The day you return home from a vacation ― also known as the “departure day,” since you’re departing from the place you came to visit ― can bring up feelings of wistfulness or stress. As a result, many travelers don’t make plans or take advantage of those final few hours before they make the trip home.
“Departure days can be such a drag, and it’s easy to just spend the day waiting to travel to the airport,” Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet, told HuffPost.
But you don’t have to get too wrapped up in the fact that you’ll be heading to the airport or train station ― especially if it’ll make you miss out on opportunities for that final morning. Below, travel experts share their advice for making the most of your departure day.
Pack the night before
“When I am traveling, I like to have all my belongings packed and organized the night before my last day,” said Katie McIntosh, a travel blogger and creator of The Katie Show. “This way I can maximize however much time I have on my last day there without too much stress.”
Take the time to put most of your things back in your luggage the night before your departure day. That way you won’t be scrambling to get it done before you head to the airport, and you can fit in some final morning relaxation or exploration.
Book a later flight
Perhaps the most obvious way to get more out of your departure day is to choose an evening or late afternoon flight if you have the flexibility. This frees up your morning for a final activity or stroll.
“One of the things I try to do is book a later flight so I’m not waking up super early to get to the airport,” said Jessica van Dop DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler.
Ask for a late checkout
“If I have an afternoon or evening flight, the first thing I do is ask for a late checkout,” Summers said. “If that’s not possible, then I make sure I can store my bags somewhere safe and that they have a bathroom I can use to get changed and maybe even take a quick shower.”
Alternatively, you can choose to check out extra early and leave your luggage with the front desk, freeing yourself up for morning exploration. Whatever you decide, just make sure you know what time you have to leave for the airport or other transportation hub.
“I recommend working backward to determine when you need to leave for the airport,” said Ben Julius, founder of the travel platform Tourist Journey. “Once you know how much time you have, check with the hotel about the possibility of a late checkout or at least storing luggage.”
Pick a laid-back activity
“Any time you have left in the day should be treated like a bonus,” Julius said. “Look for short tours or experiences which can add another dimension beyond what you had otherwise expected or planned to see. It could be a food workshop or an art tour, or simply a visit to a few shops you didn’t get to earlier in the trip.”
If you’re in a city, consider going for a walk, visiting a museum or gallery or having a long breakfast at a local café. If you’re by the water, take one last swim or slow beach stroll. The idea is to do something laid-back with your extra time.
“I like to wake up early, watch [the] sunrise, walk around the city, and eat breakfast or my favorite food I’d tried in that destination one last time,” McIntosh said. “I don’t try to rush around with an agenda, but rather just explore and be in the moment, absorbing that destination one last time.”
Prepare a “go bag”
If you’re in a warm place and want to get in a final beach walk and pool day, it’s useful to have a change of clothes ― and even deodorant and a toothbrush ― so you can freshen up and make sure you’re not cold during the flight. The same principle can apply to pretty much any destination.
“I recommend packing a small ‘go’ bag filled with your travel outfit and necessities for the day you leave,” said Victoria Yore, a travel blogger at Follow Me Away. “This way, you can enjoy your morning or afternoon, and when it is time to leave, you can change your outfit to be prepared for a flight.”
Even if you don’t have a small “go bag,” you can still travel more comfortably by packing the pre-flight items you’ll need in a more accessible part of your suitcase.
Visit an attraction near the airport
“If my flight is in the late afternoon or evening, then I enjoy going to the airport early, checking in my luggage, and going somewhere nearby to explore for a few hours before returning to board the plane,” said travel blogger and TV host La Carmina.
She recommended looking for attractions within a 30-minute train or car ride from the airport, to avoid the risk of getting stuck in major traffic. Try to grab a bite while you’re there, so you don’t have to pay for overpriced airport food.
“For example, if you are flying out of Tokyo’s Narita Airport, ride the train for 30 minutes to the nearby Shingon Buddhist temple, Narita-san,” La Carmina suggested. “If you’re at Mexico City’s airport, take a 20-minute Uber to swing by Sonora Witchcraft Market. It often makes more sense to visit attractions like these on your outward-bound flight day, since they are located near the airport. This saves travel time and transportation costs.”
Yore similarly recommended visiting the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland before flying out of Reykjavik.
“Upon departure, the Blue Lagoon is only 20 minutes away from the airport, so you can make the most of your morning by relaxing here,” she said. “Simply have a change of travel clothes and shoes in your ‘go’ bag and you are ready to fly.”
But be mindful of time
As you’re taking advantage of the final hours of your trip, make sure to give yourself enough time to get to the airport and through security and other lines. If you’re traveling internationally, remember you’ll need even more time.
“One actionable thing I practice is setting a clear ‘leaving time’ that indicates the absolute latest time I should be leaving wherever I’m going to be at, to head to the airport or train station with sufficient time,” said travel blogger Rocky Trifari. “By having a clearly defined ‘hit the road’ time that includes a bit of a buffer for unforeseen circumstances, I can still plan to do things beforehand without feeling any stress or guilt. I’ll keep an alarm set on my phone to make sure I don’t leave any later than I planned to.”
Samantha Patil, co-founder and CEO of the booking platform Well Traveled, also takes steps to make the departure process less stressful.
“I try to pre-schedule a ride to the airport so you don’t have to worry about it later on,” she said. “And you’re free to go explore stress-free for a few more hours.”