November 2, 2011

The Dreaded Vacation Let Down..Even in Retirement

Betty and I returned from an 18 day glorious vacation on Maui a little over two weeks ago. Even now we are still sorting through the 2,400 photos. I have yet to wear all the T-shirts and Aloha shirts I bought, but the new flip flops are still getting daily use. We had perfect weather and a time of total relaxation. 

Several friends have asked what was my favorite part and the answer is always the same: sitting in a folding chair and watching the sunset every night from a differrent beach, until all the color faded from the sky and it was dark...the perfect end to a satisfying retirement vacation.

Virtually each evening, we were given a spectacular exhibition of  streaks of vibrant oranges, pinks, yellows, and various shades of blues. The show lasted almost 30 minutes after the sun was below the horizon.

We returned completely refreshed and relaxed. That feeling lasted...... about 36 hours. Then, the real world made itself known and pushed the euphoria of Maui to the sideline. There was nothing dramatic: no bursting of pipes or a major illness. None of our family had a problem that needed addressing. My dad weathered our being gone for an extended period just fine.

It was simply a case of commitments and meetings, chores, bills, computer glitches, and putting things away from the trip....real life....sucking the air out of the vacation glow quite quickly. It felt as if we hadn't gone anywhere. This vacation wasn't unusual in this regard. I remember the same thing happening after trips to England, Ireland, and Italy. So, the question is why? Are vacations destined to have little or no carryover benefit once someone arrives home? If so, is all the money worth it? 

When I was younger I seem to remember a great vacation had a much longer shelf-life. Whether as a youngster with my parents and brothers, or as a young married guy with my two daughters, I remember that afterglow lasting at least several days, sometimes even weeks. The work and home pressures were just as great, if not more so than they are now. But, the warm, post-vacation feeling lasted longer. Why? Was it because there were four people to remind each other of specific events or moments? Was it because there were more memorable moments when a young family is involved? Was it because I was younger?

Is a good vacation one that allows you to accomplish whatever the goal was for that time away regardless of the let down afterward? If I totally relaxed for those 18 days but fell right back into the daily routine almost immediately, was the vacation still a success? 

Looking at all the photos Betty took can bring back memories of where we were and what we were doing when the pictures were taken. 

But, as soon as the digital album closes, the real world is back. Maybe that is the way it should be. Stop the world, I want to get off, for a little while. But a really satisfying retirement requires me to be active and productive. A permanent life on the beach just isn't my style. A long visit every once in a while is just what the doctor ordered, even if the medicine wears off rather quickly.

Has this been your experience after a great vacation? Does the real world force its way to the foreground more quickly than you'd like? Does that mean all the money invested in time off was worth it? Enlighten me!

Related Posts


  1. Great pictures Bob. Yvonne and I were there in 1986 for our honeymoon and your pictures bring back many memories of that time.

    As to the "staying power" of a vacation maybe you need to take to heart the practice of simplicity for those non-vacation times? Simplify your life wherever possible and spend dedicated times everyday listening to God instead of all the day's pressures (see my post today about that) ;-)

  2. Bob,

    I believe the vacations you take, big or small, are always worthwhile for one's health and well-being. But the feeling you experienced soon after your return is quite normal. Oftentimes I begin to experience them on the return leg of a vacation, so having 36 hours or so respite was a blessing for you. Maybe it is because I am not currently retired, or maybe it is because I seem to have a busy life period, but the pressures of the real world exert themselves very, very quickly lately, no matter how great the vacation we experienced.

    Maui is an outstanding place. Have had the pleasure of visiting the Islands at least ten times over the last couple of decades, for work, vacation, or mostly a combination of both. Your description of the sunsets was spot on. I've even seen dogs come and lay down, and just watch the sunset along with everyone else in the area. Always enjoyed going into Lahaina for a nightcap or two. Might have to start planning a trip there soon - your tales have gotten me nostalgic for the place.


  3. RJ,

    Betty took over 2,400 photos, many of them good enough to frame or sell. They do help bring back the feeling of a care free time.

    Some of the routine involves church or small group meetings a few times a week. In fact, I'm about to head out the door in a few minutes for a Bible study at a friend's house. Even though it is enjoyable and important, it is still a commitment...something a vacation has none of !

    I'll check out your post when I come home.

  4. Chuck,

    We usually stay in the Lahaina area, but this time decided to try Kehei. The south coast has many more beaches than the rest of Maui, and most are beautiful. The drive to Hana remains incredible, though the road has been paved and widened a bit, so it is easier on the driver.

    Tomorrow will mark 3 weeks since we returned. Now, I can look back fondly on the time and be happy to be back in our routine.

  5. Our vacations are usually filled with commitments!
    I need a vacation from my vacations---usually.
    There are vacations and there are journeys. One is to get away- the other is to take the next step.

    My journeys last long after the event because I usually purchase one significant thing and place it in one of three rooms. This time I will look for a piece of Koa art to place in our bedroom- a sign of strength and age- just like us.

    My vacations? I just see them as a blip in the road to rest and move forward. I don't worry that they "last" since the experience is all about the moment for me.

  6. Our "long" vacations are rarely more than a week, and when I return, it takes hours and hours to sort through the office and domestic mail. Still....the experiences shared with my wife are a life long treasure, and well worth the "reentry shock". One trick we've learned is to schedule a day at home following vaction to give us time to settle in. Personally, I have found that taking multiple 3-4 day vacations serves me as well or better than rare extended trips. I'd rather have a short vacation every month, than one long trip a year. Also, when returning from a 3 day trip, there fewer mountains of mail and chores awaiting. 3-4 days gives me time to recharge, and to look forward to my regular routine with enthusiasm. Of course, I have never regretted any vacation, and the few long ones (Europe, Asia, Isreal, Alaska) are very, very special.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Janette,

    I like the distinction between vacations and journeys. They are quite different. What would be nice if the vacation afterglow and the return to the real world could be more of a smooth slide, rather than an abrupt crash!

    Dr. Keith,

    Like you, we prefer a mix of long weekend breaks with a more substantial vacation about every 16-18 months, which is about all the budget will allow. I saw a special 2 night/3 day deal for Laughlin, NV. in a magazine last night, and I'm ready to go!

    One technological change that has made that mail/bill pile easier to handle is being able to pay bills and respond to e-mails on line from virtually anywhere. We get so little regular mail anymore that what awaits us after a vacation is about 95% junk that goes right into the recycling bin.

  8. Hi Bob, I think I know exactly what you are talking about. I retired from teaching Spanish and what you describe compares to what research calls "culture shock". Culture shock is not only what we experience when we visit another country, but also when we return. The fact is that where we have gone has changed us and we expect things to be different (changed) when we return to our daily lives. But things are the same and we are expected to be the same to those people and things to which we return. Understanding this phenomenon and being ready for it helped me to cope when I returned from my trips abroad to my husband and family. I took students to Spanish countries and studied abroad several Summers. I have wonderful pictures and videos which I shared with my students any chance I got. Now that I am retired, I decorated our guest bedroom with my memories. It is also my sewing - craft room and I love being there. We have plans to go to Las Vegas this month for a week. I am going to look into the home exchange for future vacations. It sounds good. I am new to retirement and to blogging and I enjoy your posts!

  9. Bea,

    Welcome to the wonderful world of retirement after 26 years of teaching Spanish. You have lots of plans to stay busy and travel. Great! I also just looked at your blog and learned you like to fish. In your part of the country that is something you and hubby can do most of the year.

    Maui is different enough that "cultural shock" upon return home is a good description. Being on an island 2500 miles from the mainland does have a physiological effect. It feels like a foreign country. When there I only listen to Hawaiian music radio stations which also heightens the feeling of being away from what is normal.

    I have added your blog to my blogroll!

  10. Hi Bob --

    I'm reminded of something a former boss of mine used to say. When she returned from a month in Mexico and I asked her how it was, she replied, "It's easier just to acknowledge that vacations are like sex -- when it's over, it's over..." :-)

    Vacations are *definitely* worth it, even when they're over!

    Loving your blog, Bob -- it just gets better & better!


  11. Pauline,

    Thanks so much for the compliment. I'm having fun and happy folks are responding.

    The quote is perfect! And, Yes, I love vacations even if there is a down period afterward. Vacations are one way we learn about ourselves and others.

  12. Vacations may be over when they're over and real life asserts itself again, but the memories and photos are lasting assets. To quote Pete Seeger:

    "How do I know my youth is all spent?
    My get-up-and-go has got up and went.
    But in spite of it all, I'm able to grin
    And think of the places my get-up has been."

  13. TO Jean,

    Digital photos could easily outlast us all. I have heard that quote before, but did not know it was from Pete Seeger.

  14. Bob, I don't believe Pete Seeger actually wrote the lyrics to "Get Up and Go", but his is the voice I hear in my head singing them. It's on YouTube, if you'd like to hear the whole song.

    Your vacation photographs are beautiful!

  15. TO Jean,

    Thanks for the clarification about the song. I'll let Betty know of your compliment.

  16. Bob,

    I've so enjoyed your blog postings, and am long overdue in letting you know that. So thank you!

    Regarding this posting, I would offer that regardless of how quickly our vacation bliss gets pounded out of us upon our return to our non-vacation lives, time away and the change in perspecive it provides, does leave us changed, and almost always for the better.

    My vacations abroad have left me with a permament appreciation for other ways of being and doing. My vacations at home have left me with a renewed sense of gratitude for how bountiful this country is, and a deep and lasting appreciation for the beauty of our magnificent national and state parks.

    I think we go someplace in our brains when we get away from where we live our daily lives, that we can't get to otherwise. I have found that I often end up making major life decisions while on vacation, perhaps because I can dig deep without the distractions of my normal chaotic life.

  17. Tamara,

    Thank you for identifying I have discovered your blog, Early Retirement Journey, which looks right up my alley. If it is OK, I'd like to add you to my blog roll on the right sidebar.

    Your summary of the value of vacations is dead on. I agree with everything you say. The trip to Maui allowed my wife and me to have some much-needed private time together. Our trip to Italy allowed us to appreciate what we have at home while not losing the impact of the beauty of Tuscany.

    Vacations can be as simple as a two night getaway to a local resort or a three week cruise around the Mediterranean. The key is the "brain break."

    Thanks, Tamara.

  18. Oops! You mean we're supposed to ask permission before adding someone else's blog to a roll call? (I sort of already added your's to mine.)

    But yes, certainly, I'd be honored!

  19. Tamara,

    No, you don't have to ask! I did have someone I added once object, but that was highly unusual. I am honored whenever anyone feels comfortable enough to add my blog to theirs and always like to reciprocate.


Inappropriate comments will be deleted