Traveling is stressful! Between the TSA yelling at you for the .2 ounce over-the-limit bottle of liquid and your shoelaces tangling up as you shuffle along the conveyor belt line, a staycation doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Remember the very first trips you’ve ever taken? Packing almost seemed fun. Excitement and anticipation about jetting off somewhere new completely trumped any unpleasantries. As you travelled more, the curtain lifted to reveal a somewhat disenchanting part of a trip.
As I jetted off from one part of the world to the next, general travel stressors creeped up and left me feeling more irritated at the airports than cheery about my destinations. That’s not exactly a fun way to experience the world.
A lot of my tenseness and short-temper simply has to do with the fact that I’m a highly-anxious person. I’m working on it. But, plenty of fuming moments can be mitigated with a little planning and management of expectations. This can help you get started:
1. Get the Basics of the Place Down
Figure out the weather, the traffic, the culture and the customs. Check for any special events that may disrupt your stay and get a contingency plan down. Maybe you’ll want to avoid a particular tourist attraction on a day when there’s free admission offered because you hate extra long lines and crowds. Or maybe you’ll jump at the chance because you love free stuff! Use the research as your chance to find out what works for you and to organize a rough draft of the itinerary. There’s no need to detail your day hour by hour, that just adds to the stress. Instead, pick one or two activities or attractions per day and leave the rest of the day free to be spontaneous!
2. Keep all your valuables in your carry-on to save yourself the stress when checking bags.
This one’s a no-brainer. If you care about your belongings and any expensive items, save yourself the hassle of anxiously biting your nails while you watch your bag roll off the baggage handler’s cart on his way to load the plane.
3. Better yet, don’t check your bags.
I LOVE travel. I love travel so much that I make it my mission to visit multiple countries per vacation. Cue Hong Kong-Thailand-Cambodia, France-Greece, Switzerland-France-Germany-Italy, One-Caribbean-Island-A-Day-For-9-Days-Straight. I have a tendency to pack in as many destinations as I can within a short period. I don’t think I need to tell you how much hair I’ve lost from pulling it while my blood boiled at the airports. You know what kept me away from a heart attack? Besides young age, it was the fact that I had absolutely no checked baggage. No matter how long my trips were, I always packed just enough to fit a large duffle carry-on. Yes, that led me to plenty of self-satisfied, smug moments when mishaps led airlines to send passengers’ checked luggage on the next plane over, arriving in several hours. I’m already taking a bath in the hotel, guys.
4. Learn how to pack what you need, not what you want.
You’re not moving to a foreign land, there’s no need to take your whole closet. You can curb bad packing habits slowly by making lists, at least until you get the hang of it. The week prior to your departure compose a list consisting of three columns: must-haves, needs, wants. Obviously, must-haves are the things you absolutely cannot survive without: any medication, travel documents, SPF lotion (I’m classifying it as a medication), contact lenses, glasses. Your needs are the necessities of a civilized lady or gent. A pair of underwear per day away, set of PJ’s, an outfit a day that you know you will wear no matter what, and two pairs of comfortable shoes, your BASIC toiletries. Next are your wants; this is the fluff you love to surround yourself with to make yourself feel special. Your extra shades of lipstick and ‘fun sparkly eye-shadow in case we go to a nightclub’ gets a place under this list. So do your extra heels, special occasion dresses, additional accessories, bags…you get the idea.
Done with the list? Now pack. Pack all that stuff into a carry-on approved bag. Roll it up as tight as you can. Stick your socks into your shoes, line them all up and use every last breath of air. Bag doesn’t close? It’s ok; you still have several days before your trip. A day before, unpack and edit the stuff you packed up. Necessities aside, do you NEED all that extra stuff? Get brutal with it. A lighter load will spell out a less stressful trip. Time and time again I’ve found I don’t use all the stuff I pack up, chances are, you won’t either.
5. Get some sleep!
I get it, you’re excited and ready to start your excellent adventure in the Amazonian jungles, or the shores of South Beach. Depending on what you like, same difference. So, you stay up late frantically reloading the weather reports and flight status updates for your early morning flight that you need to start getting ready for in 5 hours. Get out of this habit! It takes your body several days to repair from the missed rest. There’s no way your first days of vacation will be as enjoyable as they could’ve been when the only pep you have is from the jitters caffeine gave you. Chances are your rest in a new destination is also not as smooth as it is at home. You can blame the new sights, smells and sounds for the tossing-and-turning. Bring along some melatonin (1/2 a milligram is all you need, and even that’s pushing it), earplugs and a sleeping mask.
6. Dress for style AND comfort on travel days.
Kim and Mrs. Beckham don’t differentiate between runways, but you should. They have to go through TSA just like us if they’re flying commercial. But the TSA is as star-struck as we are, and I would guess give them a more preferential treatment. Not to mention the fact that they have the option of private jets. Not saying that’s always the case, but there’s a much higher likelihood of easier check-in and security screening than you and me. Also, they have help with the bags. You might not. So choose comfort first and foremost. Keep your fabrics easy, jerseys and cottons work. Don’t get bogged down by complicated shoes and 6-inch heels. Your feet and the people behind you in line will thank you. Keep accessories to a minimum and take off anything that might set off the metal detector while waiting in line. Place it in your purse pocket for safekeeping while you send it through the X-Ray.
7. Leave your work where it belongs: at work.
It’s easy to say you’re taking a vacation to rejuvenate and disconnect, but it’s harder to actually do it. Both my husband and I are fiends when it comes to checking e-mails, updating social statuses and worrying about numbers and statistics at work. It’s especially hard since we both have our own business. We had a lot of great vacations so far, Fiji being a highlight of the past year, but the best he mentions is a mere cruise from NYC to the Caribbean that spent most days at sea. Why? Because we didn’t have Wi-Fi and 24/7 internet access. Disconnect! If you can’t, set a limit. Block off an hour each day to go through e-mails or post up any social updates before disengaging from your phone or laptop. There’s a reason you’re taking a break.
8. Manage your expectations.
Sometimes things just don’t work out. No matter how much planning you do, there will always be one thing that pops up and threatens to ruin your good time. Here’s what you’re going to do: take five deep breaths, and then smile and say to yourself “It’s ok. It’s out of my control, so I’ll just have to ride this wave and try to make it fun.” Go in with the full expectation that things are NOT going to be perfect, and you’ll have an easier time accepting stressful situations.
9. Give yourself plenty of time.
Stop rushing around! Allot a decent block of time to get to the airport and through the security line. Plan on arriving at least an hour before a domestic flight departure. Check the traffic reports and Google Maps for the quickest route the night before leaving, and then add 20 minutes to the travel time. You can also check the estimated length of security check-in lines at many major airport websites. Point is, arrive earlier than you might think you need to. So what if you have some extra time to kill? Get a cup of tea, put on your noise-cancellation headphones (important), and do a guided meditation!
10. Let’s be practical: Call your bank ahead of time and let them know you’ll be using your card out of the country. Trust me, this will save you a LOT of stress.