Photo: Kelly Sikkema
As you drop your luggage into a heap on your apartment floor and collapse on your bed following a solid vacation, you notice a scratchy feeling at the back of your throat that signals a little more than plane cabin dehydration. Ugh, am I really getting sick right now? You worry as you drift off to sleep, and you wake up feeling even worse. What gives?
Well, there are several science-backed reasons why a bout of rest and relaxation often ends with a case of the sniffles.
When your PTO finally arrives, you’re starting things off with an empty tank. You’ve been busting your butt at work for weeks in prep for your time away from the office, and you prioritized all of your social commitments over self-care because you knew the spa would soon be within reach. While neither of these choices are bad ones, they do leave you feeling pretty spent at the very beginning of your trip. Between stress and a lack of sleep, your immune system is already partially compromised.
Braving New Elements
Even if you’re staying relatively local, changing your physical environment exposes your system to a ton of new things that it may or may not be ready to experience. From unfamiliar foods to new allergens, there’s a solid adjustment curve required when you set off for a vacation. It might not feel super severe or all that noticeable, but it’s there. And the more you challenge your body’s status quo, the harder it has to work to equalize. And you’re asking your body to do this work when it’s already struggling.
Germs, Germs, Germs
From the airport to your Airbnb to your new favorite morning cafe, you are surrounded by so many new forms of bacteria, it’s dizzying. And if your system is already working in overdrive to handle your tiresome trip prep and acclimation to a new environment, then your defenses against potential viruses and infections aren’t functioning at their optimal levels. It’s never a bad idea to pop vitamin C supplements and drink water like there’s no tomorrow as you vacation, but just know that your germ exposure does matter and, often times, it’s a losing battle.
Flights get canceled. Trains get delayed. You opted for dead-of-the-night travel plans to save some cash at the tail end of your trip. All of these things make getting back home and into your typical routine extra difficult, and you end up feeling pretty wiped out as you finish your vacation rather than truly restored and ready to go. So don’t be surprised if this final trek does you in while your immune system is already unhappy.
After all of that, can you really blame your body for saying, “Hold up a second, Karen, I need a freaking break“? We didn’t think so. But hey, it’s still totally worth taking the time away from your 9-to-5 grind. Just be ready to accept that you might need a few days to recuperate once you return.