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The Ultimate Guide to Overcome Post-Holiday Exhaustion

Post Holiday Exhaustion

With the holidays around the corner, it’s easy to let yourself feel post-holiday exhaustion. Even if you are traveling for the holidays, whether it’s a trip to the beach, the mountains, or even a staycation, we all hope to come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated from vacation. We find ourselves tired and wondering “why is traveling so tiring?” – Shouldn’t it be the opposite?!

Why is traveling so tiring?

Have you ever returned from a trip feeling more exhausted than when you left? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, post-holiday exhaustion is more common than you might think. 

The best way to handle post-holiday exhaustion is prevention. Still, there are simple ways to solve the problem of “Why am I so tired after traveling” once it hits.

  • Take time to rest and sleep
  • Slowly ease back into life
  • Move your body
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Prioritize nutritious foods

Whether you just took your vacation or are planning ahead for the next one, these tips can help you easily overcome post-holiday exhaustion. They will give a roadmap of what not to do on your next vacation so that it doesn’t happen again.

Is it normal to be exhausted after traveling?

Post Holiday Exhaustion

Yes! It’s completely normal to feel post-holiday exhaustion symptoms of some kind, whether you took a short road trip or a long island getaway.

  • The act of traveling itself is stressful. From packing and planning to crowds and security, a lot can go wrong. And even if everything goes according to plan, the physical act of traveling can take a toll on your body.
  • Vacations are often jam-packed with activities. While seeing and doing as much as possible is great, trying to fit in too much can leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
  • Too many new things can also be stressful. Being in a new place is exciting, but it can also be taxing on your body and mind to be surrounded by so many new people, places, and routines. Even on a staycation, the disruption to your normal routine alone may be enough to create some exhaustion.

Why do we feel tired after traveling?

Simple. Stress.

This stress on the body and on the mind all adds up to post-holiday exhaustion.  This can come from either travel fatigue or jet lag.

With stress can also come anxiety. Be sure to check out my blog on how to solve anxiety while traveling, especially solo.

Travel exhaustion

Coming home from traveling –- whether you went by car, train, ship, or plane — you might experience travel fatigue symptoms like:

  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Feeling stressed out
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of focus
  • Urge to overeat
  • Urge to drink excessively

The physical demands of traveling can also cause you to experience low immunity, which may leave you feeling unwell. Combined with exposure to new people and environments, it’s no wonder some people come home from vacation with an illness on top of their travel fatigue.

Post Holiday Exhaustion

Is travel fatigue another word for jet lag?

Travel fatigue and jet lag are two different conditions, although their symptoms have some similarities. One notable difference is that jet lag is associated with flying only, but travel fatigue can come from any form of travel.

Jet lag can occur anytime you change time zones, but it’s more common when you cross two or more time zones because your body has no time to adjust to the shift. The farther you travel, the greater chance of jet lag, especially when traveling to the east.  

Jet lag can show up with or without travel fatigue, and it can be hard to separate the two since they’re very similar. Symptoms of jet lag may include:

  • Trouble sleeping or daytime drowsiness
  • Trouble thinking clearly or confusion
  • Weakness, dizziness, or light-headedness
  • Changes in mood or irritability
  • Digestive issues such as upset stomach, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, etc.
  • Increased risk of sleep paralysis or nighttime seizures in rare cases

How to recover from travel fatigue and jet lag

Prevention is definitely the best medicine, but there are simple things you can do to feel better when you get home. 

Post-Holiday Exhaustion Treatment

Post Holiday Exhaustion No matter why you feel post-holiday fatigue, resetting and getting yourself back to normal is easy. Adopting a simple post-holiday exhaustion routine that includes the following steps can restore you quickly.

  • Take time to rest and sleep to recalibrate your circadian rhythm. Give your body the rest it may have missed during your busy vacation. Take a day or two to ease yourself back into daily life slowly. Make it a gradual transition instead of immediately jumping back into your inbox or the commuter lane.
  • Move your body and be active outdoors to get the blood moving and help reset your circadian rhythm with exposure to sunlight. One study found that the time of day you exercise can have a “daylight savings” effect on your internal clock. Participants who exercised in the evening could “spring forward” their internal clock. On the other hand, participants who exercised in the early morning or afternoon saw their internal clocks “fall back.”. 
  • Drink plenty of water to hydrate your body and counteract the effects of dehydration. Spending hours in the dry, warm air of an airplane, it’s easy to get dehydrated, which contributes to the symptoms like tiredness and headaches in post-holiday exhaustion.
  • Prioritize nutritious foods to fuel your body’s recovery. More research is needed to provide better dietary guidelines for travelers suffering from post-holiday exhaustion. Preliminary studies suggest that eating foods high in tryptophan, like turkey, canned tuna, and milk, may help reset your sleep patterns by supporting melatonin production. The timing of your meals is also being studied as another way to cue your body to recalibrate your internal clock or your circadian rhythm.

How long does it take to recover from vacation?

The post-holiday exhaustion period is relatively short. It usually lasts a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of your symptoms and how much you prioritize your post-holiday exhaustion routine.

Post-Holiday Exhaustion Recovery Time

Travel fatigue can go away in as little as 24 hours after a good night’s sleep. If you’ve traveled relatively close to home or taken preventive measures, you’ll likely be in a better position to bounce back quickly.

Jet lag can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Generally, it takes one day per time zone to adjust, but it will vary by person and trip. Jet lag usually resolves itself and shouldn’t become a long-term problem.

If you frequently travel as a flight crew member or full-time business traveler, you could develop chronic jet lag, which may lead to insomnia and an increased risk of diabetes, depression, and cancer.

Can you prevent post-holiday exhaustion?

Absolutely! A little prevention can go a long way to shortening or eliminating the need for a long post-holiday exhaustion recovery period. Follow some or all of the following tips to help you lessen or avoid the effects of travel fatigue and jet lag. 

Things to do before you leave for vacation

Just like you map out your road trip, you can create a “travel map” for all the steps you need to take along the way as you prepare for your holiday. This “travel map” will guide you through all the steps leading up to your vacation with less stress and urgency.

Post Holiday Exhaustion Be sure to map out:

  • A mindful itinerary for your trip — make sure not to pack in too much and leave time for rest and relaxation. You might even plan some extra downtime at the start and end of your vacation. This will make the transition from life to vacation mode and back again more gradual. 
  • Checklists to stay organized when you’re packing —  prioritize the essentials so you don’t forget anything, but don’t overpack. Keep your luggage light and easy to manage without a lot of stress and strain.
  • A safe, secure place for all of your travel documents and reservation information — make sure your documents are up to date and store all of your reservation information in one folder in your inbox, so it’s easy to find.
  • A reasonable timeline for getting ready — give yourself ample time to shop for items you need to bring with you, pack your suitcases, and run last-minute errands before your leave.
  • Time to check traffic and weather — make sure to schedule time the day before and the day of your trip to check flight statuses, weather reports, and traffic reports to ensure you get where you’re going on time.
  • Time to clean your house before you leave —  not only will it feel better to come home to a clean house, but it’s one less thing to do right away when you start getting back into your old routine.
  • Anything you can do ahead of time – the more prepared and organized you are, the less stressed you’ll be when you start your vacation, making it more likely that you’ll come home less stressed and exhausted, too.  

Need more tips on what to bring? Here is my ultimate list of travel necessities to help your trip be as stress-free as possible. 

Change your life, change your schedule

A week before your trip, one of your goals should be to adjust your internal clock to your destination and prioritize good sleep habits.

  • For longer trips more than two time zones away, especially to the east, you should try to shift your schedule as much as possible before you leave. This may only be somewhat feasible depending on the time difference, but even minor adjustments will help soften the blow of a four, five, or eight-hour time shift.
  • Once you land, try to acclimate to the local time as quickly as possible. Use sunlight to cue your body to the new time zone once you land at your destination. 

For example, if you’re flying overnight to Europe and arriving in the morning, try to sleep as much as possible on the plane. That way, you can arrive more alert and ready to experience as much of the day as possible.  

When you come home from your European trip, you’ll likely be flying during the day. This means you’ll arrive back in the US almost the same time you left. This time, try to stay awake on your flight. Only napping if necessary and keeping it under 2 hours. This way you can stay awake when you arrive and sleep as close to your usual bedtime as possible. 

  • If you often have trouble adjusting to time zone shifts, you may want to speak to your doctor about using melatonin or other sleep aids to help you adjust more easily. You may even consider seeing a sleep specialist for added support.
  • If it’s a short trip and you’re staying close to home, prioritize rest and relaxation in the days and weeks before your trip. If you’re staying within one to two time zones, there’s no need to shift your internal clock. But it’s still helpful to get good quality sleep before your trip to help maintain lower overall stress levels.

Post Holiday Exhaustion

Before takeoff checklist

Prevention doesn’t stop just because your vacation starts. Even on the day you leave, there are things you can do to prevent post-holiday exhaustion from affecting your life after traveling. 

  • Change your watch on the plane. This is an easy way to start cueing your body and mind early that a change is happening. You can start to think about sleep and meal times in a different context. This way you’re more aligned with your destination even before you land.
  • Before you “take off” on a road trip, add stops every 3-4 hours to your route to stretch your legs and get fresh air. You’ll likely need a bathroom break this often if you’re hydrating properly. Plus getting your blood pumping and breath flowing can help improve circulation and reduce mental fatigue. Cars are just as confined as plane seats. And nobody likes that. Also, the stagnation of sitting for long periods is a drag on your energy levels and stamina.
  • Use Google maps to plan your stops ahead of time. Search your travel route for towns along the way that have food, gas, and bathroom options. Combine your stops with a short sightseeing adventure to give your mind and body more of a recharge on your long drive.

Tips for long flights

While it may be tempting to sleep on the plane, it’s not always the best idea. Think about what time it will be when you land at your destination. Knowing this will help you plan if it makes sense to sleep on the plane.

  • If you’re landing in the afternoon or evening, avoid napping on the plane or when you arrive. Try to save sleep for your usual bedtime at your destination. If you can’t make it without a nap, keep it under 2 hours. This should be enough time to rest but also allow you to sleep at a regular bedtime. 
  • If you’re flying overnight and landing in the morning, it makes more sense to sleep on the flight so that you can be awake during the day when you land. If you feel fatigued in the afternoon, try to avoid napping or limit it to 2 hrs if essential. Use the sunlight to your advantage and try to do outdoor activities to help your circadian rhythm start to adjust.

While you’re traveling, it’s also important to prioritize regular, healthy habits to help prevent post-holiday fatigue symptoms.

  • Drink plenty of water – dry, warm air combined with low air pressures on airplanes make it easy to suffer from dehydration, so drink water frequently to stay hydrated.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine – it might be tempting to use these to help you stay awake or fall asleep, but they often have side effects like restless sleep or jitteriness that are counterproductive.
  • Eat healthy foods – water-rich foods help prevent dehydration, and nutrient-dense foods boost your immune system, improving your odds of coming home feeling more like yourself.
  • Find ways to move – confined conditions in cars or planes limit movement and compromise your circulation. Walking or other movement improves circulation, providing oxygen to the entire body, energizing the body, and preventing blood clots. 

Self-care while traveling

Post Holiday Exhaustion

Even on vacation, some routines should be sacred and maintained even away from home, namely your self-care routines. 

  • Keep a nighttime routine for better sleep. Bring your own pillow or blanket to make falling asleep easier. Pack some small personal objects to make your hotel room or Airbnb feel more like home. A sleep mask, fan, or white noise machine can help counteract strange sounds or light that might make it hard to sleep. And finding the thermostat when you arrive will ensure you are able to regulate the temperature in your room to make it easier to sleep. 
  • Schedule breaks throughout the day, even if you’re sightseeing. Make sure to take a few minutes here and there to rest. This will help to make sure you’re not just rushing around the entire time.
  • Whether your vacation is action-packed or relaxing, make sure to immerse yourself in your vacation, leaving work and stress behind. Turn off your notifications and log out of apps that might try to pull you back into your daily routine.

Recover from travel fatigue once and for all

Post-holiday fatigue is definitely a real thing, and it’s not just in your head. Luckily, there are plenty of simple things you can do to help yourself bounce back. Drinking lots of water, eating healthy foods, doing some light exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and easing back into your routines are all great places to start. 

Final Thoughts . .

If you want to try and prevent post-holiday exhaustion before it sets in, prepare yourself ahead of time and plan ahead. Adjust your sleep schedule and make sure you get enough sleep before you leave. Make lists and stay organized to limit the amount of stress you experience before and during your trip. Immerse yourself in the experiences you have on holiday, but don’t push too hard and lost the chance to relax. Above all, remember to take care of yourself, physically and mentally, on vacation.  




P.S. For more ideas to help you make the most out of your vacation and help prevent post-holiday exhaustion, check out, How To Self-Care While Traveling: Tips For Stress-Free Travel.

I may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay, it helps me keep the blog up :) Listed prices are accurate as of time of publication.

Anna is a traveler, blogger, and entrepreneur who can’t keep herself still. She’s always on the move, whether working hard on a new passion project or exploring a new city as a part-time digital nomad. Dare to keep up? Check out The Tatted Nomad for everything digital nomad, social media marketing, mental health, and travel (and to see her latest addition, Novah, her service dog and travel companion). As a psychotherapist (to be) she also offers insights about your mental health related questions – anything you see that isn’t covered but you have questions about? Let her know!

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