How to Relax on Vacation
Ever feel as if you need a vacation from your vacation? Sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D., the author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, shares the secrets to truly restorative R & R.
We get a happiness boost just from planning a trip, right?
Yes. A study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the joyful anticipation provides happiness in and of itself. I say, milk it and start planning three months in advance.
Does the destination matter?
Yes. If your goal is rest, then something low-key, like a lake house, is in order. But renting a house may involve cooking and cleaning duties, which can put a damper on relaxation. And a week of sightseeing is recharging only if you get restless sitting around.
How can you schedule sightseeing so it won’t wear you out?
Plan downtime. In my family, we do activities in the mornings, then have afternoons free. Or you can slot sightseeing every other day to rest up for the next adventure.
What about the length of the trip?
There’s evidence that a longer vacation can equal more thorough rest. But, really, it’s about the quality of the time. If you can only get away for a weekend without having to check work e-mails, you’re better off doing that. The trap people tend to fall into is taking work on vacation with them. This can create tremendous stress and tension.
What if it can’t be helped?
Then check e-mail in the morning or at midday and unplug the rest of the time.
How do you feel about posting on social media while on vacation?
You’re going on vacation for yourself, not for an audience of followers. Save posting for when you return to avoid getting sucked into your news feed.
What about taking photos?
Research shows that when you take a picture, the brain outsources the memory to the camera—you won’t be able to recall it as well. If a lot of your time is spent taking photos, you’ll miss out on building memories.
What else is a possible relaxation killer?
Anything that’s a “should.” Just because you’re in Paris doesn’t mean you have to go to the Louvre. You might feel FOMO—fear of missing out—but the whole point of a vacation is to experience activities you yearn for.
How do you avoid getting worked up when something goes wrong?
Practice acceptance. If you try to resist what’s happening, that’s when an experience becomes painful. When your son throws a tantrum or a customer-service rep can’t find your reservation, look at the people involved, including yourself, with compassion. It can help you cope with annoyance. Make a conscious effort to release your expectations and be totally open to whatever happens.
Vacations are supposed to increase our productivity at work.
Yes. When you’re on vacation, you have time to daydream. The part of your brain responsible for creative insight comes alive and draws connections between things it didn’t previously connect. That’s why people often have aha moments when they return to work.
How do you make post-vacation reentry less stressful?
I have a “no hellish travel” rule. I don’t take a complicated flight home to extend my trip by a day. It’s less jarring to return early and slowly readjust to reality—unpack, do laundry, recover from jet lag. Do the same on your first day at work, and try to avoid scheduling meetings. Give yourself time to get back into the swing of things.