At the beginning of a journey, there’s always a moment when our minds and bodies relax and unwind. Tension and worries unfurl. Cares drift away like talcum powder in a soft breeze. Whether we’re jetting to Europe or off to float the Buffalo River, the act—and the physical motion—of putting our workaday world behind allows us to focus on what’s ahead, what’s new and what’s different. We feel a shift in perspective; within that moment, we attain what, for lack of a technical term, we’ll call “the vacation feeling.”
For most of us, the initial relief and anticipatory aspects of the vacation feeling evolve throughout our travels, propelling us toward a restorative state in which we feel refreshed and reinvigorated. Problems that seemed insurmountable before vacation seem less so, and the unimaginable starts to seem a little more possible. We recapture feelings of wonder and curiosity about other people and ourselves. Indeed, traveling to a new place or even a familiar favorite locale allows us to look at life with fresh eyes, says Beth White, a mental health therapist at the Sage Center for Trauma and Wellness in Little Rock. “When we get a change of scenery, we get that sense of exploration and discovery that we had when we were children. We’re in a sort of childlike state of openness.” Leaving our everyday worlds, physically and metaphorically, clears our minds of worries big and small.
Our vacation-rekindled optimism, however, doesn’t drift away slowly once we return to our cluttered, frenetic lives. Instead, it’s blown to bits by those tornadic forces of our daily existence, becoming little more useful than a tacky souvenir water globe. But—and this is a big “but”—it doesn’t have to be that way. We can devote some of our renewed stores of energy to extending that sense of wonder and contentment we’ve experienced on our trip, says counselor Laura Laser of Little Rock. It’s simply a matter of making the effort to incorporate, or even recreate, activities and sensory experiences that inspired us on the road.
Let’s say you’ve just come back from Amsterdam, where you were energized by the city’s vibrant open-air markets and soothed by the sound of water gently lapping through the city’s canals. “Think about whatever it was that was intoxicating and pleasurable on your vacation,” Laser says. “Try to introduce those into your daily life.” For example, you might start your weekend with a trip to a local farmers’ market you’ve never visited before. And if you usually spend your evenings video-chatting online or, more likely, binge-watching the latest show trending on Netflix, slip on your walking shoes and take a sunset stroll through the neighborhood instead.
Remember that pesto Gouda and walnut cheddar you couldn’t get enough of on your trip? There’s a reason your taste buds are still tingling. “When we’re on vacation, our senses are alive, and it’s invigorating,” Laser says. Keep those senses abuzz at home by pursuing sensory experiences you enjoyed while traveling. While shopping for groceries, cruise the store’s olive bar and check out its selection of gourmet cheeses. Experiment with spices while cooking, and find new restaurants to visit. Attend wine-tastings, or tour microbreweries in your area. When you dine at oft-frequented eateries, order something you’ve never tried instead of getting the usual.
Sustaining the fresh mental perspective developed while traveling can be more challenging, White says, but it’s still within your grasp if you continue to seek out changes of scenery. “You don’t have to go far; just go somewhere new.” Since being near water gave you a restful feeling, drive to a lake and walk along the shore. “There’s something restorative about being in natural spaces. You might just visit a garden, where being around all that beauty releases feel-good chemicals and makes you feel hopeful.”
But reviving the vacation sensibility isn’t only a matter or recreating moments or perceptions, White and Laser say. You have to focus on the moments and feelings you’re creating and experience them as they happen. Doing that is as easy—or at least attainable—as turning off your smartphone and eliminating the distraction of email, text messages and social media. “When we stay connected electronically, we bring some of our mental stress and clutter with us,” White says. “Electronics is very much an interruption.”
By canceling out that media hum and becoming more in tune with the world around you—with your senses and memories refreshed—you’ll be able to reclaim your vacation self. And as that more spontaneous, easy-going version of yourself resurfaces, there will come a moment when your mind and body relax and go ahhhh—oh, yes, now there’s that vacation feeling again.