The benefits of travel are life-enhancing and everyone should absolutely do it, but planning your travel can be stressful. And it doesn’t end there! You’ve got to make sure you pack efficiently, navigate through the airports, deal with car rentals, and eventually make your way to your accommodation that may or may not be adequate. And while all these stress-inducing elements are part of travel, stress-free travel is possible.
Most travel-related stress is preventable, so the key to stress-free travel is planning. If you plan for any eventuality, you are prepared for it, and therefore there is no need for stress and anxiety. The planning I’m talking about does not mean that you are giving up spontaneity. In fact, it encourages spontaneity. Once you know everything is planned for, you have the (mental) freedom to explore whatever you like.
Here are a few tips to help you take the stress and anxiety out of travel.
Helpful tips for stress free travel
Check your passport
Checking the expiration date of your passport should be one of the first things you do. Adult passports are valid for 10 years. That’s a long time, so it is not unusual for people to simply assume that their passports are valid for their next trip. But even if your passport is still valid, keep in mind that most countries require that there be at least 6 months left on your passport.
Also, check that you have at least two blank pages in your passport. If your passport is full, you will need to get another one, even if it is not expired.
Check if you need a visa
Americans are lucky—we rarely need visas to travel abroad. But sometimes we do! Take a minute and verify. You don’t want to go through weeks of planning, only to be turned around at the airport.
Check if you need any vaccinations
This will depend on where you plan to travel to but do check because some countries require a vaccination certificate upon arrival. If you need any vaccinations, do it as soon as possible. Some countries require vaccinations up to 6 weeks in advance.
A tremendous source of travel stress is needing something that you forgot to pack, and have no access to it. Before you start packing, take the time to consider where you will be going, the activities you are planning, and the expected weather.
Packing efficiently does not mean 2 large suitcases. Rather, it means you pack only what you absolutely need. In fact, you can absolutely pack for 2 weeks in a carry-on!
Protect your important documents
Be sure to take photos or scan your important documents. Save them in the cloud so that you have digital access to them if needed, but also print physical copies. That way, if someone were to steal your important documents, you have easy access to copies.
Plan your travel
Most travel-related stresses are preventable, so the key to stress free travel is to plan ahead. Create a running list of everything that needs to get done, right down to the smallest things. Start your list as early as possible and add items to it as you think of them. In the weeks leading up to your trip, you can check them off one by one.
Also, create a schedule with deadlines on when to book your flights, create your itinerary, pack your bags, stop the mail, etc. By creating a schedule and checking it off one by one, you prevent procrastination and the stress that comes with leaving everything until the last minute.
Book your flight, accommodation, and car rental as soon as you know you are taking the trip. Waiting till the last minute is going to cause a lot of stress because you’re likely to pay more, and/or availability might be limited. All this can be avoided if you book early.
If possible, travel off-peak
This option may not always be available to you, but if it is possible to do so, try not to travel on the days before Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, or other times when you know the roads or airports might be busy. If you can, start your travels before the peak travel period, or possibly wait until the day of. For example, the week before Christmas will be very busy, but traveling on Christmas day will be comparatively light.
Consider travel insurance
Travel insurance covers you for delayed flights, lost luggage, injuries, etc. Travel insurance is not expensive but it gives you peace of mind that if something were to happen, you’re covered.
Take care of your “at-home” responsibilities
You’re laying on the beach and you realize you forgot to stop the mail. Things like this will eat at you while you’re on vacation, so it’s best to take care of them before you leave. For example:
- Make a list of accounts that will become due while you are gone, and pay them ahead of time;
- Stop the mail for the duration of your trip;
- If you need plants watered or someone to look after the house, plan ahead of time.
In the weeks before your trip, think about all your responsibilities and make sure they are planned for or delegate some of your responsibilities to others.
Accept that things may not go as planned
Flight delays, cancellations, and long lines are normal occurrences at the airport. They are terribly inconvenient, but stressing over it will change nothing. Accept it and plan for it.
Get to the airport early
Allow more time than you think is necessary. This is a cushion for the unexpected. It may feel like a waste of time to arrive 2 hours before your flight departs (3 hours for international flights), but there is a good reason the airlines are asking you to do this. You’ll have to get checked in, go through security (which may be a lengthy process), and get to the terminal in time for your flight.
There have been times when we got to the airport 3 hours before our flight and had two hours to waste before the flight. However, this is an exception. Sometimes we barely made it in time. Here are just a few reasons:
- Extraordinarily long wait times at TSA;
- Getting stuck in traffic because of an accident on the highway;
- Parking the car at an off-site, long-term parking facility, then unable to get a bus to the airport;
- Losing the “infant in arms” paper tickets, then going through the attendant’s lengthy process of recreating the tickets.
- Checking in, realizing that our baggage was overweight, and needing to move things around from suitcase to suitcase to avoid paying for the overweight baggage fees.
We have never missed a flight, but we have gotten really close. Our only saving grace has always been getting (or trying to get) to the airport early.
Also, keep in mind that delayed or lost luggage has been attributed to people checking in late. If you check in late, luggage handlers may not always have enough time to get your luggage from check-in to the airplane on time. Lost or delayed luggage can be a tremendous source of travel stress, but it can be eliminated by following a few simple rules.
Embrace your downtime at the airport
If you are arriving at the airport with enough time to spare, you will have some downtime. If you have a long list of things to do, the downtime may feel like a waste. In fact, waiting at the airport, pondering over the things you could have gotten done, will cause stress. While wasted time can be stress inducing, consider the level of stress you would feel if you were late.
Instead of flighting the downtime, embrace it. If there are long lines at TSA, come prepared for it with earbuds and listen to some music, an audiobook, or your favorite podcast.
Once you get to the terminal, use your downtime to grab a cup of coffee or tea, read a book or a magazine, catch up on emails or journal entries, or continue listening to your audiobook, podcast, or music.
Consider TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
There is an annual fee, and a scheduled appointment associated with this, but it is well worth it if you travel frequently.
With the TSA PreCheck:
- You do not need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts, or light jackets.
- Instead of the long lines, you go into a dedicated, short line.
- Your wait time is less than 5 minutes, and
- Children under 12 can join their parents or guardians who have TSA PreCheck.
Create a relaxation kit
Carefully think about the things that help you relax, then pack them. For example, if you are going on a long-haul flight, you may need a neck pillow, noise-canceling headphones, a decent eye mask, a book, movies downloaded onto your iPad, music, melatonin (to help you sleep), etc.
Be prepared if you are traveling with kids
If you are traveling with kids, you are playing in a completely different league. Even if you do all the above, but you are not adequately planned for any little ones, you are opening yourself up to a world of stress.