Whether you’re heading back to work or back to school after Labor Day weekend, the last day of summer vacation can be a bit of a downer – especially if you’re returning from a trip. A recent segment on the Today show compares the end-of-vacation blues to the “Sunday scaries,” that unpleasant feeling you get while anticipating the impending stress of the work week.
Here’s our advice on how you can make the most of the last day of your vacation, and even bring the leisurely vibes home with you as you re-enter the real world.
Things that can make your last day of vacation feel like 3 bonus days
Do what the locals do
The best travel experience often comes from insider tips and off-the-beaten-path destinations that only locals know about. You didn’t come all this way just to hang out on a bus with a bunch of other people from your hometown, did you? Ask a local shop owner, your hotel concierge, or your Airbnb host how they would spend the last day in town. Find hidden gems and unique eats that will make the trip unforgettable – or at least get an epic Instagram of a secret vista.
There’s a lot to see, and only so much time in which to see it. But if you stuff your schedule with activities and sightseeing tours, you won’t fully enjoy any of them. Too much planning can turn fun into work, according to a 2016 study. Avoid “hurry up and relax” mode by only scheduling specific major activities that require it – for example, advance skip-the-line tickets at a major landmark. Leave the rest to chance and you’ll feel more present in the moment.
Try something brand-new
It’s easy to fall into traditions and become a creature of habit, especially if your go-to family vacation is to the same destination every year. However, new experiences are scientifically proven to make time slow down, so you don’t just extend the enjoyment of your getaway, you make it seem longer. Remember how long summers were when you were a child?
Get an in-room massage
With the touch of a button on the Zeel mobile app, you can enjoy a 5-star spa-quality massage therapy session in the comfort of your hotel, vacation home, or Airbnb. Zeel Massages are available for start times as early as 8am, if you’re looking to squeeze in a therapeutic massage before the kids wake up; or as late as 10:30pm, so you can unwind after a full day of sightseeing with the fam. Put the “leisure” in travel and leisure with an in-room massage sesh.
Catch the final sunset
Beyond the obvious benefit of giving you some beautiful photos, a sunset can be the perfect way to round out a trip. There’s a sense of completion from witnessing a sunset – as if the final curtains of the play are drawn and the day’s activities are officially over. Kick up the romance a notch by bringing your own picnic and a bottle of wine (this also saves money, for the thrifty travelers out there). The mindful anticipation of that magical golden hour will feel like three.
Things to plan for ahead of time
Take the day off after your trip
Build vacation recovery right into your schedule from the beginning. Schedule a day off at home after your return. That extra day makes the preceding trip that much better – you’ll be able to unpack, slather aloe on any sunburns, catch up on jet lag, edit/post your latergrams, and generally acclimate to your old life. The notion of your neverending to-do list is enough to make you want to catch up on work even before your vacation’s over. Avoid this temptation. Request the extra PTO day to allow yourself a transition back to reality. Future-you will thank present-you with a happier, healthier mindset. Your coworkers will take notice, too.
Start packing before your trip is over
Organize your belongings a few days ahead of time, rather than packing in a frenzy right before you leave. Pre-packing not only helps you make the most of your last day of vacation, but helps you find room for new purchases (or realize you need a new carry-on bag), and will help prevent leaving things behind by accident.
Book (and confirm) your travel to the airport
Nothing ruins the last day of a trip like rushing to the airport – except getting stuck in traffic along the way and missing your flight. Avoid this hassle by scheduling transportation ahead of time. Whether it’s a train ticket, cab, black car service, or taxi apps like Lyft or Uber, get all your ducks in a row a few days before your trip ends. If you’re taking public transit, check online about service changes to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Dry your wet clothes
Chores may feel like the last thing on earth you want to do (didn’t you go on vacation to escape them?). But trust us – taking care of this one detail will save you 50 pounds of stress at the airport. Wet clothing weighs more. So dry your soaking-wet bathing suits, towels, and ballgowns (no judgment) prior to departure. Save a plastic bag for last-minute beach trips and store soggy clothing inside to spare the rest of your belongings. Drier stuff = lower baggage fees = happier post-vacation you.
Ask for a late checkout
Squeeze in an extra hour of relaxation at the finish line. Hotels typically offer a late checkout – ideal if you’re still scurrying to pack things up (or struggling to get out of bed after a late night on the town). Airbnb hosts may permit late checkout as well, depending on the rules provided in their listing, and how friendly you’ve been with them during your stay. Sleep in, or enjoy one last breakfast in bed. If you’d like to wedge in some more tourist time, ask if the hotel can hold your bags for you after you check out.
Things to do on the way home
Save one of your favorite activities for the last day
Save one of the best activities for the final leg of your trip. A study in the Wall Street Journal describes the “recency effect,” which means our brains remember the end of a vacation better than the beginning. The conclusion: save your fondest memories for last. It’s also nice to have something special to look forward to on the last day. Pick a tour or landmark or a highly-rated restaurant and plan to go there just before you depart. You’ll carry the fond memories all the way home. Pro tip: Choose an activity that’s not weather-dependent, if you’re in a place where precipitation is unpredictable.
Knock out some work emails on the plane
We totally understand that in today’s hyperconnected world, it’s difficult to truly escape from work email. If you’re the sort of person who can’t relax until she’s checked in with the home office, allocate an hour or two on the airplane (depending on the length of your flight) to take care of this dreaded task. The upside is that your work emails can actually seem like a pleasant diversion from your flight. You can even make a game out of productivity (time flies when you’re having fun) – try purchasing only 30 minutes of in-flight internet, and see how much rapid-fire work you can get done in that timeframe.
Embrace travel downtime
Many people treat a layover or flight delay like it’s the end of the world. However, 60 to 90 minutes out of your 16 conscious hours in the day seems like a lot to waste on stress. While you’re already stuck in one place, why not enjoy it? Instead of moping in the waiting area hunched over your iPhone, visit a sit-down restaurant in the airport and treat yourself to a drink or shrimp cocktail while you wait. Listen to your favorite relaxing tunes. Or crack open that book you’ve been meaning to read. (Reading fiction is proven to make you happier, which eases travel tension.) Revel in one last indulgence before returning to your everyday routine.
Take your vacation home with you
Guarantee yourself something to look forward to when you get home. The beauty of an app like Zeel Massage On Demand is that you can not only book on-the-fly, but you can also book in advance. (Up to 30 days prior, in fact.) Skip the stress, neck tension, and back cramps from your travels by ordering a massage for upon your return. All you need is an hour’s notice, and a licensed and vetted massage therapist will arrive at your door with the massage table, sheets, and everything you need to continue the blissful vacation vibes. After all, who said vacation has to end?
Book the next escape
Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist and author of “The Anxiety Toolkit,” recommends having another experience booked right away so you have something to look forward to when you get home. This can help ease the separation anxiety (yes, you can have separation anxiety from your vacation). Whether it’s a weekend getaway, a reservation at your favorite restaurant, or an in-home massage, having the next trip or treat lined up will help you adapt to life again.
Zack is a writer, producer and marketer with 10+ years' experience in the advertising, nonprofit and tech startup industries. He is currently the Education Production Team Lead at Foundr Magazine, a web site for entrepreneurship education and was previously Content Manager at Zeel. Learn more about Zack on LinkedIn.