At the beginning of a trip, how much thought do we give to the last day? In my experience, the time between checking out of the hotel and arriving at the airport is when fatigue, melancholy and the feeling of “not belonging” may occur, making the impending end of our vacation hard to bear. However, the last day blues can be lessened if we prepare ourselves ahead of time to handle it.
Making travel plans can be thrilling: we research our destination, write a to-do list, and await a relaxing break from our daily routine. Then we pack and go, hoping to arrive safely and on time. We are likely preoccupied with deciding what to see right away and where to eat, rather than our plans for the last day. The time to go back home is hours of sightseeing away – but it does come. And when it does, it can leave even a seasoned traveler feeling uneasy.
By this point, we have become familiar with the destination: its sounds, smells, tastes, customs, climate. All of a sudden, we have to pack again, start the mental switch to our post-trip selves, and head back home. The change does not always come easy.
Even if a part of us is ready for the return – we know our departure date, we’ve seen enough and would like to be home – another part may not accept that the vacation is over, that we have to go back to our responsibilities. And if you have several hours to spare after you leave the hotel, you might not enjoy yourself when you keep checking your watch and when you don’t have any private space. You can’t go lie down or shut the door to be alone. It’s just you and the streets. You’re temporarily homeless, surrounded by people you don’t know.
What a strange sensation.
Unless you have had a terrible time on your vacation, experiencing some degree of distress on the last day is inevitable. However, there are simple ways to make your return to “the real life” more pleasant:
1. Putting together a flexible itinerary
When you are planning your trip, make a list of activities suitable for the last day. Think of a few that you could choose from, depending on how your day unfolds.
- It is best to not include time-consuming agenda items and popular attractions in the day’s schedule, and focus instead on low-hassle options, such as a lunch at a casual diner, sitting at an outdoor cafe or a walk in a park. If you run out of time, you should not feel that you have missed out on something.
- The last day can also work well if you want to be adventurous with your photography and take more shots of the places you have already captured, e.g. from unusual angles or in different lighting conditions.
2. Getting organized
- Deal with logistics the day before to avoid a stressful last morning: pack, print your boarding pass, find out how to get to the airport/station, and check with your hotel if you can store luggage for a few hours after you check out.
- To increase your level of comfort when you no longer have hotel access, consider keeping small personal items handy throughout the day (e.g. tissues, medicine, eye drops, hand sanitizers/moisturizers).
- Getting up earlier than on the other days will allow you to maximize the time you have left to explore.
3. “Taking” the place with you
Newspapers, magazines, books and e-books by local authors, songs, podcasts and movies about the destination you are leaving behind are great tools to keep you entertained while you wait at an airport or train station, and during long flights or rides. They also help make the transition back home smoother by letting you experience the place long after you have left it.
- When time allows, the last day of your trip can be a great time to visit local book- and multimedia stores. If you are in a hurry and you are flying, airport shopping may come in handy. Many terminals have increasingly good product selections.
4. Planning activities at home
Short of booking another trip, perhaps the best cure for end-of-vacation low spirits is having something enjoyable to look forward to when you get home – something that will feel like a vacation. It could be a dinner at a new restaurant, a weekend staycation, or exploring a neighborhood you’re not familiar with.