It’s only your first day back, but you’ve begun to feel the symptoms.
A sense of unease that starts tingling in the pits of your stomach, before slowly spreading its tentacles to your limbs, making them weak and trembly. You lose your appetite—not even that slice of rich, fudgy chocolate cake can restore it. Sleep is elusive; you spend hours tossing about in your bed, wishing you could be somewhere else.
Somewhere a little further from where you are now. It could be as near as Indonesia or as far-flung as Iceland. The exact geographical distance matters less than the psychological state you were in: on vacation.
Why do post-vacation blues occur and what does it tell us about ourselves and our relation to travel? How do we get over the blues?
In this article, Doctor<* Discoverist.sg diagnoses the three most common types of post-vacation blues and suggest some remedies for them.
*Not a real doctor.
1. Cultural-alienation Post-vacation Blues
You have roti prata egg for breakfast but tell yourself you are having dan bing fried by a friendly Taiwanese matron. For lunch, you pick lots of fishcake, radishes, tofu at the yong tau foo store to replicate the sensation of eating oden on a wintry night in Tokyo, making sure to pair it with a bottle of Calpis soda.
While on your commute home, you grumble at the disorderly manner in which people shove their way into the queue for the escalator, so unlike the smooth flowing lines of other countries. There is also a hollow silence in the train station, before you realise that you miss the lively busking so common in the stations of New York.
No one on the streets offers to give you a free hug, or sell you a personalised poem written on the spot, or persuade you to fight against inequality, social injustice, rampant capitalism.
You cringe when the cai fanauntie asks you if you want to 打包 your dinner—you think 外带 makes so much more sense. The same thing happens when the McDonald’s uncle asks, “takeaway?” instead of “to go”?
You have immersed yourself so fully in a foreign culture that you are now a cultural alien of your own. You feel like you no longer fit in your society, giving rise to cultural-alienation post-vacation blues.
Use your feelings of cultural dislocation as an impetus to find out more about the country or culture in your soul is still residing, beyond the superficial veneer of how it functions on a day-to-day basis.
Start reading its daily broadsheet to find out about the issues that concern its citizens. Pick up a book on its history to delve into its past and find out how its present is founded upon these buried sediments. Listen to its popular music, then listen to its independent scene.
Learn to speak its language, literally and figuratively, and drape it over yourself like a safety blanket until you get the chance to the country of your soul as a full-fledged citizen.
2. Cessation-of-activities Post-vacation-Blues
As you wash your hands after lunch, you realise that your palms are unusually smooth. What happened to the calluses that formed during the week you went bouldering at Marabut, Samar? The only calluses that you have now are the ones on your pinky toe caused by your one-size-too-small leather shoes pinching it.
Or perhaps you simply miss being able to breathe while strolling among an unending green meadow under a blue sky unblocked by any HDB flat.
This yearning is especially strong now that you are in your office—your workspace is designed to be “open-concept” but it is a travesty of the idea of “open”. Instead of cubicle walls, you are hemmed in by people.
You wish you could once again feel that sense of peace that descended upon you when you were visiting religious sites while abroad. Stained glass installed metres high under wood-beamed ceilings instilled in you a serene awe; soaring minarets and grand domes carried your eyes to the sky; pagodas, with their angular and geometric beauty, granted you rootedness in the current moment.
But back home, everything you do gives you anxiety. You get on a packed train, you sit in the fluorescent indoors, you get lost in a labyrinthian maze of reflective office towers.
You’re not doing what you were while on vacation: you have cessation-of-activities post-vacation blues.
This is probably the easiest strain of post-vacation blues to treat. If your blues are not tied to a particular place or culture but to what you were doing, then it’s simply a matter of finding opportunities to weave these activities into your life at home.
We tend to see vacations as opportunities to try new things or visit places we haven’t been before, but why don’t we adopt this same adventurous spirit locally?
By reframing your mindset and the way that you interact with the world, and it doesn’t matter where you are—you can be a traveller for a day, a month, or the rest of your life.
Want to feel that same sense of wonder you felt at Hagia Sophia? Do some research on your local religious sites and take a trip there. It’s also a great way to build bridges with groups you don’t normally get exposed to. Or plan a trip to a climbing gym during the weekend, instead of staying at home trying to watch all the endings of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Go for a stroll at your neighbourhood park, this time absorbing the arboreal awe and ignore the Abra nest>
Sure, these local places might not replicate those that you had abroad. Bouldering in an indoor gym can’t compare to bouldering in the sea breeze, for instance. But it would be the ultimate touristy folly to visit only places that are well known or considered exemplars of their class. Everyday exposure to these monuments just leads to normalisation, and we lose our sense of wonder for them.
Better, then, to participate in the activities you miss, regaining some sense of your self, and saving the highlights for your next overseas trip.
3. Returning-to-work Post-vacation Blues
You’re actually glad to return home. As much as you enjoyed your two-week backpacking trip around Mainland Southeast Asia, the sight of your room and bed fills your heart with a pure, uncomplicated happiness.
Novelty has its charms, but so does familiarity. The taste of your local cuisine brings you back to the days when your mother used to cook for you. You lie in bed, the grassy scent of the night air lulling you off to a peaceful sleep.
But when you wake, the blues set in. Colour leaches away from the world. You can’t bear the thought of returning to the office so soon after your trip. You wish you were back on vacation, opening your eyes to a new adventure each day. You spend your day enclosed by three partitions, feeling miserable, regularly refreshing flight tickets to the nearest international destination.
You tell yourself: “I am born a vagabond. Staying stationary is anathema to my constitution. All I need is a new trip to look forward to, and my post-vacation blues will be cured.”
While not necessarily untrue—a new trip to book, plan, and anticipate is, after all, a universal panacea to all travel-related withdrawal symptoms—in this particular form of the blues, it is merely a symptomatic treatment. In other words, if your thoughts revolve around this theme, you’re not actually suffering from post-vacation blues per se.
Even though your vacation was fun, thrilling, enriching… You valued, and long for, your vacation more because it provided an escape from your daily work than any factor intrinsic to it. You have returning-to-work post-vacation blues.
Find a new job.