Even innocuous survey questions are enough to let you reach for your blood pressure medication: “At what point do you generally experience the most stress when traveling?”, “What are your biggest stressors related to standing to a destination?” and “Who does traveling with increase your stress levels the most?”
“It’s safe to say that most of us will feel an increase in stress when we travel, but that’s not always a bad thing,” said health consultant Dr. Daryl Appleton. “Anything outside of our comfort zone will cause stress.”
Appleton said to go with the chaos in your travels instead of staying rigid and unwavering. Inevitably flights will be late, or your hotel room may not be ready when you arrive. Set your expectations accordingly. There are ongoing problems with airline personnel. Bad weather can cause a domino effect of canceled flights. Airports and the TSA are also grappling with staffing issues. In short, keep your expectations underground.
Likewise, when thinking about your vacation, don’t get carried away with the assumption that it will be “the trip of a lifetime,” said author Dr. Katherine Loughlin.
“Language is powerful, so be mindful of how you build the journey in your head,” she said. “Because then you have to align your possibly unrealistic expectation with reality, which will always result in stress.”
In case you’re curious, the study found that relatives are the most stressful travel companions. Respondents also said they find international travel more stressful than domestic travel.
But there are ways to alleviate stress, and I don’t want to just stop traveling with relatives. Although if you want to point to this study as an excuse to never bring your mother-in-law to the Caribbean again, please feel free. There are many ways you can prepare ahead of time to make the trip smoother. I’m on the road almost as much as I am at home, so I have some thoughts on the subject. I also consulted some travel experts to fill in the blanks.
Avoid luggage and carry-on mishaps.
In the survey, respondents said the most stressful part of air travel was getting on the plane. That, my fellow travelers, is because of carry-on luggage. I’ve seen people nearly hit over inches of overhead bin real estate for their luggage. That’s why I almost always check a bag and use a backpack that can slide under the seat in front of me to carry the essentials. I’ve even argued that airlines should make checked bags free and eliminate overhead bins. But because checked bags bring in billions for airlines in ancillary revenue, my dreams of free checked bags are about as realistic as Kim Cattrall rejoining the Sex and the City franchise.
Aside from the price, many travelers don’t want to check a bag because they’re afraid it will get lost. There are now companies that will ship your suitcases back to your final destination and home, so you don’t have to take your suitcase to the airport or wait for it on the conveyor belt. Boston-based Lugless is one of a growing number of companies that will ship your luggage to your destination and provide all the necessary tags to make it happen smoothly. I evaluated a hypothetical round trip from Boston to Los Angeles with Lugless. It would cost $92 to ship my luggage (as opposed to the $60 I would pay the airline) for the service, but I would know my clothes would be waiting for me at the hotel and save time at the airport.
For those hesitant to check a bag after seeing or experiencing the Southwest Airlines vacation from hell, you can join the ranks of travelers using Apple’s AirTags to keep track of your bags’ whereabouts. These devices, which are about the size of a large coin, can tell your phone where your suitcase (or anything else) is. If you don’t have an iPhone, other companies make tracking pads compatible with most devices. They will set you back about $25 to $30 each.
I also recommend purchasing a baggage scale, which you can easily find for under $15, to take the guesswork out of checking baggage. I’ve seen many airport floors that look like a Goodwill donation center, as people frantically shift cargo from one suitcase to another to meet weight requirements. No one wants to see your blooms carelessly strewn around the check-in counter.
Stay positively charged.
Some airports and airplanes have more charging ports and electrical outlets than passengers, and that’s a nice thing to see. Sadly, I never seem to be in those places, so if my phone or laptop battery starts to die, I start to shake and stress out. The night before a ride, my to-do list includes charging anything that requires power. Additionally, I suggest you buy a portable charger or a power bank. If I didn’t have a portable charger to keep my phone clean, I guarantee I’d still be walking around Lisbon in circles with no way to access Google Maps on my phone. Prices for portable chargers start around $20 to $30.
On the subject of technology, be sure to pack all the necessary charging cords to help reduce travel day stress. Keep them handy so you can access them at the airport and on the plane and pack another set in your carry-on. If you’re renting a car, make sure you have everything you need to keep your phone clean while you enjoy the scenery. Need I remind you to check international travel adapters if you are departing from the United States? Wait, I think I just did.
The early bird takes flight.
I’m not a morning person, and the idea of getting up before 9 a.m. makes me cringe. But on travel days, getting to the airport early is a must. Travel consultant Kathy Sudeikis, who happens to be Ted Lasso’s mother, told me that early morning flights are less likely to be canceled. Because we both share a dislike of sunrises, Sudeikis added that booking a flight before noon is also acceptable. If you need to be on a cruise or need to catch a connecting flight, you should absolutely avoid booking in the late afternoon or evening, unless you enjoy the crippling joy of stress.
Speaking of early, Sudeikis suggested getting to the airport three hours before your flight to help reduce travel stress. Because I’m a risk taker, I tend to get to the airport two hours before departure. Do I regularly break my rule and almost miss flights? Yes, but do as I write, not as I do.
This is fun.
Traveling is always a game of hurry up and wait, especially when flying. This means that you, your knuckle-biters, sullen teenagers, cranky parents, enthusiastic spouses, and anyone else you’re traveling with will get bored after about five minutes of looking at expensive cans of Pringles and bottles of designer perfume duty free. . You’ll need to prepare for hours of downtime at the airport and in the air.
If you plan to watch in-flight entertainment, don’t forget your headphones, preferably noise-canceling. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying for a very flimsy pair that you’ll likely never use again.
Travelers with young children should make it clear to their offspring that if they want to watch something on a tablet or phone, it must be done with headphones. Find headphones that are comfortable for your type and make sure to give them a test run before travel day. If they object to headphones, buy some coloring books. It’s not fair to subject your fellow travelers to Peppa Pig.
Before I travel, I always download books, movies and TV shows to my phone and laptop. Budget airlines don’t offer in-seat screens (or legroom), and sometimes the entertainment systems don’t work on planes that do. Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime allow you to download movies and TV shows to your phone and iPad so you can watch them offline. For long flights, downloading entertainment software should be on your packing list, along with sunscreen and underwear.
Let someone else plan it.
The Passport Photo Online survey found that the top stress-inducing task for travelers was creating an itinerary before their trip. Surprisingly, there is an entire industry dedicated to creating itineraries for travelers. Tired vacationers, allow me to introduce Trip Advisor. Before people started planning their travel through the series of tubes known as the internet, travel agents did it. They now prefer to be called travel advisors, but their job is still the same. They are knowledgeable people who put together itineraries based on their clients’ interests and exist at almost every price point. This is not a paid endorsement, and I don’t think I’ve ever used the services of a travel advisor, but if the idea of planning a trip is giving you palpitations, they’re here for you. If you’re looking for a counselor, ask family, friends or co-workers for recommendations before looking online.
Let me leave you with a piece of advice as you plan or dream about your next trip: Stress is okay. Unpleasant things will happen from time to time when you travel. The fun of traveling is unexpected. We go out into the world because we’re looking for new experiences to escape the milquetoast workday routine. The best adventures always have twists and turns, fun and scary. Book tickets to your dream destination, create a perfect packing list and find smart travel companions. But remember that things will go wrong, and that’s part of the experience, too. Without challenges, we don’t grow.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.
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