Six Ways to Combat the Vacation Hangover

One of the hardest things about traveling is coming to terms with the end of a trip and the return to daily life. The pain is real when we say goodbye to travel companions, face a mountain of laundry, and go back into the office. It’s the vacation hangover.

When we consciously surface our best experiences, the cumulative effects of our travels make our daily lives richer.

However, taking some deliberate steps to integrate travel experiences into the way you approach your life at home (and at work) can help ease the agony of the dreaded vacation hangover. When we consciously surface our best experiences, the cumulative effects of our travels make our daily lives richer.

Weaving travel experiences into your daily reality

Below are 6 ways that I make a deliberate effort to keep the spirit of my travels alive in my everyday life so that even when I’m at home, living my regular routine, I continue to feel the joy and richness of my experiences.

1. News, literature, & movies

Staying in touch with the news, current events, and popular culture of the places I’ve visited helps keep me feeling connected. I’ll read or listen to news items and podcasts to stay up-to-date on my favorite places, especially events that may affect travel.

When I’m feeling nostalgic for a place, I’ll pick up a novel or nonfiction book set somewhere I’ve visited and find myself transported back there. Right now, I’m reading The King and I, a classic about Thailand that is particularly poignant given the recent passing of their king. Movies are another great way to transport yourself back there, especially if you live in a city that has good independent or arthouse theatres and film festivals.

It may not be pretty, but homemade Korean-inspired feast takes me right back

2. Food

Aromas and flavors are particularly strong triggers for me, so I find food to be a great way to reconnect with places. Cooking a meal or going out to a specialty restaurant can be a great way to share cultural experiences with others.

Once I’ve been to a place, I love coming home and browsing in the local grocery stores that specialize in a specific regional cuisine and picking up some familiar items. I especially like doing this when I get “homesick” for Korea, where I lived for 3 months. My friends I like to visit a local Korean spa, then go next door to buy groceries at H-mart, and cook Korean-inspired BBQ feasts. Though I could never hope to master the complexity of Korean homestyle cooking, I do like to make some simpler dishes, like kimchi pancakes or rice cake and dumpling soup, to accompany the grilled meat.

Some of my friends take this a step further and make a special effort to collect recipes from all the places they’ve visited, taking cooking classes and asking home cooks for their secrets.

Restaurants are, obviously, another, easier, way to get your food fix and reconnect with traveling companions. I do this periodically with my friends who went to Peru and China with me; no way am I going to attempt Beijing duck on my own!

3. Photos & wall art

Though not as tasty or evocative for me as food, eye candy can help to take the edge off my travel withdrawal.

When I travel, I often buy some local art, directly from the artist if possible. I pick out stuff that, while true to the culture where I’m buying it, fits in with the general decor of my place so my house doesn’t look too much like a souvenir stand. Though originals can be somewhat pricey, I’ve found some beautiful Chinese calligraphy scrolls and water colors from street artists for under $25. The good thing about wall art is that it doesn’t take up as much space as the usual tsotchkes do; the downside is that I’m almost out of wall space.

I also take a lot of photos, and sometimes when I’m at my desk, I’ll just open up my Flickr account and flip through a trip or two. Though I don’t do this myself, my friends have created some beautiful books and prints from their own shots, which serve as unique, personal reminders of their adventures.  

Tunisian ceramics – functional and beautiful

4. Beautiful utility

A Mongolian tour guide once told me that many of the objects nomads use daily are very beautiful and finely crafted because they want the few items to carry to be beautiful as well as functional.

Though I’m hardly a minimalist, I do sometimes purchase items from different countries that I can easily weave into my routine; using them every day keeps me connected to the places I’ve been and they ways of life I’ve experienced. Some of my favorite kitchen gadgets are my Italian stovetop espresso maker (I’m still perfecting my technique), Tunisian kitchen towels, and Japanese rice maker (which also works great for oatmeal).

Chicago’s Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration provides a window into Mexican culture

5. Exploring close to home

As a Chicagoan, I know I’m lucky to live in a diverse neighborhood in a big city; so many of these things are almost literally right outside my door.

When I need a “fix” from one of my favorite destinations or just want to do something different, I visit a different neighborhood, do some window shopping, grab a snack, and share stories if I’ve managed to enlist a few friends to join me. Sometimes just a change of pace in the midst of the daily grind can rejuvenate me. It reminds me that life and vacation don’t have to be so far apart after all.

Even if you don’t live in a city like Chicago, you can still find ways to explore your environs and look at them in new ways. Go to an area you have never been or seldom visit. Check out the next town over. Take a different route, even if it’s a little longer. Do anything to change your perspective just a little.

Of course it’s also true that many things are just a click and a delivery away via the internet. With a little effort and Internet exploration, just about anyone can find creative ways to keep their travels alive.

6. Staying in touch

There are two sides to this one, and I’ll save the more controversial one for last.

First, make an effort to forge friendships with locals and fellow travelers. Staying in touch via email, social media, or even written letters is a great way to keep your travels, experiences, and new friends close to your heart when you return home.

Second, though I’m sure opinions will differ, I usually prefer to avoid fully disconnecting from the world back home while traveling. That’s not to say I’m checking work email (oh goodness no!). I’m certainly not disputing the importance of resetting and recharging. I’m just saying that sometimes recovering after going cold turkey on reality is a lot harder than if I’d just kept in touch a little. Checking out the news, sending a message home, keeping up with a sports team, or posting an occasional pic can just provide a bit of continuity that eases re-entry.

Your turn!

Now it’s your turn: tell me what you think of these approaches. How do you keep the spirit of your travels alive in your everyday life? How do you maintain connections with the people and places you’ve visited?


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