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Five tips to make sure your vacation is truly relaxing

Written by Lindsay Smith

School’s out, the sunshine is here and that means vacation season! Maybe you’re hopping on an airplane for the first time in a couple years, or heading to a cottage on the lake, or enjoying a staycation. Regardless of how you’re spending vacation time this summer, a break from the everyday demands of your life is an opportunity to practice self-care and develop habits you can incorporate into your everyday life.

July 24 is International Self-Care Day, and Dr. Carolyn Boulos, Youth Psychiatrist at Sunnybrook, shares five tips for truly practicing self-care while on vacation so you can return feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Disconnect (seriously)

Dr. Boulos says disconnecting from emails and work demands is important to being able to recharge.

“Allow yourself to put aside any worries or concerns about work or other obligations to give your mind a full rest,” she says.

If worries pop up while you’re off and you find yourself ruminating on them?

“Ask yourself—can I do anything about it?” Dr. Boulos says. “And then remind yourself that you deserve a break, and you need a break.”

Fully disconnecting also removes those “triggers” to ruminating, she says, since you won’t see the emails or messages coming in until you’re back and ready to address them.

And before you leave, make sure you have any prescription medication you’ll need, along with some over-the-counter medicine for potential medical concerns such as stomach issues. Don’t forget to check expiry dates!

Prioritize movement and in-person connection

Dr. Boulos recommends making time for movement, outside if you can. It doesn’t need to be intense workouts; it could be exploring a new neighbourhood or park, even close to where you live if you aren’t going away.

“You could set a café or museum as a destination in a maps app, and walk there,” says Dr. Boulos. “Take in your surroundings as you walk. Enjoy the journey as much as the destination.”

Vacation is also a great time to catch up with friends, and Dr. Boulos says you can make time for social connection and movement by going for a walk or bike ride with a friend, or making plans to visit a local festival or museum together.

“Make a point to meet in person and be unplugged,” Dr. Boulos says. 

Get good sleep

It might be tempting to abandon a typical sleep routine on vacation, but maintaining good sleep habits is an important part of self-care.

“It’s a good time to make sure you get enough sleep to have energy to enjoy each day,” says Dr. Boulos.

She also encourages a gratitude practice before going to bed.

“Take a moment to reflect on what you enjoyed about the day. Maybe you had a lovely meal or got the chance to revisit a favourite hobby you haven’t had time for lately,” Dr. Boulos says. 

Explore new cuisines

One way to enjoy vacation eating while maintaining healthy habits is to “take your tastebuds on vacation” by visiting local markets in international cities, says Dr. Boulos.

“Smell the spices and herbs, enjoy all of the wonderful colours and varieties of fruits and vegetables,” she says. “It may inspire you to try a new cuisine.”

If you’re staying close to home, there are likely international markets or restaurants that can provide the opportunity to experience new ingredients and dishes.

When vacation is over 

Without a little forethought, it could be easy to return from vacation and find yourself immediately feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Dr. Boulos says one way to avoid this feeling is to plan for your return before you leave.

“Before your vacation, decide when you’re going to open your emails when you get back,” she says. “Set that boundary—whether it’s the night before you return, or at a certain time on your first day back—and stick to it.”

She also says you can make a list of some things you’d like to “take back” with you from vacation, whether it’s a gratitude habit, a sleep routine. It could also be a souvenir: new spices, a new tea or even a postcard or small memento from a trip. These habits or items can remind you of how you felt, and how you want to continue feeling now that you’re back to your typical routine.

“Ask yourself what felt good, what worked, what [habits] you want to take away from this experience,” says Dr. Boulos.

About the author

Lindsay Smith