How to Make Vacation Re-Entry Pleasant Instead of Painful
We arrived home from spring break a few days ago, suntanned and satisfied after a week away from snow and schedules. Re-entry isn't fun - who wants to go back to school when, the day before, you were playing at a park next to the beach, eating In-N-Out burgers and fries? - but thankfully, our last few days have gone about as smoothly as one can expect.
And that, my friends, isn't something I used to be able to say. A few years ago, I got serious about setting myself up for success when it comes to vacations. Being on the backside of an anticipated fun event is hard enough; adding a rough return home to the mix was like a double whammy. Instead of winding up rested and refreshed, I squandered my good vacation vibes trying to get up to speed with my normal life.
Here's my recipe for a pleasant versus painful re-entry.
Before I Leave
Bottom line: I have to do more work before I leave on vacation to set myself up to be able to relish it on the back end.
Clean out the fridge (1-2 days before departure)
There is nothing more disheartening that coming home from vacation to find rotting bananas on your counter and sour milk in your fridge. So now, a couple of days before I leave, I go through my fresh food supplies and decide what can stay and what needs to go. Sometimes, that means my family eats a dinner of leftovers a couple of nights in a row so we don't waste food. (I hate wasting food.) Sometimes, I have so much fresh food, I decide to give some of it away to local friends rather than have it languish in my empty house. And always, it means I allot myself 30-45 minutes the day of departure to put freezable food in the freezer - this includes all bread, cheeses and leftovers. And if I have time, I deal with the remaining produce in my fridge that won't keep. Last week, I put all our berries in the freezer; at least that way, I can use them in the future for smoothies or muffins. I froze a bag of pre-cut broccoli; that will go in broccoli cheese soup. I even froze the rest of the container of spinach for smoothies. I also put a bowl of pears on my counter into the fridge. The only thing I forgot was the bananas in my pantry, but banana bread to the rescue, yes? Nothing wasted.
Make sure I have at least one meal ready to go (1-2 days before departure)
You know what's disheartening? Stepping into your house after a long vacation at dinner time only to realize: there's nothing to eat for dinner. Sure, we could hit up a restaurant, but if we're coming home after vacation, we've just eaten out ad nauseum. And no one has the energy to control the kids at a restaurant after a long day of travel. In the past, a dinner of eggs and toast came to my rescue. But these days, I try to make sure there's something in my freezer that I can reheat the night we come home. Last week, it was a frozen Pioneer Woman lasagna. I put it in the oven right after we walked in the door, and it cooked while the kids ran crazy and the adults unpacked. Ninety minutes later, we sat down to a real meal that didn't include fries or chicken fingers.
Bonus tip: Make sure you at least have milk and cereal in your house before you leave, so you don't have to run out for breakfast the next morning either.
Clean the house (1 day before departure)
A clean house calms me. A chaotic house makes me crazy. Ergo, I now make the day before we leave on vacation a cleaning day. I don't go crazy, but I do clean the bathrooms, dust the major surfaces, vacuum and Swiffer and make sure my kitchen counters aren't sticky and the sink is wiped down. Walking into a house free from clutter and dog hair makes me think: Ahhh, it's good to be home. I can linger here in this vacation mode for just a few more days.
Launder sheets and towels (day of departure, if you have time)
If I can, I like to do it the morning we leave. As soon as I get up, I strip my bed and wash the sheets. (I don't worry about the kids' beds. They don't appreciate clean sheets like I do.) I also grab all the towels after morning showers and cycle them through. I figure, even if they aren't hung up (read: I threw that last load in the dryer as I was walking out the door), it's still nicer to come home to fresh.
Take out the garbage (day of departure)
One time, I forgot to take out the kitchen garbage. In the summer. Before we left on a two-week trip. It took me bottles of Febreeze to remove the smell of rotted chicken that seemed to pervade every surface in my home. Never again.
Start the dishwasher (day of departure)
Dishwashers get stinky too, yes? Especially if they are loaded with cereal bowls coated with milk. So even if the dishwasher is only 1/4 full, I start it right before we leave. Because I don't like stinky.
Once I Get Home
Bottom Line: Cash out the pre-vacation work.
Have the Hold Mail delivered
I always have my mail held for the time I'm gone and then have everything delivered the day I get home. That way, I can get through the stack of junk right away. It's usually waiting for me, wrapped in a big rubber band, in my mailbox.
I used to wait to unpack. "I just don't feel like it yet," I said to myself. You know what happened? Five days after the trip, I was still living out of a suitcase. Ain't nobody got time for that. So now, I unpack within an hour of getting home. And I ruthlessly unpack everything. Laundry goes into the laundry room, clean clothes get folded or hung on hangers, toys get put away, DVDs reunite with their cases (they live in an old-fashioned CD carrier while we are away; less bulk). Yes, it's a pain, but once it's done, you can relax and enjoy being home and bask in all the good memories.
If I don't start the vacation laundry right away, I will put it off forever. So I gather and sort it as soon as possible and throw in a load before I go to bed that first night. It means I have to fold and put away the next day, but if my house is clean and I have food for meals, it's the only real chore I have to do that day. I can manage that.
Clean your schedule for a day or two
Obviously, this one isn't always possible. But when we arrived back this week, I discovered - to my utter delight - that because many districts around us are on break this week, almost all of my regularly scheduled activities have been cancelled. So I had no Wednesday night church events, no Thursday morning workout classes, no Friday morning mommy and me class. I didn't plan this, but now that I've experienced this slow-and-easy re-entry? I would plan it this way in the future, even if it meant bowing out of normal life for a few days. It's been so much nicer than trying to hit the ground running. The whole family has been able to rest from the time change and enjoy being home without being rushed somewhere. Instead of being stretched and depressed, we are savoring a spring break well spent.
And isn't that the whole point of a vacation?