Pre-Vacation Fatigue: Letting Go of Action Overdrive
Updated: Feb 23
I’m in Paris, sipping a cafe creme and biting into a buttery croissant in a sidewalk cafe. I've been here for a week - working, seeing family, and walking the streets - but I feel like I've only just arrived.
It's taken me days of adjustment to actually get here. The rush of leaving on an international adventure tied my nervous system in knots: Endless lists and an overfull calendar led to restless nights and self-imposed spinning. By the time I actually settled into my seat on the ten-hour flight to France a week later, the exhaustion of preparing had already set in. I became of aware of my feelings for the first time in days and felt deep fatigue where there should have been excitement and anticipation.
Why do we race to vacation as if it is a finish line and we - the weary marathoners - nearly kill ourselves to get across it? Have you ever pushed so hard in the days and weeks leading up to a break that you almost wished you weren't going? In the lead up to this vacation, I found myself asking these questions while becoming increasingly preoccupied with packing, scheduling, and actions to close endless loops before I left the country. We digital nomads must live like this, finding systems on the road while making peace with a feeling of always being on the verge of missing something important.
What I ultimately realized is that my obsession with taking action and being busy in advance of my departure was a function of my saboteur; the inner critic that rules based on fear and works overtime to try and control the uncontrollable. When left unchecked, this critic will run a three-ringed circus of speed, perfectionism and relentlessness that has me moving so fast and furiously that I maintain an illusion of control and hyper-productivity – all while struggling to keep my head above water.
The problem with this approach is that it's unsustainable and exhausting. While the “burn” of pushing too hard gave my ego a temporary hit of satisfaction, it ultimately left me feeling restless and searching for the next ten tasks to tackle. In the moment, I knew these tasks weren't actually important, but I felt incapable of slowing down or stopping. I felt blocked from sitting with my feeling, and asking deeper questions about what mattered most, where my fear might be coming from, and what I really needed for smooth and calm departure.
As the date approached, I started to resent the trip. Resentment is a clear flag for misalignment: When I start feeling resentful, I know that I've stepped onto the victim / blame paradigm that means I'm not taking responsibility for some aspect of my life. Heather Jassy writes about it beautifully in this article on resentment.
In this case, I found it convenient to blame my job for running me ragged, a self-important and flimsy excuse based on a series of unchallenged limiting beliefs: I should be able to get it all done. It needs to be this way. No one else will do it. People count on me. I can't let anything slip through the cracks.
Sound familiar? Our culture generally encourages this kind of thinking, worshiping the cult of busy-ness and rewarding overworking while making it easy for employees to blame these circumstances instead of taking full responsibility for creating the lives they want.
The cost of this kind of thinking is high. When my vacation finally arrived, I found myself lacking the energy to go out and explore for days. Now, a week into a modified and more gentle itinerary, I can look back at those weeks leading up to this moment and realize that my self-imposed pressure pre-trip nearly sabotaged the trip itself.
Preventing Pre-Vacation Fatigue
If you find yourself racing towards the next finish line in your life - be it a vacation, a promotion, or a long-anticipated event - here are seven tips to prevent vacation fatigue before you have even left the ground:
1. Don't sweat the small stuff. Tell your inner perfectionist to take a hike and get messy on purpose. Purposely drop 10% of what you don't need to be concerned with at this time.
2. Make a list for when you return. For type-A personalities, take time to earmark the tasks that you can attend to when you come back.
3. Scrub "I'm so busy" from your vocabulary. Replace this phrase with "I'm so calm" or "I've never been so relaxed" - fake it till you make it. Repeat it to yourself and others.
4. Write an ideal scene. Take five minutes to put pen to paper with your intentions and ideal scene for how you want your pre-departure week to look and feel.
5. Take the time to feel your feelings. Take concentrated silent time to meditate, breathe deeply and/or sit with yourself during the final days of preparation.
6. Plan to fail. Get clear about what you will let go of, and who you will disappoint on purpose in order to scale your ability to take on more from wherever you are.
7. Double down on self-care. Make sure you put extra attention to getting rest, eating well, saying no, and investing in the routines that support you as you move into this period of change and/or travel.
Looking back, I can see that my mania surrounding to-do lists pre-trip was really a way to exert control over the uncontrollable (health issues, foreign travel, future planning, and beyond). "Control is the master illusion" says Mary Hulnick, EVP of the University of Santa Monica: That illusion becomes all-consuming when we double down on doing more instead of surrendering to the chaos and prioritizing what needs doing most.
If we remember that we are always responsible for creating the life we want, no matter the circumstances that arise, we can feel confident about walking into the great unknown, wherever it takes us. We can trust that we will always be provided whatever we need, be it miniature tubes of toothpaste or a long nap, and that the best preparation we can offer is to confidently remember our own readiness for the adventure that lies ahead.