This month’s Self-Care Sunday series will focus on vacation. Come back next week for tips on balancing learning with vacation.

The Mental Health Benefits of Vacation

Vacation can cut down on your stress levels, boost your creativity, and help you bond with your family. It can also cause extra stress, drain you, and cause family arguments. How can you avoid the later and obtain the former? Planning ahead!

If you’re single—your imagination is the only thing that limits you. Don’t forgo a vacation simply because you don’t have a significant other. You can find like-minded souls in friends, family members, and even strangers. I’ve gone birding with complete strangers before and ended up with new friends. Websites like help connect you with other like-minded people all over the world.

If you have kids, invite them into the planning in an age-appropriate way. My husband and I planned the majority of trips until our girls reached middle school. We would drive to our favorite summer camp in Oregon and drop one girl off for a week of camp, and then spend the week camping with the other daughter. On Sundays, we’d switch. We took bicycles, motorcycles and a canoe with us, so everyone had something fun to do.

When they reached middle school age, we invited them into the planning process. One summer the girls and I planned an epic adventure to Chicago to visit American Girl Place. Along the way, we stopped at Mount Rushmore, an amazing reptile garden (Sarah loves reptiles) and all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites along our route. We shared the trip with another mom and her daughter and drove in our RV.

None of us will ever forget that epic trip—we all helped plan it, and we all have favorite memories.

These takeaway lessons from our vacations over the years might help you enjoy your vacation more and avoid stress so that you can reap the best mental health benefits of your vacation time.

Five tips to maximize the mental health benefits from your vacation! A little planning goes a long ways! #summer #vacation #travel Click To Tweet

Vacation Takeaway 1

Make sure everyone knows everyone else’s expectations and discuss ways to blend desires so that everyone has fun.These five vacation takeaways will help you maximize the mental health benefits of your vacation. You don't have to plan an epic vacation to benefit. But you DO need to plan! Vacation Planning,Families,Budget,Mental Health

Face it, not every vacation you go on has ‘epic vacation’ potential. The more people involved in the vacation, the more difficulty you’ll have. For example, we went on an epic trip to Florida one Christmas vacation, and we balanced visiting extended family (people only my husband knew) with bucket list items from everyone else’s lists.

One of our foreign exchange students really wanted to buy a Slurpee from 7-11 and have her photo taken with Minnie Mouse. The other foreign exchange student wanted to go on scary rides. Our daughters wanted to visit all things Disney. I wanted to visit the Everglades.

We started planning in August, and everyone knew everyone else’s expectations. By planning ahead, we knew we’d have enough money for the trip, and everyone knew they’d spend time doing things that might not appeal to them. This helps reduce stress by ensuring that everyone’s vacation expectations get met.

Vacation Takeaway 2

Plan out a budget in advance.

We’ve taken vacations where we didn’t budget ahead—but these usually involved camping for free on Forest Service land. Those vacations usually took place relatively near to home and the only expense involved gas for the vehicle.

But if you plan on staying in hotels, going to attractions, flying, and visiting museums, you’ll want to know ahead of time how much the vacation will cost. We use sites like to find inexpensive housing so that we can avoid eating out (which gets pricey when you have a big family).

You can also reduce your budget by limiting the number of times you eat out. We take along sandwich bags, a small cooler, and hit up the local Costco or Sam’s Club for food once we arrive at our destination. When Pedro and I went to Hawaii for two weeks to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we ate out once, and only spent one night in a hotel when our flight got cancelled.

You’ll avoid stress both before and after your vacation if you don’t go into debt.

Vacation Takeaway 3

Leave a clean house and come back a day early.

This takes extra planning and commitment from everyone involved. Trust me, coming home to a dirty house will dull your post-vacation glow. Enlist everyone’s help and make sure they know the payoff for coming home to a tidy house.

While coming back the day before you go back to work sounds appealing, psychologists advise giving yourself a day or two to get back into your normal routines. This margin also allows time for travel snafus and unexpected layovers.

Vacation Takeaway 4

Eliminate or limit work-related activities.

These five vacation takeaways will help you maximize the mental health benefits of your vacation. You don't have to plan an epic vacation to benefit. But you DO need to plan! Vacation Planning,Families,Budget,Mental Health

If the thought of facing 6432 emails when you return to work stresses you out, the lesser of two evils involves setting time aside to answer emails each day. Even better, warn everyone who normally emails several weeks in advance of your unavailability during your vacation. Use an autoresponder to let people know you won’t be checking your email.

As much as possible, try to leave work at work and focus on vacation during vacation. If your boss or supervisor tends to eat into your vacation time with little (or big) demands, remind him or her that if you have a true vacation, you’ll come back to work energized and more creative.

Vacation Takeaway 5

Buff up on communication skills BEFORE you leave.

Vacation is NOT the time to hold your family captive with a list of carping annoyances. Learn good communication skills and teach them to your kids so that your vacation doesn’t turn into a super-stressful-weeklong-argument.

You can minimize begging and whining from your kids by giving them a daily spending limit. As they get older, let them help make decisions based on the daily family budget—they’ll feel ownership for the trip and won’t complain about the choices.

Learn to communication with ‘I statements’ and avoid accusations. For example, “I feel frustrated when everyone agrees that we should leave at 7 in the morning, but no one wants to help get ready. Should we change the time we leave for tomorrow’s activity?”

If you plan on staying with extended family members or friends for your vacation, make sure your kids understand how to communicate with cousins, aunts, uncles, and adult friends. Build in time alone with just your immediate family so that you can check in with your kids and make sure things are going well.

Just remember, your long-term mental health benefits of vacation depend on your ability to relax and step away from your ordinary. Planning, budgeting, building in margin, eliminating work-related activities, and fine-tuning your communication skills will ensure that you reap the maximum benefits of vacationing.

These five vacation takeaways will help you maximize the mental health benefits of your vacation. You don't have to plan an epic vacation to benefit. But you DO need to plan! Vacation Planning,Families,Budget,Mental Health

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