Picture yourself in the midst of the perfect vacation. You’re reclining on a lounge chair under a palm tree, sipping something tropical from a coconut. The only sound is the wind rustling through palm leaves.
For most people, a yearly vacation is a time to relax, recharge, and take a break from the usual routine. Yet sometimes this comes with an unexpected side of guilt and stress. Achieving a feeling of restoration can be difficult when coupled with the busy schedules and overindulgences of modern vacations.
A Dutch study on the impact of vacationing on happiness broke the sobering news that there was no difference between the reported levels of happiness between most groups that had returned from vacation and those who had not gone on one.
So how can we fix this? What steps can you take to ensure you feel good on your next holiday and bring those feelings back with you? And all while maintaining or at least honoring the steps you’ve taken to improve your health?
Finding the balance between giving yourself a break but not completely derailing your hard work can be tricky. Here are five tips you can use to keep from veering too far from your wellness goals during your next holiday:
1. Hire a Coach
If one of the goals of travel is to shake yourself out of your daily routine, learning a new sport or getting some expert instruction in a sport you already love can be a fantastic way to keep fit while breaking out of your rut.
Many resorts and lodges offer in-house pros. Tourism hubs attract some of the best coaches in the world due to their desirable locations and reliable stream of clients. Golf and tennis lessons or yoga by the pool are common at these establishments, but your opportunities don’t have to end there. Vacations are the perfect time to try sports that may not be available near your home like surfing, rock climbing, or horse riding.
Group lessons can also be a great way to get some exercise and bond with your traveling companions. Research shows that spending money on experiences, rather than things, generates more long-term happiness. The added benefit of keeping you active during your time away from your usual fitness plan makes hiring a coach the perfect souvenir.
2. Take a Cooking Class
There is no quicker way to immerse yourself in a new place and culture than to take a cooking class. Cooking teaches you more than meal preparation. You will pick up facts about local produce and how families and friends gather to feast and celebrate. It’s also a great way to introduce some healthy new flavors and techniques to your home meals.
Many cooking courses will include a trip to the market where instructors will demonstrate how to pick out the best ingredients. You may learn how to tell when a mango is the perfect stage of ripeness or when a thread of saffron is genuine or an imposter. Instructors will have relationships with local vendors, giving you a chance to sample ingredients and ask questions.
While vacations are often a time to indulge and not worry about healthy eating, a week of straying too far can lead to guilt and upset stomachs. Through cooking classes, you can enjoy the delicious local foods you’ve been looking forward to while maintaining a bit more control. By keeping note of what ingredients go into common local dishes you will be better able to make healthy choices both on holiday and at home.
3. Plan Your Splurges
For most of us part of vacationing is splurging, whether it’s eating foods we usually deny ourselves or shopping for things we don’t need. It’s a time to rid ourselves of the burden of guilt, at least temporarily.
The problem is that often that guilt comes crashing back when we return home.
One way to combat this is to allow yourself some indulgences, but to plan them out in advance. By scheduling a few cheat days or meals during your trip rather than an entire cheat week, you’ll maintain a better balance and feel healthier both during your holiday and after.
To go back to that Dutch study, we see that the subjects reported feeling happiest before their holiday, during the planning stages. As it turns out, it’s often looking forward to our splurges that we enjoy most. By planning when you’ll splurge, you’ll get that reward you deserve while not going overboard. Plus, you’ll get the added bonus of looking forward to it even more.
4. Keep to a Schedule
Making and sticking to a schedule while you’re on holiday can be tough, but the effort can pay off. In this case, scheduling isn’t of the “visiting all the iconic cathedrals in Paris in one afternoon” variety, but rather the timing of sleep. Getting enough shut-eye keeps you physically and mentally sharp. It can also keep you safe in the unfamiliar environments encountered on vacations.
Taking an extended afternoon nap by the pool or foregoing the use of an alarm can feel like a luxury. Yet studies show too much variation in your sleep schedule reduces both the quantity and quality of sleep. By going to bed at the same hour every night, you’ll feel more alert and enjoy your holiday activities more. You’re also more likely to attain the rested feeling so many of us seek while on holiday.
5. Set Aside Time to Reflect and Share
In the age of social media, it is easy to feel obliged to update those back home with your every meal and scenic view. Not only does this create a lot of pressure, it can prevent you from being present for the most enjoyable parts of your vacation and sucks away your precious time.
This is another area where a little bit of planning and scheduling can make a big impact. Plan a short break at the end of each day or early in the morning to reflect. Take ten to fifteen minutes to meditate or journal, taking care to recognize and note your thoughts and feelings as they pop up. This practice can help to keep you in a more relaxed and aware mindset throughout your time away from home.
This is also a great time to decide exactly how much you want to share with everyone back home. By keeping the amount of time and energy you spend on social media to a planned limit you can keep it from adding stress to your vacation.
Find Balance to Feel Refreshed
Finding balance on vacation isn’t always easy. One study found that vacationers who are best able to keep that balance are those that return to the same destination. Repeat visitors know what to expect so they manage their expectations and plan activities that will bring them the most joy and restoration.
While returning to the same location might not be everyone’s ideal, what everyone can take away from this is that a bit of thoughtful planning can go a long way in making your vacation a success. By keeping a thoughtful approach to healthy habits through the above tips, you can return home feeling refreshed and not full of regrets.