Travel can be so stressful, even when it is for fun, due to all the unknowns that can happen such as delays, lost luggage and the like. Then add to the heap all the expectations of the holidays like hoping everyone gets along this year, wondering if the turkey will be dry again or wondering will there be another ice storm just in time for your flight. I am sure you can think of dozens of possible holiday-ruining scenarios to add to the list. You haven’t even left the house and already you wish the holidays were over! Hopefully, these ten tips can help with the travel planning phase of your trip, so you can concentrate on the other things that can go wrong.
1. Plan ahead. There are two schools of thought for booking flights. Either book early to get the best seats and the best pricing or wait until the last minute and get a really good last-minute deal. After many years of doing corporate travel planning, I have found that booking early is the least stressful way to arrange flights. This way you are guaranteed not to be in a middle seat all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast (been there, done that, hated it!). You can get decent fares if you have the time to shop around. If you wait until the last minute, it just adds to the stress.
2. Check different sites. There are so many travel sites available now and it can be overwhelming. By planning early, you can investigate more than one, but remember you don’t have to check every single travel site out there as there is not going to be that much variation. Pick a few that you trust – Expedia, Travelocity or the like. Have a pad of paper by your side and jot down the site you are on and the pricing you found. That way you do not have to try to remember where you saw a flight. Always remember that fares cannot be guaranteed until a ticket is actually booked, a fare you see right now might not be available in an hour. If you find a really great deal, be prepared to book it.
3. Check the layover times. The airlines cannot offer flights with too short of a layover making it impossible for the traveler to make the connection. But they can offer almost-too-short layovers, which are wonderful if all goes well. But during the busiest travel time of the year, Thanksgiving, it is best to anticipate delays whether they be due to weather or other unforeseen reasons. For example, your flight out of Cleveland is delayed due to bad weather, you get to Atlanta for your connection which was supposed to be thirty minutes, but you only have ten minutes now and you have to change terminals…now you are running through the airport with thousands of other passengers in the same predicament. That only leads to stress and bad feelings about the holidays. When planning your flights, factor in some extra layover time so you don’t have stress it.
4. Adhere to the airports check in times and add some wiggle room for checking in. During peak travel times, it makes sense to allow extra time for check in at the airport. If the airport dictates that you be there an hour before your flight, you might want to add a half an hour to an hour to that time. This allows you the luxury of not having to stress out if the check out lines are long and seem to be not moving. Yes, it adds more time to your overall travel time, but it is not time spent stressing.
5. Pack light! The airlines are constantly changing their carry-on and checked baggage policies. Be sure to check them out before you book so you know exactly what you are up against. When traveling, it is tempting to bring too much. If you will have access to laundry facilities, then don’t bring two weeks worth of clothing for a one week trip. You probably don’t need to bring three books to read (unless you can realistically read that many and if you have that kind of time). Start thinking about packing days in advance of having to do it and make a list of what you want to take. Strike those things that just are not necessary. Keep the packing simple and to a minimum.
6. Bring a distraction. Planning my carry-on is always my most time-consuming part of the trip. I want to be sure no matter what happens that I am prepared and distracted. I have sat in many airports in my day and have learned that a magazine and a book go a long way to helping to ease stress during long wait times. But I also found out that I don’t need to carry three books, six magazines, a crossword puzzle book, a cross stitch project, my journal, not to mention my emergency toothpaste, underwear, first aid kit…you get the point. I am obsessive about carry on but have learned a couple of simple distractions like one book and a magazine help alleviate stress during wait periods as well as while flying and lighten the load of my carry on.
7. Bring portable snacks. Delays, especially during the holidays, are almost inevitable. These disruptions can really upset your system. I carry portable snacks with me in my carry on to help stop hunger cravings (and keeps me from buying overpriced, unhealthy food at the airport) and keeps my mood balanced. Trail mixes are good, chocolate never sucks, peanut butter crackers, whatever you like that will help keep you calm and fortified. Again keep it simple. Due to airport regulations, beverages will have to be purchased after you have gone through security. The best beverage bet is water because staying hydrated is so important to your health and to your mood.
8. Get into the boarding line early. I once stood in a boarding line over an hour for a flight, and it was worth it. I was able to board early enough that it did not bother me when boarding got backed up. You know the situation, too many people, too much carry on and not enough storage. This can be very frustrating, but I was already in my seat, sipping water and reading my book. We, as humans, generally do not like to wait in lines but this is one case where getting into line early can alleviate stress.
9. Plan extra time for baggage pick up. Once you finally get to your destination, plan to wait a bit for your baggage. During peak travel times, this wait can be increased. There is no use getting stressed about it, because it cannot be changed. Take a deep breath and have a coffee and wait. Running to baggage claim does not guarantee that it will be there any faster than taking your time.
10. Expect the unexpected. Do not plan your travel so close to a deadline that any small glitch will derail the entire works. Give your self some leeway. That means planning your return trip also. If you absolutely have to be at work on Monday morning, taking a red eye home on Sunday may not be the best move. If there is a delay, you could be in trouble.
The way I get through life is that I expect the worst and am always pleasantly surprised when it goes better than I had thought it would. I am not sure this is the best life plan for every scenario, but it works when thinking about travel. Have an attitude that there will be delays and that you will be just fine with it. Think of the delays as “me” time and that will go a long way in helping to de-stress your holiday travel. Hope this helped!! Have a happy and safe holiday!!