Going on vacation? Set yourself up for a smooth re-entry!

I love to travel, and when it’s time to leave for vacation, I’m always ready to go. Road trips, flights, ferries…sign me up!

But no matter how wonderful the vacation is, re-entry is always hard. There’s the classic scenario, which I’ve repeated so often…landing: 11:00 pm. Due back at work: 8:00 am. Sometimes I’ve stretched myself to get that last day away, and make it back for a meeting or deadline. But those late nights / early mornings are no fun. At this point, I’ve promised myself those days are behind me!

The way to set the stage for a great vacation is with detailed prep for a great re-entry as well as your trip. While you can’t totally offset jet lag or the impact of  big differences in time zones, there are strategies to make leaving and coming home easier. These are the ones that work for me, and what I always do before I travel. It takes a little advance planning, but this routine works like a charm!

Personal Prep – three weeks out:
  1. Two to three weeks before travel, (especially if the trip will be a long one, or for an important event) begin jotting a list as you think of items to take, or tasks to complete before you leave. If you’re planning a weekend getaway, that’s probably going to be fairly simple to prep for (unless you’re camping and hauling lots of gear). If you’re going to a big event, taking a longer trip, or traveling for work, you’ll probably have a lengthy list of to-dos, and items to pack, or to address before you leave. Everything goes on my list…even if it seems obvious, better to write it down than forget it!
  2. If you need to arrange for child care, pet care, or house / lawn care while you’re gone, do that now.
  3. If you need to refill any prescriptions, do that now.
  4. If you’re doing a road trip and need to schedule auto maintenance, do that now.
  5. If you’ll be traveling internationally, check out international phone / data plans so you can decide what options you may want. (If you’re traveling internationally, hopefully you already have a passport in hand. If not…back this one up several weeks!)
Personal Prep – one week out:
  1. The week of travel, I review my list for anything I need to purchase, and work projects I plan to finish before leaving. I also look at food in the fridge to assess what will keep while I’m gone, what I can use, and what to toss.
  2. If you have bills to pay or other personal tasks you need to do before you travel, this is the time to check off those responsibilities.
  3. If you have routine volunteer commitments or other obligations, let the appropriate people know you’ll be out of town.
  4. I plan an easy couple of meals for re-entry so I don’t have to hit the grocery on my way home from the airport. Some people like to freeze a few meals. I prefer to keep some simple pantry items and foods that keep well in the fridge..the makings for soup, grilled cheese or PB&J…whatever strikes the balance between easy and nutritious to get me through the first night / morning. This is really only necessary when I’m gone for more than a week. For an absence of less than a week, most fridge items will be fine, so no re-entry meal planning is really necessary.
Personal Prep – three days out:
  1. About three days before travel, I begin checking weather at my destination to choose the clothing I’ll take, and pull out the luggage I plan to use. I like to stage my packing in a separate room so that whole process is out of the way, but easy to access.
  2. I use packing cubes to keep clothing organized. I use separate packing cubes for various types of clothing…underwear, socks, work out gear, casual clothing. Everything else is layered on top for minimal wrinkles. Pro tip: always take a jacket! Even in the summer it’s nice to have a light jacket, in case you get caught in arctic air conditioning.
  3. Anything that’s on my list that I can pack in advance goes in as soon as the luggage is out.
  4. If you’re leaving children with a care-giver, provide your contact info, a back up plan if your care-giver needs assistance in an emergency; healthcare / insurance information for your children; any necessary allergy info; food directives or suggestions; any specific instructions for your children while you’re out of town; any info that will be helpful for your children in the care of someone else.
  5. If you’re traveling with children, that’s a whole additional body of work, and exponentially more involved if you’re traveling with babies or young children. Of course you have to plan for diapers, food needs, toys, car seats, etc.
Personal Prep – one day out:
  1. The day before travel I run laundry, clean out the fridge, tidy the house, change the sheets on the bed, and double check travel plans, arrangements for pets, house sitting, holding mail, etc.
  2. The night before travel I finalize packing, check to be sure I have any important hard copy items…passport, credit cards, etc., I also make sure I’ve flagged email confirmations for hotel, rental car, or other travel related info that I’ll need to access quickly.
  3. Be sure to pack meds or vitamins.
  4. Be sure you have an extra house key stashed, and if you have someone checking on your house, pets, or  plants while you’re gone, confirm they have entry codes or know where your spare key is kept. Make sure they know how to turn off the alarm if you have one, or what to do if they trigger it.
  5. Avoid the all-nighter to get ready to leave…by breaking down your travel list, you should be able to relax and get a good night’s rest before your trip!
Personal Prep – day of travel:
  1. The day I leave, I do some last minute tidying to put the house in order. Pro tip: nothing is more welcoming than coming in to a clean and orderly house.
  2. Don’t forget to take out trash, run the dishwasher, or empty items like milk that won’t keep until you return. Don’t leave opportunities for mold to grow or food to spoil. If you have damp towels from your morning routine, make sure you hang them so they dry instead of mildew.
  3. Make sure you grab phone/tablet/laptop chargers and / or other electronic devices / chargers.
  4. Set thermostat, alarm, do last check for must-have items. Don’t forget to lock the door / set the alarm.
  5. If you’re parking at the airport, take a phone photo of your parking space location, or other identification you’ll need after your trip. Pro tip: let your camera on your phone be your recorder for of all sorts of things that you need to remember. Just mark the photos as favorites so you can easily pull them up.
Work Prep – pre / post travel:
  1. If you work in an office environment, set your out-of-office notification and change your voice mail message to reflect your absence. Pet peeve: people who don’t update their office communications for weeks or months after a trip so you continue to hear an outdated message.
  2. If you work, whether it’s for yourself or in a corporate setting, take the time to create a list of priorities for your return. Leave yourself reminders of deadlines or events on the horizon so you can quickly get to time-sensitive tasks when you get home.
  3. Make sure co-workers know you’ll be out-of-town and can cover anything that comes up while you’re out of the office. Have a designated person who can field questions in your absence.
  4. If you’re comfortable receiving office updates while you’re away, specify how to contact you: text, email, or by phone.
  5. If at all possible, if you’re returning to work when you get back from your trip, give yourself a day at home. If you can’t manage a whole day, try to give yourself the morning off.
  6. If you have work email that’s piled up while you’re gone, try going in to clear that out before you “officially” return to work. Just starting your first day back without a mountain of catchup to do is so much easier than wading through days of email in the scurry of a new work week.
After your trip:
  1. If you have a day, or even a half day, when you get back to town, use that time to restock your fridge, pick up pets from the pet-sitter, unpack, and get ready to re-engage.
  2. If you are headed right back to work, at a minimum, try to get through the unpacking and put luggage away. Putting the luggage away asap will help you re-settle and avoid living out of your suitcase for the next week!
  3. Take some time while your trip is fresh to organize photos, mementos, or anything that you want to keep from the trip.
  4. Plan your rest when you get back to accommodate any re-setting you need to do for time zone changes.
  5. Minimize after-work commitments for the first few days you’re back, if possible. Especially if you’re adjusting your sleep cycle, it’s great to have low expectations of yourself until you’re re-set.

This looks complicated, but really, most of it happens automatically. The best thing you can do to prep for travel is to make lists, then use them!

Happy travels! And let me know in the comments if you have tips to share…I’m always looking for ways to improve my adventures!


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