How to Beat Jet Lag to the Punch (and Other Tips for Coming Home from Vacation)
Updated: Aug 4
Rachel and I arrived home from Japan Thursday night, and I am excited to share our adventures with you. It was a perfect trip, and Japan is a perfect place. We both were talking about ways to move to Japan before the trip was even over. While it is pretty normal for me to start making plans to move to the places I visit, it is really a testament to how great a place is if Rachel starts doing the same thing. She is drawn much less to hyperbole than I am. You can trust her judgement.
Before I talk about everything that is amazing about Japan, I wanted to talk about a pretty universal experience: weathering the post-vacation slump. Vacations, much like weddings, involve months of preparation, money, and excitement... then suddenly they are over. After you return you are left with the nagging suspicion that life is better elsewhere as well as the subconscious knowledge that no one really wants to see your photos. You are tired, you are sad, and you are that annoying person who can't stop talking about the heated toilet seats in Japan.
We've all been there, and I am happy to now present you with Queer Martha's tried and true list of post-vacation techniques.
1.) Beat Jet Lag to the Punch
One of the worst parts of returning from a far away vacation destination is living in a timeless purgatory in which you can't figure out what is dawn and what is dusk for several days.
The best way to combat jet lag is to not give jet lag the chance to mess with you by messing with yourself first. As you are coming back from vacation, resist the urge to sleep at all costs until it is past 10:00 PM in your final destination. In the plane, in the airport, at your house - do whatever you have to do to stay awake. Watch back-to-back movies until the plane lands. Play hours of Tetris on your phone. Gets lots of complimentary sake from the flight attendants. Whatever you do, don't fall asleep.
The best case scenario will have you awake for at least 36 hours. When 10PM finally rolls around, you will be exhausted. You will have worked yourself into a delirium by not sleeping for long. You will have funny dreams and say funny things. However, when people say to you, "You look awful, are you jet lagged?" You can proudly respond, "No, I am not jet lagged at all! My body knows exactly what time it it. I'm just super freaking tired."
Thus, you will have outsmarted jet lag one and for all!
2.) Re-acclimate yourself to work gently
Going back to work sucks after a weekend. Going back to work after a vacation is one of the worst feelings. It doesn't matter how much you love or hate your job or how much you loved or hated your vacation. Adjusting from not working at all to working five days a week is the pits. The key? Don't work five days a week when you return from vacation. Plan your vacation so that you return home on a Wednesday or Thursday. Head to work on Thursday or Friday and enjoy a fruitful two or one-day transition period before you jump back into the sad monotony of your daily routine.
This technique is especially effective if you only go back to work on Friday. No one actually does any work on Friday anyway, so you can spend the whole day fielding questions about your vacation and then head off into the weekend. The added benefit to this technique is that flights returning mid-week are often cheaper than flights that leave and return on weekends. I can't recommend it enough.
3.) Unpack strategically
There is no reason to unpack your entire suitcase right when you return from vacation. You will just be sad that vacation is over and you immediately have chores to do. Since you washed the dishes and tidied up before you left for vacation, you should be able to return home and simply wallow in your post-vacation sadness. Here are the three steps to unpacking your luggage:
Step 1: Take out all your souvenirs. This is a good start to emptying your bags. Only take out the things that make you feel good remembering the time you were free from responsibility. Perhaps you want to lay your souvenirs out on your kitchen table and reflect on what a good trip it was. This time can also be used for uploading any photos you took to your computer. This is known as the "fun unpacking" period.
Step 2: Take out the necessities you need to wash or use. This includes underwear and socks, toiletries, and your favorite items of clothing that you are excited to wear. This is not "fun unpacking," but this step, called the "necessary unpacking" period, is not particularly painful because you are looking forward to using the things you are removing - be that clean underwear or your toothbrush. This step should always occur after the "fun unpacking" period, but don't wait too long. People can usually tell if you have not entered the "necessary unpacking" period after a few days (because you smell).
Step 3: Leave your unpacked suitcase in your bedroom for several weeks. Eventually, the pain of not being on vacation will wane, and unpacking that suitcase will just feel like an easy chore, not an emotional journey plagued by questions of what you are doing with your life and why aren't you living in Japan/the beach/Europe, etc. This final phase is called the "numb unpacking" period, and it can occur whenever you are ready.
4.) Don't let go of your favorite parts of the culture
When Rachel and I got back from our honeymoon in Venice last year, we spent weeks waking up at 7am, making espresso in little cups, and showing up to work just on time. Eventually we started waking up earlier and going to the gym again, but hanging on to that little piece of our vacation routine was helpful in transitioning back to our lives. This time around, we have been waking up at 6am, lounging in yukatas for hours, drinking green tea, and eating a whole lot of rice. We have also been bowing to each other, but that is less of a choice and more of a habit. The point is: don't let go of the best parts of your vacation when you return! Celebrate it! Incorporate it into your life!
Speaking of which, I'll let you know when Rachel and I succumb and buy ourselves a heated toilet seat with an incorporated bidet.