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Vacation Planning Tips to Maximize Relaxation

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Hey, friends! Are you about to go on vacation? Maybe you are feeling completely overwhelmed at the millions of things that you need to get done beforehand, as opposed to feeling joyful and anticipating the relaxation. Or are you just worried about not packing the right clothes or enough chargers for all the devices? Or any one of a number of things. Then, you might even be nervous or frazzled about the return. I know that going on vacation can be amazing, but also induces a lot of stress and anxiety in itself. And that’s what we’re talking about today! 


I’m about to leave on vacation next week. If you’re listening to this in real time, I am already on vacation!  And because I used to feel all of that stress and anxiety, I- what? Created routines and systems in order to just allow myself to enjoy the vacation planning process. My husband was telling me that a lot of the fun of going on vacation is actually from the anticipation and the planning. So, I want to look at it as a joyful experience, as opposed to one that I just have to get through and seems completely overwhelming and anxiety producing. So, we’re going to talk about that right now! 


So, by the time you are reading this blogpost, I will be in Kenya! I’m so excited about this trip- it’s going to be amazing! Every year we do a family trip with my husband’s side of the family – he has 3 older sisters, so there’s a lot of us. Especially because everybody has 2 or 3 kids- so there’s 10 cousins total and it’s wonderful. Last year, we went on this family RV trip which was fantastic. We had 4 RVs and I wrote a blog post about it because it was an adventure to say the least. Check this adventure out here.  This year is no different. We were going to do this really sedate, quaint, little family camp in California, until my brother in law came up with this idea to go on a safari in Kenya (you can actually check out what we did here).  So that is what we’re doing! 


It’s interesting, because as I see all of the members of my family packing and going through all their travel checklists- some of them are super stressed out and others not so much. I think my husband was looking at me like “Well why aren’t you stressed out? Usually you like to have your checklist and your things to do?” Well… there’s one reason- one big reason- I’m not stressed out. This probably won’t work for your family so this is not one of the routines we’ll discuss, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I actually never plan any of the vacation for my family. Like, at all. This is just something that happened when my husband and I got together and took our first trip to Argentina when we were living in NY. He really, really enjoys the travel planning process. He loves it! He loves doing the research, and figuring out what restaurants to eat at, and the hotels. And that’s not to say I don’t give any input, of course I do! But, he really likes to take charge of this particular aspect of family life and I feel like I have so much on my plate running the mundane aspects of family life- like who is picking up who, and the carpooling schedule, the activities schedule, and just our work life as well. So, I am more than happy to let him. I honestly just show up. He takes care of everything- I mean he uploads the visas, he makes sure the passports are ready- he does it all. So that’s partly why I can be very stress free and relaxed about the whole thing. But, there still is that inner tendency for me because I do like planning and I like things to go really smoothly, so I can get into that mindset as well. 


So, I have developed some routines to minimize that. This is not even particular to the vacation planning itself, but everything leading up to the vacation and even when I come back. So that’s what I wanted to share with you today. I know many of us are going on vacations, it’s August if when I’m writing this- well, technically July, but it’s almost August. A lot of the kids have camps that have ended, so this is when we tend to take our family vacation before school starts. I absolutely believe in our restorative nature of vacation. Vacations make you more productive and more creative according to Harvard Business Review  I support them for my staff as well. I’m quite lenient about making sure they take the time off they need so that they also don’t get burnt out. That’s what we all should do, right? 


And that is the other thing I want to caution- because this is something I used to do when I would go on vacation. I would kind of regard it as a catch up. Especially if I was going home to NC to visit my parents. I would take my laptop, thinking I would “just get this work done” or “this research paper written” or this “maintenance of certification for my medical license” completed. 


Vacation is not time to catch up. I’ll say it again just in case you’re multitasking, walking the dog or driving the car, vacation is not time to catch up.


This is your time. Your time. I understand if you’ve got to work, but I’m gonna show you how to build it into the routine, so that it doesn’t suck the energy out of you and then just affect the entire mood of the vacation, as you are feeling torn and pulled to get things done. 


Pre- Vacation Tip 1: Don’t Start Anything New

This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you are the kind of professional woman that I suspect you are, you probably have millions of ideas going on at once, just like I do. Those ideas come at any time. I once made the mistake a couple of years ago of launching a course right before I was going out on vacation. It was spring break of 2021, so our first vacation in a year. We were just going to the big island of Hawaii, but I had planned to launch the new course, I don’t know why I did this, right when I got back. I made 2 mistakes here. I was expecting to get work done, or I thought that I would get everything done before. And I didn’t anticipate how much it was going to take to get all those ducks in a row to launch that course. So, what ended up happening? I’m sitting on the big island, editing videos and posting things! That’s not what I wanted to be doing during that time. So don’t take on any new projects, and then make sure your projects are closed before you go on vacation. If you’ve got some big launch happening, do it, and then go on vacation. Don’t have it right when you get back from vacation. It’s a terrible, terrible idea. That goes for any new presentations, papers, projects or anything. I’ve been asked now to do projects and presentations upon my return from vacation when I just know that there’s no way that I can get it done before I go on vacation- so I give them a “yes, no, yes” sandwich. “This is a great project and I’m thrilled you’re taking it on, however given my time constraints…” I am not ashamed to say I’m going on vacation and I think we need to normalize that! I will tell people I am taking some much needed time off to reconnect with my family and as such, it will make participating in whatever they’ve asked of me impossible. But I’m sure to wish them the very best of luck in this new venture for them. And that’s it! You don’t have to, if you don’t feel comfortable, say you’ll be on vacation. But, I like putting it out there that I deserve to have time away from patients and these other side ventures. I think that’s super important just for all of us to start normalizing that so that we don’t feel ashamed about taking vacation, right? 


I also suspect that if any of you have kids, that many colleagues, co- workers, clients, or patients have made comments to that fact, as if it’s vacation. Having children is definitely not a vacation. I did have a patient come in, we had a great appointment, and then she mentioned she couldn’t get the appointment time she wanted because my staff said I was out of town. At the end of the appointment, she said something like, “You’re always on vacation aren’t you?” As if I should feel guilty about that! And I’m not- I mean I take time off maybe once every 3 months. So, I said “Well, it was spring break and I thought it was really important to spend that with my family.” And that was it. And she came back next month, so it wasn’t a deal breaker for her that her doctor goes on vacation! So, I think that the first tip of “don’t start anything new” also has this added thing of “don’t feel ashamed to go on vacation!” You need time to relax, restore, and rejuvenate. We all do. And I think once we really start openly talking about it, then we can stop pretending that we are these automatons that can function without this downtime- because we need it. 


Now that you aren’t feeling ashamed about taking the time, you really wanna start maximizing that time. Now to the “systems” part of it. 


Pre- Vacation Tip 2: Organize and Schedule Your To-Do Lists

I basically keep a Trello list. I love it so much. It’s basically just a project management tool if you aren’t familiar with it- Asana is another one. However, you could even do this in the checklist section in your Notes app. I keep a “work” to-do list and a “personal” to-do list. There’s a lot of things I have to do for work before I can leave, so I make sure that’s all tidied up. Then, there’s a lot of stuff like, upload the visas, make sure we have all the mosquito spray, get all the adapters for Africa so we can charge our devices, download all the episodes of Netflix and Hulu for the 30 hours we’re going to be traveling…all of that stuff. That’s all the personal stuff. I don’t just make to-do lists. If it’s something quick and easy, or something I need to pack- that’s one thing. But, if there are things I need to get done and I can’t do it right then and there, then I schedule a time to get it done. 


…leaving town that I’m going to forget about. That’s just me. I used to have all these post-its around the place and it was really challenging, so that’s why now I just stick it right into Trello or my notes app and just make a checklist. If it’s something like “upload your visas,” I’ll put it in there, then I will block time in the weeks leading up to my vacation to handle those to- do list items. So, maybe it’s an hour for the personal list and an hour for the work to do list-whatever you think you need. But, put it on your schedule so that you have time in the few weeks- not just the week before, but in the 3-4 weeks leading up to your vacation- so you can start chipping away at these things. That’s where I just do an hour each week. When you’re planning your week, you can look at your to-do list and go ahead and schedule those items into your calendar for that blocked time. You’re using methods of time blocking and you’re using your to- do list, which is really helpful because you’re getting it out of your mind. As soon as you write it down, that act of writing it down makes you feel better! I’ve talked more about this in previous posts that you can check out here.  Then you’re not just putting it on a never ending to-do list, you’re actually scheduling so that it gets done. So you don’t feel worried or nervous that you’re gonna forget something. 


Pre-Vacation Tip 3: Touch Base with Your Team

So the third routine that my husband and I go through every time we are about to go on vacation is touching bases with our team. It’s really important that our team, our office manager, the optometrist who stays behind and sees the patients, and the covering opthamologist for us are all on the same page, right? So the office manager knows which patients to send to the optometrist and which patients need to go to the covering opthamologist instead. Having a very specific gameplan- that’s going to ease your anxiety that something is going to get missed. So that’s in medicine, but the same is going to apply in any other field. You’re touching bases with your team and creating systems that basically replicate you in that decision making process as much as you can, so you can go on vacation and know that most of these things are going to be taken care of. You’re allowing and creating the processes so the team can handle things and you don’t need to worry that everything is going to fall apart when you’re gone. Cause I guarantee you, as much as you think that it is, I promise you that it won’t. It really won’t. 


Pre-Vacation Tip 4: If You Must Work- Schedule It! 

My fourth pre- vacation tip is: if you’re going to work on vacation- sometimes you just have to- then schedule it. There have been times when we were on vacation and our office manager was out on maternity leave but we still have to do the payroll still- people have got to get paid! There was nobody else that could do it at that time. If you’re gonna do certain tasks on vacation,  schedule it. Decide in advance. Let your family know of the time. That way it won’t feel like it’s impeding on your vacation time. Set aside time. Maybe 5:30-6 every night you tell your family you’ve gotta do x, y, z, or do a quick call with the office manager and just check some emails- whatever it is. If you’re gonna work though, I recommend scheduling it, because you know what’s gonna happen if you don’t. You’re gonna end up doing more work than you should. And you know it. And I know it. Because i’ve done it! This is from my experience, which is why I’ve created these routines, tips, and rules for myself. So, if you’re gonna work, decide in advance, put it on your calendar, and let everybody know- these are the times you can reach me. Let your office know this is when you’re available to handle these kinds of matters. Especially if it’s newer staff, they might need this daily check in, but you’re still in control of the situation. 


Post Vacation Tip 1: Build in a Buffer 

Ok, so now you’ve gone on vacation and hopefully you don’t need a vacation from your vacation. I have gone on those kinds of vacation and that is hopefully not what happens on your vacation. Hopefully you come back restored, relaxed and rejuvenated. The first tip I build in is having a buffer day in terms of travel. This is tough for me because I’m flying from Hawaii- it takes a lot of time! We’re literally traveling for 30 hours to get to Nairobi…30 hours there, 30 hours back! That is a large chunk that’s coming out of your vacation time and you feel like if  you’re taking so long to get over there, you should maximize the amount of time that you’re there- I totally understand that. But, if you don’t add that buffer day, it’s gonna be so hard to come back and it’s gonna cause so much anxiety the next vacation that you plan. 


So instead of coming back Sunday night at 8p.m., we now come back Saturday night. That way we have Sunday as a buffer for the home stuff. Because usually there’s a lot of stuff that has to get done at home! The laundry, you’ve gotta buy new groceries, plan out for the week, all of that stuff. So, it’s really nice to have that extra buffer day at home. If you have the flexibility in your schedule you can add a buffer day for work as well. Some people will extend that Monday and call it vacation, even though they are just at home and handling a lot of the work stuff- like getting through your email inbox or whatever that looks like for you. For me personally, that’s not so much of an option because everyday we’re out of the office, that’s money we’re not generating for the clinic, so we’re really always attuned to how much time we are spending out of the clinic. So what we’ll do instead is just make sure we don’t have any meetings on that Monday. I will take meetings sometimes at the end of my clinic days and we just make sure that that doesn’t happen. If I’m going in, I’m just seeing patients. I do try to build in a little bit of buffer time in the morning. If I have to get to work early, which is usually what happens because patients have typically been waiting a week or two to see me, then that Monday is always so crazy. So, build in some time so at least you can get to the office earlier and go through your email inbox, review your charts, whatever you feel like you need to do to get ready so you don’t feel like the minute walk in it’s like “AH”! You know what I mean? You know what I mean. 


Post Vacation Tip 2: Assess Your Systems

The second routine I always do after vacation is an assessment. I look at the systems I implemented before vacation and consider what systems of those I can still continue. Was your virtual assistant still able to upload everything you needed regarding your paperwork for your medical licensure? Great! Then that’s a task she can always handle. Was your office manager able to do x, y, z? Great! Then that’s a task you should consider offloading permanently. So I look at those things. This is where I go back to saying you might think everything is going to fall apart in the office. If that happens, that means it’s not a well run office- it should not fall apart without you, but there’s likely a lot of things you should be delegating and offloading that you’re not. When you go on vacation you see how well and seamlessly things continue without you,  that’s a good thing! It doesn’t mean you’re not needed! So, do an assessment! Which of those tasks can you be offloading? That’s what I always do because it’s the perfect time to do it. I always like to do those recaps right after you’ve done the vacation or planned the event, that way it’s all fresh in your mind and you can take it from there!


So there ya go everybody! Those are my four routines before vacation, with that one mindset shift that you deserve vacation- don’t be ashamed to take it! And my two routines for when you get back from your vacation.


Don’t start anything new, use Trello or your to-do list to separate work and personal items, then schedule them by blocking a chunk of time in the weeks leading up to vacation to handle those items. 


Create an action plan of systems and protocols for your team to be able to handle things when you’re wayay. And if you’re going to work, figure it out in advance and schedule it. 


And for after vacation, use a buffer day for home and at least a buffer time section for work. Then assess the systems that seem to work well and continue to implement those. 


Alright everybody that’s it for today! I hope I’ll be coming back to you with an amazing adventure about what Kenya was like- I’m sure I will be!

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I'm Rupa Wong.

Hi! I'm Dr. Rupa Wong. Physician. Private Practice Owner. Mama to 3 kids. Managing Partner. Educator. Textbook Author. Conference Co-Founder. Mentor. I am more than just one thing, even as a doctor and I bet you are too. I would love to help you envision the life you want, and then get after it. What are you waiting for?


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