It All Falls Down (After Travel). Staying Healthy/Organized After A Trip
March 11, 2018 4:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to the gym, grocery shopping, cooking healthy foods, feeling great... and then I travel across the country to see family. Weeks later, I am still struggling to get back to my routine and be healthy. How do you set up your home environment and routine so that you can ramp back up after an exhausting trip?

I spend 5-6 days on vacation, jetlagged, sleep-deprived and not exercising. I come back and get sick and/or am too exhausted to cook/clean so I get expensive delivery. Then I feel crappy so don't want to exercise.

Any tips welcome -- how do you do this? Do you have non-perishable ingredients on hand so you don't have to go to the store? Schedule a day of downtime? It's almost a given now that I get sick on the trip back and/or am so jetlagged afterwards that it takes days not to feel like a zombie. How to transition from zombie-dom back to the land of the living?
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Traveling with a child has taught me a lot about this, because my child will fall apart if he gets overly sleep deprived, and then nobody's having a vacation.

It starts with choosing flights carefully. If it's 4-6 hours flight time, then we ideally want daytime and nonstop, because that's not enough sleep as a red-eye. It's been best to either arrive at night and go directly to bed, or to arrive in the early morning, take a two-hour nap, and then start the day.

Kids can go nuts if they don't get their bounciness out, so we always add in at least some walks while traveling.

If we're arriving home at night time, yes, there is frozen food ready to heat that I planned before I left. I've found it's actually faster to heat and eat (while unpacking toiletries) than it is getting delivery. I usually set up grocery delivery for the first day home, because doing it as an errand is hard to fit in. And yes, ideally we'd get home on a Saturday night, do laundry and get the groceries in on Sunday, and then go back to the normal pattern.

It helps to avoid getting sick by not getting too overtired while on the trip, plus wiping down the armrests/tray/tv of the airplane, plus turning on the airplane fan to blow past your face.
posted by xo at 4:51 PM on March 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I like to freeze homemade meals for this exact scenario -- so nice to come back from a long trip and stick [comforting favorite homemade dish] in the microwave or the oven.

I also cut myself a little bit of slack for one or two days. For me, grocery shopping is probably a bit more of a pain than for the average American (I live in Brooklyn and don't have a car, and often am heading to markets far away due to my own culinary preferences) so I also "allow" myself to get takeout/not cook on the day I go to the grocery store and re-stock my kitchen, especially if that's an evening trip after work on a weekday. That way I don't feel pressured to get all back up and running ASAP.

I don't know if this applies to you, but I tend to have high standards for my personal homemade meals -- they should all have a protein and a green and a healthy starch, nothing too junky, minimal use of processed ingredients, use whole vegetables because they're cheaper than pre-cut, no ready-made sauces, etc, etc.

But when I come back from vacations or long trips, I'll still try to make homemade meals but I really relax my standards for the first couple of days: eating white rice and a basic omelette with Sriracha probably isn't the healthiest meal, but it's way cheaper than takeout fried chicken or whatever and doesn't make me feel as bad (both physically and mentally) afterward. It lets me bridge back to my normal habits over a period of time.

And yeah, if you have enough PTO, I recommend allowing yourself an extra day for any trip involving significant jet lag (for me, that's a 5-hour or more difference).

Basically if I had to summarize it, I'd say two things: (1) it's more effective to gradually ramp back up to your normal standards, instead of expecting to get up to speed ASAP, and (2) don't fall into a spiral of negativity if you can't make it happen at the beginning.
posted by andrewesque at 4:51 PM on March 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Can you get groceries delivered?

I hardly ever travel, but I have pantry staples and stuff in the freezer, so that when I return I have some things for cooking simple stuff. Get some veggies, chicken thighs, olive oil, and spices and do a sheet pan meal. Get some salad stuff (now, not before you leave next time) and roast extra chicken thighs for future protein salads. Scrambling eggs and roasting veggies is easy; I just polished off mine. Get some oatmeal, yogurt or milk of choice, and fruit, maybe some nuts, and fix overnight oats for breakfast.

It's good to have some sort of treat ready for when you return. The people I typically visit live pretty well at home, and we eat out way more than I do at home and at nicer places. Having something nice when I return lessens the lifestyle crash.

As far as exercising, you just have to ease back into it.
posted by jgirl at 4:52 PM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Two things:
1. Before I go on a trip, I make sure my place is clean. Almost nothing gets me more bummed than coming home to a messy place.
2. Maybe it's just me (and/or my family), but I never consider visiting my family as a "vacation." There's just too much baggage.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 5:14 PM on March 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

I hear you! I live in Hong Kong and travel to Europe monthly for work, and the aftermath was killing me when I returned home. Here's what works for me:

I let myself have the expensive delivery the first night home, but then I make a plan for the next day which should include modest exercise goals. Don't be too hard on yourself.

I agree with the remark about a messy house. Clean before you go.

I try to return with one day buffer before I need to work. Yes, this has caused me stress too, but I stick to it whenever I can.

I try to force myself onto normal sleep cycle and use melatonin.

I try to take at least one walk of at least 30 minutes on the day I return.

If I need to sacrifice something to get everything done, I sacrifice unpacking in favor of self-care. If my suitcase sits for a few days, then so be it.
posted by frumiousb at 5:19 PM on March 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I do schedule a day off afterward to get back to normal. Or I make sure to return from a weeklong trip on a Saturday rather than a Sunday. I’m very introverted and I love and need my routines, so vacations and visits tend to jar me or tire me a little. Plus I hate getting home late at night and rushing immediately to work; that’s just not fun for me. Plus there’s always all the unpacking, shopping, reuniting with the cat, etc. to do.

I do get takeout the night I return but I have a healthy go-to (I realize healthy takeout is not always an option but maybe a big salad or veggie-rich sandwich on whole grain bread is reasonable.)
posted by kapers at 5:40 PM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

These 3 things are a mandatory part of trip prep for me, even just a weekend:

1. Make sure my apartment is relatively clean
2. Make sure I have one entire clean outfit (especially including underwear) that I'm not packing, so I don't have to unpack and do laundry in order to get out the door the morning after I return
3. Make sure there's something in the fridge/pantry I can easily eat with little to no additional effort when I return. Usually a couple somethings, since my appetite can be all over the place after traveling.

I've also found I rarely drink enough water when I'm traveling, so I've started being more diligent about staying hydrated while flying and also just while I'm out and about.

The above things go a long way toward making me feel physically better and less like the travel is continuing to disrupt my life once I've returned
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:46 PM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Having a day or two off before so you can prepare yourself and your home can work wonders; same for a day or two after to sleep in, hit the gym, and finish some errands while savoring memories of the trip. It's all about little, manageable steps rather than an unrealistic plan where you're destined to fail: you aim to go to the gym once or twice the week you get back, you treat yourself to take out the day after you return and then get some groceries on the way home from your first day back at work, etc.

You could also consider hosting your family at your place and/or in your town. Sure, they may all live across the country so it's cheaper and more convenient for them if you come but it isn't for you! If you love visiting them, then keep it up; if you don't, then stay at home and offer to host them and/or visit less often. Additionally, when you do go see them, you are welcome to schedule a routine that works better for you. For example, you could spend one or all nights at a hotel with a gym, and you could offer to plan and prepare a healthy meal one of the nights. You could focus your visit on one part of your family: everyone else who wants to see you can come meet you at a restaurant on Saturday evening or an afternoon coffee on Sunday at a family member's house.

Ultimately, it's about setting boundaries -- including with yourself -- and also communicating them clearly to others. While it can be hard to make changes or say no, it means a better outcome for you -- and others -- in the long run.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:10 PM on March 11, 2018

I agree with others, family visit is not a vacation. That said here are things that help me

- I make sure I have a plan for getting home that is either a meal out catching up with friends (helping me feel more acclimated) or some food I've stashed at the house, usually something frozen that I love (delivery not much of an option here).
- setting travel times that work for ME even if it sometimes costs more (i.e. I am a night owl, I don't take 8 am flights)
- I make sure all my dishes are done, trash is out, plants are watered etc before I head out. I'm away from home several months out of the year

- better boundaries with family where I block out "me time" to either have some healthy food or go for some sort of a walk. It's easy to get into other people's rhythms and is important to try to maintain some of your own.
- go to bed before you absolutely need to drop off to sleep, have a wind down routine that is just you, same with wake up time

- I have a routine where I pick up half and half as I'm driving home
- I allow myself ONE day of downtime chilling and catching up on sleep and then it's up and at them
- I rarely use sleeping pills but I'm more likely to use them or benadryl when I am back after a long trip
- I am like frumiousb, I'm in no hurry to unpack
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Things which have helped me:

-- Departing from a tidy house, with freezer meals waiting for me upon my return

-- Drinking water and hot tea with lemon (putting the tea into a Contigo Autoseal travel mug, taking tiny sips) during long flights

-- Thoroughly showering after reaching my post-airport destination (coming and going), and putting on clean clothes

-- using a sinus rinse before bed during the vacation and for 2-3 days after that

-- using sleep aids, especially melatonin, in the new time zone, discouraging jet-lagged exhaustion

I have autoimmune thyroid disease and can catch colds really easily; traveling used to knock me out for weeks afterward. Barring unusually stressful trips, the above steps let me keep post-travel downtime to about 2 days (featuring a few naps, when possible), and I rarely develop a full-blown illness.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:21 PM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also make sure that my apt is 100% clean when I walk out the door for a trip. As for getting back into the rhythm, food wise, before leaving I'll have several ziploc baggies of frozen fruit mix pre-prepared (banana, apple, berries, medjool date) in the freezer so I can just pop that into the blender + water as soon as I need, usually the very next day, when I haven't had a chance to go to the market for fresh greens.

I get on new place time as soon as I get on an airplane. I prefer to tough it out for one night, having an extra long day somehow, than to slowly adjust.

While I'm away, I'll have isolated and sorted my laundry. Usually that means three packing cubes. They'll go straight into the washing machine as soon as I walk in the door.

And I'll guzzle water on the airplane, to the point I'm getting up to go to the bathroom nearly every hour. It's psychological, but it makes me feel cleaner and healthier. (I think it's supposed to make you eat less in general, but not sure that's true.)
posted by flyingfork at 9:24 PM on March 11, 2018

I Nth the suggestion of cleaning the house before you go. It's THE most luxurious feeling to get into a bed with fresh sheets after a long trip. If at all possible, order groceries for delivery the day after your return.

If it's a trip that involves jet lag, when I arrive home I take a shower and take a 2 hour nap max, but only if I'm arriving around mid-day or earlier. If I'm home 3pm or later, I just suck it up and try and stay awake until 9pm.

I spend the rest of the day pottering around the house and unpacking - putting away toiletries, getting a load of washing in, storing away luggage. This is a really important step for me to feel back to normal life again. For me, having everything in its right place is self-care.

We always order a Chinese takeaway when we come back home. We're tired, it's easy and delicious.
posted by like_neon at 6:32 AM on March 12, 2018

I cushion in a full day off between "the day I arrive home after a vacation" and "the day I have to go to work"; I come home on Saturday, so I have all day Sunday to decompress and transistion before "regular life routine" kicks back in. Sunday is unscheduled, and available for whatever I ultimately have the energy to do; if I have the energy to do laundry and do some food shopping, great. If I only have the ability for one or the other, fair enough. If all I have the energy to do is sleep late, go through emails and look at my vacation photos, so be it.

Further to laundry and food - I tend to pack light, so I usually have clean clothes waiting when I get home so if I don't do laundry it's okay. And I have a pretty well-stocked pantry, so if I don't go grocery shopping the next day I can still assemble a couple meals from what I've got on hand.

So some combination of those things may help. Have some clean clothes that you don't take, have a stocked pantry, and give yourself a full day at home between "vacation" and "life"; think of it like the airlock on a spaceship.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for these helpful, actionable answers! Every single person had great advice so I marked them all as 'best answers'.

Sharing some observations in hopes that they're helpful to others:

In reading the answers, I realized that part of the difficulty IS that these family visits always involve eating out 24/7, which means by the time I return home, my tastebuds have changed to prefer sweet/salty/fatty foods and my boring home-cooked stuff tastes bad until I readjust.

So prepping "treat" freezer meals that are homemade but more comfort-foody (i.e. chicken pot pie instead of oatmeal), and having ingredients around for some homemade desserts, will help me transition back gradually.

I'm also noticing that the (great) suggestions to have the house not only clean, but stress-free and inviting, with clothes and meals ready to go, mean taking time and energy BEFORE the trip to prepare my home for the return. That's a different way of thinking about travel than I have been, and it requires more work on the front-end, but I can see how it could be really beneficial.

Can't wait to try all of these suggestions out next time I travel!!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 1:43 PM on March 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

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