Monday, April 16, 2012

Back to Reality: How to cope when you return from a trip

Sometimes, surprising things happen in life. No, I don't mean the type of surprising things that involve getting a bee down your shirt on a difficult 10-mile day hike, or spilling DEET bug spray all over your plastic water bottles immediately afterward.

DEET eats through plastic like I eat through boxes of ice cream.
I mean the good kind of surprises. Thanks to a dear friend who is teaching English at a bilingual school in Central America, I had the opportunity to head to Guatemala for some difficult hiking, Spanish practice, and semana santa celebrations.

The colors were just as brilliant in real life.
Typically, when I return from a trip—whether traveling for work or pleasure—I put pressure on myself to dive back into my long list of responsibilities. Flying back from Guatemala was no exception. After getting food poisoning en route to New York, arriving at my apartment at midnight, working a full day at the office, and pitching two stories to a publication (all within 48 hours), I was feeling pretty delirious.

This is not a smart way to return from a trip. Though I may not always follow my own rules, I know there are three important things I should always do to ease myself back into a routine:
  1. Unpack the bag. Whether you got caught in a rainstorm on a camping trip or you showered at your hostel before your red-eye flight, there's bound to be something damp in that bag. Unpack everything as soon as you can. Air out your tent, sleeping bag, and other storable items for a few hours to prevent nasty mildew and mold.
  2. Take time to rest. As a coworker said to me last week, everyone underestimates how exhausted she'll be after a trip. Plan to carve out a few extra hours of sleep for yourself. Be realistic about the tasks you put on your to-do list. It's OK to go to bed early those first few nights when you get back! You'll perform much better in work, school, and life once you're well-rested.
  3. Drink plenty of hydrating fluids. This is especially true for those of us who have just stepped off a plane, but it's also good advice for outdoor adventurers who tend to feast on salty foods. Dehydration can contribute to feelings of fatigue after a trip, and it may even worsen those back-to-reality blues.
  4. Plan the next adventure — even if it's just a bike ride, a day hike, or a stroll through the park. Give yourself something to look forward to!
Bottom line? Take care of your brain, your body, and your gear.

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