Managing Overwhelm While Traveling: Get the Most out of your Vacation

I’m always thinking about helping people manage overwhelm. More often than not, I hear friends, family, colleagues, and clients return from vacation to report that they’re exhausted and they need another vacation after their trip. Here are a few of my favorite practices for ensuring a relaxing, replenishing trip, and a soft transition back into a regular schedule.

Set yourself up for success

There’s nothing that takes you out of the present moment during your vacation more than wondering if things are falling apart back at home. Taking some time to tie up a few loose ends, set expectations while you are away, and even call in some reinforcements can make all the difference.

  • Set an “out of the office” email for the days you are away

  • Let people know you will not be available

  • Identify anything that must be taken care of before you leave

  • If you cannot completely unplug, pick (and share) specific times you plan to check in

Pack for comfort and ease

Bring comfortable and comforting items to reduce stress and create a sense of familiarity and grounding. Opt for clothes that you wear often, and pack only a few special items. Think elastic waistbands, breathable fabrics, comfortable underwear, and layers. Beyond clothing, bring something that reminds you of home. Here are some ideas for packing for comfort:

  • Ask yourself: Is this something I actually wear, or something I wish I wore?

  • Pack a favorite and familiar tea, snack, or scent to use when you need to ground

  • Bring something to make your temporary residence a home, like a small altar item or your favorite pillowcase

  • Make sure you have at least one pair of shoes you can wear all day

Create Space for Routine and Care

Traveling is disruptive to routine. Even if the point is to get out of your daily life, it can be soothing and grounding to set aside a little time each day for a practice of care. If you have a daily spiritual practice, give yourself permission to prioritize it. If you don’t have anything that comes to mind, here are some ideas for travel-friendly routines:

  • Set aside some time each day to journal, meditate, or let your mind wander

  • Watch the sunset or stargaze while reflecting on your day

  • Give yourself a foot or hand massage at the end of the day

  • Share something you’re excited about or grateful for with yourself or travel companion

  • Practice noticing to avoid overstimulation. Name 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and one thing you taste

  • Do a quick body scan. Check in with each part of your body working from top to bottom

Allow for Unscheduled Time

It’s tempting to fill your schedule with activities, sights, meals, and transportation. Work a few days into your schedule that are open. When these days arrive you get to check in with your energy levels to see how you want to spend those days. Not sure what to do with unscheduled time? Here are some ideas:

  • Take a nap

  • People watch

  • Wander without a destination and see where you end up

  • Watch a show or movie and spend a few hours in your room

  • Find a comfortable spot to read, journal, or close your eyes

  • Take yourself out to breakfast and ask a local what they like to do on their day off

Practice Self Compassion When you don’t feel great

It’s not uncommon to feel under the weather while on vacation. I have seen many people beat themselves up for feeling unhappy, bored, or sick on vacation but the truth is, traveling is hard on the body, and sometimes our bodies take vacation as an oppourtunity to process and release (aka get sick). Here are some self compassionate messages you can offer yourself when you’re not feeling how you wish you were feeling:

  • My body is doing what it needs to do

  • This feeling is temporary

  • It’s okay to feel ______ (sad, mad, annoyed, uncomfortable) here

  • I give myself permission to rest

Use Mindfulness to Enhance enjoyment and avoid overdoing it

There is so much to take in on vacation. If we’re not careful we can take in too much without even enjoying it and end up feeling drained rather than filled up. Practicing mindfulness enhances the enjoyable experiences, and guards against excess and regret.

  • Practice presence while in transit. Focus on where you are, not where you’re going

  • Check in with your body. Am I pushing it or honoring my limitations?

  • Practice mindful eating. Focus on smell, taste, texture, and experience

  • Practice mindful imbibing. Drink to enjoy the beverage and pause between each drink to check in and notice the effects.

Give Yourself Time to Land

While this one is easy to ignore, its probably the most important. Give yourself at least one day between returning home and getting back to your regular schedule. Trust me, if you don’t you’ll feel especially drained and possibly even resentful of your trip. Even if this means a shorter vacation, having a day to land, regroup, and reflect will enhance the effects of taking time off. Here are some things you can do in that day at home before returning to work:


  • Book yourself some bodywork

  • Go grocery shopping

  • Water your plants, spend time with your pets, wear your pajamas all day

  • Unpack and do some laundry (or not!)

  • Sort through your snail mail

  • Peek at your e-mail to avoid any shocks on your first day back

And Finally, here is a little Humorous Reminder that Vacations do not cure Sadness.

Emily Adams