Even though vacations are meant to be relaxing, sometimes people come home more stressed than they were when they left. Fortunately, anxiety during vacation doesn't have to be a fact of life: It's perfectly possible to have a trip that leaves you genuinely refreshed when you return. Here are some tips for planning a stress-free vacation:

Start early

The sooner you can start planning your vacation, the less stress you'll have figuring everything out. This is a simple enough principle, but a lot of people underestimate how much of a difference early planning can actually make. For starters, you'll have plenty of time to research your destination and think about what kinds of activities you'd like to enjoy during your trip. On top of that, you have more opportunities to change your mind or to adjust your plans if something falls through. This will also prevent you from scrambling at the last minute to purchase travel or trip cancellation insurance. When you plan ahead, you're well-set to handle any hiccups that happen during the process. Try to set a specific, repeating time every week or so when you spend about an hour working on vacation plans. You might not use the full hour each time, but this way you can figure out the entire vacation in small, easily handled pieces.

The earlier you can start planning, the less stressful the process will be. The earlier you can start planning, the less stressful the process will be.

Be flexible

Nothing ruins the relaxation factor of a trip quite like an over-packed schedule. First of all, there's a good chance something on that schedule isn't going to happen the way it's supposed to. A stomachache may keep you from wind surfing, or a tour could take an hour longer than it was supposed to. If you're tied to a tight schedule, little issues like this can upend the entire trip. Even assuming nothing goes wrong, busy vacations won't be the stress-reducing escape you've been imagining. The last thing you want is to be running around so much that you need a vacation from your vacation. Instead, have a rough sketch of how each day might go. This way you have ideas of things to do, but have the freedom to choose whatever feels right for the day - even if what feels right is just lounging around doing nothing at all.

Pick favourites

Creating an easy-going schedule can be difficult for people who want to do and see everything during their vacation. If this sounds like you, you should get a little stingy with your time. Take a look at the list of sights you're planning to see, and narrow it down to the ones that interest you the most. You might not be able to outright remove anything from your to-do list, and that's okay. Make a tiered list that includes "must-see" and "might-see" columns. This way you have a clear set of destinations and activities you know you want to prioritise, and you can still use your second-string plans if you're suddenly flush with free time.


"Vacation is your time."

The most important part of having a truly stress-free vacation is turning off your cell phone and refusing to check your email. While at work, come up with a plan of action for how your tasks are going to be finished in your absence - one that doesn't involve calling you for every little thing. Ideally, you should set it up so that no one calls you at all. If you work in an office that has emergencies, however, sometimes that just won't be possible. If that's the case, give your phone number to one coworker whose judgment you trust. Have him or her call you if - and only if  - the situation couldn't be handled without you, and let them know you won't necessarily get back to them immediately. You're not being unreasonable - vacation is your time. It's okay to be difficult to reach.

Forget 'perfect'

Perfect vacations only exist in anticipation and retrospect. While you're on the trip, there's always going to be a moment that feels like something is amiss. If you accept that and decide to let go in advance, you'll be a lot happier. All of these other tips - flexibility, open schedules, unplugging - come down to preparing for an imperfect vacation. Keeping your expectations in check, however, is equally important. If you go in with the attitude that your time away has to go perfectly, you're bound to be disappointed. You don't have to assume everything will go wrong, but a comfortable blend of optimism and realism will keep things in perspective if something does go awry. Since you won't be as shaken by the obstacle, you'll be less likely to be stressed during your trip - and when you look back, you might just decide it went perfectly after all.