Raise your hand if this sounds like you: “It takes me a couple days to relax on vacation, and then I have a great time.” It’s so, so common: The first few days of a trip, you’re still wrapped up in thoughts and anxieties related to your job and home, but after a little time in a gorgeous new location, devoid of your daily routine, you manage to let your guard down.
On a recent visit to COMO Parrot Cay, an incredibly quiet, serene, sun-drenched island in Turks and Caicos, one executive told me he sees this all the time with return guests: the travelers arrive and start out glued to their phones and distraught over any changes the hotel has made (“You redid the reception area?!”) — kind of a bummer tone to take on a dream vacation. But once thoughts of their old lives fade, they can get into a vacation groove and get some much-needed R&R. (Which is the whole point of a Spring vacation!)
But, to state the obvious: why waste those first two or three days on a trip feeling tense, when you could slip into that blissful state the second you pull up to your destination? I tapped some mindfulness and travel experts for their freshest tips for getting into a vacation groove at minute one
Say no to notifications.
You knew we were going to pry the phone out of your fingers, right? It really is keeping you out of the (gorgeous, expensive, mid-vacation) moment. One study found that people on family vacations who were preoccupied with a smartphone actually remembered fewer details about their trip of a lifetime.
The trick is to break (or at least loosen) your phone’s hold over you before you leave town. Start your digital detox two days before you go: turn off all the notifications on your phone, and, if you can, turn off your ringer. “You will still check your phone, but it won’t be conditioning you,” said Michael DeMaria, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Peace Within.
“We know that each time you get a ring tone or even a vibrate or the little dreaded red circle with a number in it, your brain is getting a shot of dopamine or adrenaline.” This creates a feedback loop where you just . . . must . . . check. Without the dings and buzzes, you’ll need your phone less than you think.
Take a deep breath.
Simplest yoga move you’ll ever learn: deep inhale, deep exhale. Do this a few times a day right before and during your travel, advised Dr. Parth Mahajan, an Ayurvedic doctor and COMO Shambhala therapist. “You’re using your breath to organize your energies into a bubble of wellbeing,” he said. “This will help bring the needed balance in your energy system and organize your physical body to take you through the stress of travel with minimum impact.” And if you step off the plane, train, or automobile less frazzled from the journey, you’ll have an easier time finding “fun” you.
Leave your work life behind.
Symbolically marking that transition from “work” you to “vacation” you helps you switch gears. DeMaria suggested a simple visualization: take something symbolic of your work identity — a piece of jewelry, the notepad you always carry at work, your office badge — and place it somewhere at home.
“Do a little ritual, saying, ‘You are staying here and not going with me on vacation,'” he said. “I suggest this even at the end of the day: have a little hook by the door in your garage and put your ‘work identity necklace’ on it while taking three deep breaths before going in the house so you don’t take your work stress in with you.” Another simple visualization: when you walk out of your house before leaving on your trip, imagine crossing that threshold as an imaginary threshold where you are leaving your day to day work identity behind.
Shake things up!
If the goal is to switch into a different mode, you can’t follow your exact same routine and expect your brain and body to figure it out. So switch things up, DeMaria suggested, from the clothes you wear to what’s in your earbuds. “Go on the trip in your most comfortable, peaceful, chilled-out outfit — your ‘anti-work’ wardrobe,” he said. And if you normally listen to podcasts during your morning commute, try a new, laid back playlist on Spotify, something totally different. Listening to it on the way to your destination cues your brain: we are definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Resist the inbox.
Just thinking about checking your email sets off work-related thoughts, right? But here’s the thing: you’ve taken trips before, and at some point, you’ve forgotten your phone or gone without WiFi, and the world has been totally fine without your swift responses, right? So why wait until the end of your vacation to remember that simple fact?
“Guests are often so attached to their cellphones, they’re unable to be present and connect with their surroundings,” said Natsuda Dumrongpanich, director of Gem Spa at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach.
“Setting your phone aside lets you feel more relaxed and able to connect with fellow vacationers — so you can develop meaningful conversation and even friendships.” Since it’s not totally realistic to completely disconnect, she recommended setting aside one or two designated times to check email (preferably on your laptop, so you don’t get drawn in). We’re calling it now: you’ll have a few messages to answer, a few to star for later, and a big feeling of, “Oh, right — I’m on vacation and everyone in the office understands that.”
Get some sun.
There are so many reasons to slather on the ol’ SPF and then soak up some rays. For one thing, it’ll leave you healthier and more energized. “During international travel, the major stress factor is jet lag, or confusion in the physical and energy system about the time zone into which you have traveled,” Parth said.
Exposing yourself to sunlight — especially in the first two or three days of your trip — can help you reset. Exercising in the sun can speed up the process, DeMaria added. “Do something really physical those first two days, particularly an exercise you don’t normally do: a hike, paddle boarding, a long brisk walk, a bike ride,” he said. “And make sure it’s outside if at all possible!”
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