How to relieve travel stress when flying
No matter if you are traveling for business, to visit friends or family, or on a dream holiday, travel stress can take a physical and mental toll. Simply finding the time to pack, make sure you have the right toiletries, tie down things at work or home prior to departure, or help family members prepare can create stress in your life. Add the pressure of dealing with the unexpected in unfamiliar surroundings – delays, cancelations, airplane food, finding bathrooms, coping with crowds, pandemic worries, schlepping luggage, and lack of sleep, to name a few – and the body’s stress reaction can multiply. There are a number of things you can do to relieve and manage travel stress to ensure your travels are as enjoyable as possible.
Inhale, exhale, and take a skim down our list of things we try to do to relieve any stresses that could otherwise dampen our traveling spirits.
Planning and preparation to relieve travel stress
- Book your trip early. Experienced frequent travelers or business travelers with assistants (and an unending budget) may be able to wait until the last minute to purchase a flight, lock down hotels, or finalize a rental car or train tickets, but most of us real humans can’t do that. Don’t leave yourself tossing and turning at night worrying about your travel plans. Get it done reasonably in advance and move on.
- Consider travel insurance. If your baggage gets lost or delayed, your flights get canceled, you get sick and can’t travel, weather forces changes, or any other unexpected thing happens, stress will be the result. Travel insurance can’t prevent the unfortunate things that can happen to your best-laid plans for fun and bliss, but it can protect you from the unexpected and from often significant costs as a result. Read our primer, Travel Insurance 101 – Learn what you need and what you don’t to learn more.
- Shop for necessities in advance. Avoid waiting until the last minute to glance through your wardrobe and toiletries and other travel essentials to see what you might need. Who wants the stress of remembering two days prior to departure that the zipper on your suitcase is broken? Or your former fave pants or swimsuit doesn’t fit any longer? Or you are out of your shampoo?
- Fill/refill small travel toiletries in advance. Of course, we assume you don’t pack large bottles even if you are checking a bag. Do not wait until the night before departure to fill, refill, or sort out these items, from shampoo to sunscreen to face lotion. In fact, if you travel frequently, keep a travel toiletry kit ready to go, and refill/restock items in it before you pack it away from your last trip. Then all you have to do is just pull it out, check it to be sure you don’t need something more, and you’re ready! No stress here.
- Start packing early. At HI Travel Tales HQ, we do what we call “stack packing” several days in advance to relieve travel stress that can accumulate with last-minute preparation. That means starting to pull items that are going to go along on the trip and “stacking” them in a corner (know this is a preliminary pack and some items will be sent back to the closet). Frankly, we would suggest that anybody who is not a frequent traveler start this process up to about two weeks in advance. That includes putting out unusual items you may forget such as an umbrella, a sweater, a stuffable tote bag or whatever those things are you often forget or simply don’t want to overlook in a last-minute rush. Learn more packing tips in our article, Pack Smart For Travel: 10 steps to list, asssess, pack!
- Deploy the suitcase on the floor a few days in advance. Now that your stacks are out and at least partly pared down, deploy your suitcase and then start affirming that everything you want to take will fit (and you have a little room to spare please). With a little time before departure day, you can still think about what may have to stay home, or to check the weather and change your mind about a sweater or jacket.
Flying and preparing to fly
- Do not wait to confirm how and when you will get to the airport. Whether you are taking a shuttle, taxi, your own vehicle, having a friend drop you, or taking public transportation, verify the plan and details several days in advance. Make sure there is no special event in town that will clog city streets, no construction that is shutting down roads or train lines, no last-minute issues with your friend’s availability. Most alerts you will need about roads or public transportation should be easily found on the web, from local paper announcements and news reports, to the airport website or public transportation sites.
- Decide when you will leave for the airport – a little early is best. Yes, this will invariably be a debate in a family, how early is too early, how late is too late?… Everybody has his or her definition of what buffer is or is not a travel stress. Our suggestion is not to cut it too close. Find your comfort level, and then perhaps add a little cushion for those unexpected delays. Especially around holiday periods or high travel seasons, allow extra time for traffic, security lines, and other jams. Airports are a lot more pleasant these days in general, so look at your airport’s website and see if you can just go early and have a meal there, settle in for a warm coffee or tea, or do a little wine-tasting while you wait (Yes, wine tasting. Vino Volo is a national chain of small tasting rooms with light food items. Very civilized, we must add!
- Verify your departure time. You bought your ticket so you should know when your plane is leaving, right? Humor us. Check your departure time and date carefully one more time. (In fact, sometimes a flight departure will get moved UP!) We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard stories of travelers arriving a day early or a day late for a flight because they misread or misremembered the date. Happened to Therese once too: Many years ago when she was traveling for business, she didn’t check a ticket booked by a travel agent. Turns out the agent booked her departure for the day she was supposed to be AT a meeting, not the day before. She kept her cool and things worked out fine. No travel stress here.
In transit – let the stress go
- Keep calm and … wait calmly. Waiting is part of travel. Sometimes, lots of waiting. Since there is nothing you can do about it (and since you have left plenty of time, right?), just breathe please. It’s a difficult task perhaps. But there are things you can do instead of pacing and fretting: Read a book (electronic versions on your tablet are good for travel), buy a newspaper or magazine, watch a movie (again, with that tablet). Just watch people. Take a walk around the airport. In fact, some larger airports these days have walking routes laid out (such as Dallas Fort Worth). Since so much of travel to and from a destination is spent sitting, why not spend your waiting time walking a little – exercise relieves stress.
- Be nice. Granted, air travel these days can feel very stressful if you let it. Lines are long and there are a lot of them. Everything feels rushed. Your senses are overloaded from the din. On the plane, you are jammed into a small space that isn’t overly comfortable and may feel too hot or too cold. And, sometimes, there are gate staff, flight attendants, and fellow travelers who might seem more than a bit grumpy. Do yourself and others a favor and just be nice. Smile at people. You will find yourself feeling better, and, we’re pretty sure those around you will start to feel happier too.
On a layover in Boston or Chicago? You may enjoy reading What to do on a layover in Boston for fun and relaxation or What to do at Chicago airport during a layover – insider tips
In sum? Start early, pack early, plan early and be nice – to yourself and others. That alone will go far to relieve any travel stress from the physical and mental demands of traveling.
You may also want to read Staying healthy after air travel – 12 tips for avoiding germs
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