Sometimes when I return from a cruise vacation, I feel completely burned out.
Don't feel sorry for me. On those vacations, I've I hiked through rain forests, ridden down zip lines, trekked atop a glacier, snorkeled with stingrays and meandered through Egyptian pyramids. But eventually I returned home to stacks of bills, dead houseplants and a cat that had hurled all over the white carpet. Worse yet, I now had to cook, clean and go back to being the family boss. In short, it was no fun to come back to reality after a vacation in Floating Fantasyland. Sometimes it took weeks to shake off the Post-Cruise Blues.
How to deal with the letdown? Here are some tips.
Before the cruise
Pad your vacation time. Add a day or two of stay-at-home time to each end of the cruise. You'll need the time before the cruise to put the house in good order, and you'll want some time to yourself after the cruise to unpack, unwind and catch up on household tasks.
Pay bills before you leave. Electronic payment takes the worry out of this task; just queue the payments, and your bills will be paid automatically while you are away. If you pay bills the old-fashioned way, write out the checks and have them ready to mail upon your return, or have a trusted friend or family member mail them as they come due.
Get your house shipshape. Put your house in order before you go. The last thing you need to come home to is a mess. Do the cleaning and laundry, put the mail and newspapers on hold, make arrangements for your pets, and don't forget to have someone water your plants. For more tips, read my article "When your home is alone."
Figure out what you want from your vacation. If you've planned for a week at sea reading best sellers when what you really enjoy is nonstop adventure, you're setting yourself up for a downer vacation and a good dose of the post-cruise blues. So define what you hope to achieve from your vacation, then arrange to make that happen. If your trip turns out as you hoped, you are more likely to return home satisfied, refreshed and ready to go again.
During your cruise
Have fun. This sounds obvious, but some people lead such harried lives that they have trouble switching into vacation mode. Others miss the fun because they don't plan ahead or because they dwell on the negative. I recently saw some people ruin their day in Rome after learning that the Vatican Museum was closed for a holiday. The closing was clearly noted in our cruise documents — the people just hadn't seen it, and they couldn't get past their disappointment. Instead of enjoying a wonderful sunny day in the Eternal City, they spent the entire day complaining. If you find yourself sliding into this kind of funk even before you get home, put yourself in the capable hands of the cruise director, who will help you find some ship and shore activities to enjoy.
Be realistic about your schedule. Everyone has high hopes for their cruise vacations, but you should have realistic expectations — and that includes knowing the limits of your schedule. Don't try to see everything and don't be disappointed if you don't see all the sights you had hoped to see. Also be clear about your sightseeing style. If you're traveling with family members who like to explore every nook and cranny of a place, while you are happy seeing the main attractions, for heaven's sake split up. If you let them drag you all over the place, you'll be miserable, so set up your own sightseeing and do it at your own pace.
Watch what you eat and drink. Let's face it, a cruise vacation often means eating or drinking more than usual, but nothing ruins a homecoming like five extra pounds and a hangover. Try to return to your normal diet as your vacation starts winding down; that way you won't spend your first days home in withdrawal from overindulgence.
Get your sleep. Try to get a good night's sleep every night so you don't return home sleep-deprived. This isn't always easy on a cruise. Not only are there late-night activities to enjoy, but your sleeping environment is unfamiliar. I've found it helps to bring my own pillow and alarm clock; earplugs and an eye masks can help, too. But my best sleep aid is my sound machine, which blocks out all background noise. Also, try to follow your regular sleep schedule, at least toward the end of the cruise. It will make your re-entry to the work world much easier.
Be a tourist. Buy tacky souvenirs and take silly photos. When you look at these mementos later, you'll find they remind you of the good times and help filter out the bad experiences — or at least make them seem funny.
Ease back into your regular routine. Jumping right back into the rat race can exacerbate the post-cruise blues, so give yourself some space for a few days. Start back in with the routines you enjoy. If you planned your homecoming well, the nastier chores will wait.
Treat yourself. Have something to look forward to when you get home. Schedule a massage, plan a night on the town or invite friends over for a get-together. I use food and drink to extend my vacation. My daughters and I just returned from Italy, and we've been preparing lots of Italian fare to relive our good times. While we're eating pasta and pizza, we talk about the trip. After dinner, we look at our photos and laugh at our funny souvenirs.
Count your blessings. There are far worse things than post-cruise blues. Be thankful for your family and what you have to come home to. A vacation is a wonderful thing, and an attitude of gratitude certainly helps keep things in perspective.
The truth is, it's perfectly normal to feel let down after a cruise vacation. After all, everyday life is pretty boring by comparison. But there is one consolation: Now you can start planning your next cruise vacation. So here's my last hint: Send away for some big, fat cruise brochures before you leave on your trip. They'll be waiting for you when your return home — right there in that big stack of bills.