How can I overcome the post-travel blues?

How can I overcome the post-travel blues? The Travel Psychologist

Connecting to memories of our trips can help our well-being

By Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist

Those of us who love travel will probably be familiar with the idea of post-travel blues. We often spend months planning and saving for a trip, only for it to be over all too quickly. Returning to everyday life can be a shock to the system. How normal is this and what can we do to manage these feelings?

On the Travel Psychologist website we write a lot about the psychological benefits of travel and the positive impact it can have for us. This includes helping us with  our personal growth  and providing us with experiences that increase  our creativity and well-being. Put simply travel allows us to experience new situations which expands our comfort zone and helps us to see the world in different ways. It provides us with inspiration and takes us away from our routines and responsibilities, which can allow us the space to reflect on what is important to us. It is no surprise then that when we return home to the same routine and our usual places, that we can feel a little down.

What do people commonly experience following a trip? 

Feelings that would be considered within normal limits for most people would be feeling a little low for a couple of days, and feeling a little fed up about going back to work and getting back into the usual routine. You might think about your trip sometimes and long to return. However, for most people despite these feelings you will be able to appreciate at least one thing about being back home. This might be seeing your pet, your friends, going to a yoga class or catching up on your favourite TV programme. It is also usually possible to put your difficult feelings to one side most of the time and for them not to impact hugely on your behaviour.

How to identify when feeling low goes beyond post-travel blues

Signs that difficult feelings might be more than post-holiday blues would include persistently feeling low for most of the day, for more than a couple of weeks. Irritability, tearfulness, persistent tiredness and withdrawing from other people are also worrying signs to look out for. If these feelings are affecting your ability to work, socialise, exercise or to do your usual tasks these are all important to note. If these feelings persist I would recommend making an appointment with a GP, psychologist or counsellor as there are likely to be underlying reasons why your feelings are persisting. A professional can help you to make sense of this and to help you to come up with a plan to address it.

Do aspects of the trip matter when it comes to post holiday blues?

This is a very under-researched area so it is not possible to give a conclusive answer to this question. From my own personal perspective, on reflection I have only ever experienced post-travel blues when I have felt that the trip hasn’t been long enough or if I haven’t had enough time to relax and recharge when I’ve been away.

Given the lack of published research in this area I surveyed our Instagram community to ask their thoughts. A whopping 96% of 25 respondents self-identified as having experienced post-travel blues. Our Instagram community are travel enthusiasts, so this is not too surprising.

Interestingly, responses to the next question did surprise me. Twenty-two participants gave their opinion on whether the type of trip, duration and/or price matters when it came to experiencing post-travel blues. Results showed that participant opinion on this was split evenly. Some people felt that these things were relevant to experiencing post-travel blues, and others didn’t think that these factors mattered.

A few participants gave additional written responses. These suggested that if a trip particularly joyous, or emotionally charged in some way, then we may be more likely to experience post-travel blues. Others indicated that they feel more down after chilled holidays, whereas after busy trips they like to experience some rest time at home. If you remember this is the opposite of my own experiences that I tend to feel a little down after a busy trip!

A matter of interpretation 

So what might be underlying such big differences in opinion? Well, like many aspects of psychology, it is likely to be a matter of interpretation and individual differences. How we interpret a trip being over, our personality and current circumstances are all likely to be relevant.

Lets take my own example of feeling a bit blue after a busy trip. I have a busy life and like to recharge on my trips. So if I get home from a trip I’m tired, I’m already starting on a bad foot. Now moving on to how I might interpret a busy trip. Probably the helpful way of looking at it is that “I managed to fit in a lot during a short space of time and I’m so glad to have had these experiences”. Perhaps the less helpful interpretation is something like “my holiday was meant to be a break and now I’m feeling even more tired. It wasn’t even worth going!”. You see where I’m going with this. The latter is likely to be unhelpful and add even more gloom when we are already feeling a bit down. Chances are that what is going to help me is to buy into the first thought and to make sure I’m prioritising rest at home.

Likewise, lets take a trip that has been everything you hoped it would be and you’ve had a great time. Probably the unhelpful thought in this situation is “it’s over and I’m never going to have that experience again”. This may be true but its probably not that helpful. Its more helpful to remind yourself of how grateful you have been to have had these experiences. It is also helpful to spend some time finding a way to mark the trip or to preserve these experiences in your memory. This might be as simple as keeping a souvenir somewhere you’ll see it regularly or creating a photo album or blog post about your trip.

In short, here are my top tips for overcoming post-travel blues 

  •  Remember that it is common to feel a little down after a trip. For most people these feelings will subside as you get back into your day to day routine.
  •  Notice and remember anything that you are grateful for about being back, however small. Make time for activities that you enjoy or find relaxing at home.
  •  Look out for unhelpful thoughts that might be adding to feelings of gloom, and try to identify more helpful alternatives to the unhelpful and negative thoughts.
  •  Find a way to mark your trip that works for you. Personally, I like to keep a pot of keepsakes on my kitchen windowsill, and of course to write destination guides for my favourite places. You may benefit from doing something similar or you might find a different way that works for you.
  •  Spend some time reflecting on your trip and anything that you may have learned or been inspired by. Remind yourself that although the trip is over these positive aspects are still with you.
  •  Find a way to connect with the sensations and experiences that you had on your trip. This might mean spending some time remembering what it was like to sit in a pretty square or on a beach. Our memory is very powerful and if we are able to connect with these feelings and memories then it can have a dramatic effect on how we feel when we are back home.
  •  Eating the cuisine from your destination is another great way to connect with experiences from your trip. Why not make a night of it and try and recreate your favourite dishes at home, or spend some time finding a local restaurant that serves similar dishes.
  •  Set yourself a goal that you can work towards so that you have something to focus on. Examples would be starting a new project at work, trying out a new activity or committing to get back to an old hobby.
  •  Finally, start planning your next trip, however small. Sometimes just having a few days away somewhere close to home can help to give us something to look forward to.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Let us know if there are any additional things that work for you!