are back.
  • Make a grocery list for items to purchase when you get back
  • Coordinate calendars for the upcoming week (or two!) with family members
  • Make a “to do” list for each day of the upcoming week. Spread tasks out and build in time each day to handle unexpected issues.
  • Discuss a “plan of attack” for the minute you walk in the door. For example, tell family members “Carry all dirty clothes to the laundry room and take your suitcases up to the attic.” Or “Mom will take the baby in and get her settled while Dad carries suitcases to each bedroom and sorts the mail.”

 3. Once home, eliminate any “optional” activities from your schedule.

  • Pitch catalogs/auxiliary reading; there will be plenty to read next week.
  • Decline invitations to social activities until you’ve been home for a week.
  • Resist the urge to turn on the TV/surf the internet/play video games (you’ve just had a vacation… time now is better spent being productive.)

 4. Extend the glow of the vacation.

Sometimes we are so focused on getting reoriented that we squash the benefit of the vacation we’ve just enjoyed. Even if your vacation was exhausting (or didn’t go as planned), there are still some moments that are worth reliving: shared jokes, funny stories, highlights, beautiful images, etc. Don’t let the crush of reality steal these from you. Build in time each day to keep these memories alive. Maybe you recall a favorite memory over dinner, or pull out a souvenir mug to fill with hot chocolate each morning. Perhaps you could upload a photo to be your new wallpaper, or play “vacation” music you as you tackle mindless chores. Be intentional about maximizing the return on the investment you’ve just made.

While no amount of planning can eliminate the crunch of re-entry, a little conscious effort and mental preparation can make the process smooth and manageable.

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What do you find helpful when you are first returning from vacation?

28 thoughts on ““Re-entry” After Vacation”

  1. These are perfect tips for post vacation. And usually I will use the time heading home, especially if it is a plane ride home to indeed tackle emails and such that I put off during during vacation. At least it is one thing I can handle to help re-entry being a bit more manageable.

    1. I do the same thing, Janine. A plane or train ride (or even a car ride, if you don’t get carsick), can be a great time to knock quite a few things off the list. I’ve often sat in the passenger seat with my planner open, reviewing the upcoming schedule with the family members in the car:)

  2. Such good advise, Seana! I love your tip about making a list for each day, spreading out the tasks so you don’t become overwhelmed. I try to schedule nothing the first work day back so that I can attend to most of my ‘to-dos’. This allows me to resume my normal schedule quickly – but then, I’m just dealing with me. My children are grown and no longer part of my re-entry from vacation!

    1. I always remember that it felt like a huge chore to get everything up and running after vacation. When I finally realized that it was normal to expect this, and to plan accordingly, I felt better. Putting a term – “re-entry”- on this time normalizes the experience. When we plan for a the necessary extra work, we increase our odds of everything going smoothly. Now that my kids are grown, it is much easier. I also try to keep the decks clear for at least one workday after returning:)

  3. Ahhhhhh. Returning from vacation. I have to admit that as much as I love going away, I’m always happy to return home. And while it’s true that things might have piled up or been put on hold, I still love coming back. And the magic of going away gives me a fresh perspective and renewed energy. With that said, your suggestions for re-entry are spot on. I particularly love #4 about extending that vacation glow. I like to talk about and retell vacation highlights. And also extend some of the good habits that I might have developed while away…like eating more leisurely or exploring new things more.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…5 Strong Motivating Reasons to Get Rid of Your ClutterMy Profile

    1. I’ve read that it can be easier to change a bad habit if you begin when you are on vacation… out of your normal routine. This makes total sense to me, and I’ve started to think mindfully about this when I vacation. Is there something I would like to start doing differently, and if so, could I initiate this change while I am out of town? A vacation’s value can be largely after it is over, whether a wonderful memory or a good laugh about a disaster. This is why I love keeping the conversation alive, crafting a way to get the most of out of the experience:)

  4. Oh yeah! Returning from vacation always involves a lot of work. And it’s very difficult to organize myself 🙂 These are great tips, I’ll try to use them.

    1. For most people, there isn’t a way to completely leave your normal responsibilities without having them pile up a bit in your absence. It goes with the territory. I have found that simply expecting this to be the case has made it easier to handle it well!

    1. That is so smart, Janet. That way you don’t have to anxiously anticipate the need to jump back in “full tilt,” which can impinge on the last day of vacation. That precious second week might also be a time when you explore creative ideas that came to you during your relaxed time away. A wonderful idea if you can swing it!

  5. I love the phrase “re-entry” after vacation. As a small business owner, I find that it takes me twice as long because I not only have to deal with the home tasks, but I also have to deal with small business tasks.

    I find that checking email is the easiest place to start for me. I get a lot of store newsletters and can easily delete them with a quick swipe. Fifteen minutes of work I can clear several days of emails. Yes!

  6. My schedule and my vacations are so jumbled and not the norm but Cassidy went back to work today after a week in Belize! I felt for him! I didn’t hear from him until late afternoon because he was so busy. He was smart and came back on a Friday night so that he’d have all weekend to decompress and slowly check into email.
    Tamara recently posted…5 Ways to Find Snacking Balance In Your LifeMy Profile

    1. Coming back on Friday is nice if you can do it… gives you a bit of a cushion to get things in order. You can just slip into the office on Saturday and take care of things when no one else is around. Definitely something to consider if it fits your schedule!

  7. As you know, I just got back from the NAPO Retreat and I really tried to plan ahead on my re-entry. I meal planned for the night I got back, I assigned my husband bath duty with our son so I had time to unpack, and I started drinking my Emergen-C to try and ward off illness. Unfortunately no such luck there – a head cold ensued! 🙁 I tried!

    1. My husband pretty much lives on an airplane and it is hard to avoid the head colds when breathing all that recycled air. You can only do what you can do, right? Hope you are feeling better soon. At least the retreat sounded great. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

  8. Your ideas for “extending the glow” remind me of a blog post I once wrote called “There’s No Place Like Home”. It had to do with noticing things you liked about your vacation (nice hotel room sheets? a park bench you enjoyed sitting on?) that you can actually implement in your every day life when you get home.

    And I am squarely in the “take at least one day off at home before starting work again” camp!
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…WHY I Love ChoresMy Profile

    1. I love this idea of focusing on small things that you particularly enjoy. I think such an activity actually impacts the way we remember a vacation. Anything we talk about a couple of times is likely to stick in our memory, so why not spend some time capturing positive tidbits to recall? Once you form the habit of thankfulness, it naturally carries over into everyday life. Love this, Hazel!

  9. I like the suggestions of things to take care of during the return travel. Both getting back into a productive frame of mind and tackling a few tasks to make the list shorter when you get home are great ways to ease the transition! Although I love having at least one day after returning from a trip before getting back into the normal routine, I also love getting all the vacation laundry done ASAP upon arrival home.
    Mo recently posted…The West Wing Weekly Podcast – Nerd NirvanaMy Profile

    1. I get the laundry going right away as well, Mo. I know someone who used to pack the laundry by load in small bags before putting it into the suitcases to make it “extra easy.” I tend to run around and water plants and check messages first while my husband sorts the mail. It feels good if we can tackle schedules and lists on the return trip, especially if we are flying and just sitting around in the airport!

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  13. Great tips (as always), Seana. I definitely hit the ground running with a plan when we get home. Laundry is sorted and started within 15 minutes. I can’t even think or relax until I know the load of vacation laundry is started. Your tips about removing any optional activities is definitely a smart one. I’m going to work on teaching that one to my children this summer. (cross your fingers for me)

    1. I always find myself running around and watering the plants in the first 15 minutes… laundry is a close second. There is something calming about knowing the re-entry is underway:)

    1. That “let down” can be hard, especially if you’ve long been looking forward to the vacation. I think somebody speeds up time when we are vacation… it is always too short!

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