A little bit of organization before you travel can ensure you have a stress-free and enjoyable time.
1. Don’t rely on your memory when preparing and packing.
There’s a lot to remember when you travel. You’ll think “There’s no way I’d forget….” but you will forget when you’re under stress! Even if you don’t forget, holding information in mind is energy sapping and distracting. Externalize that information instead, by writing yourself a list.
Whenever I travel, I have a list of last minute items that gets put on the floor by the front door. It includes items like “air con” as a reminder to turn off the air-conditioning, and “washing” to remind me to bring inside any last-minute washing from the washing line.
By having the list by the front door, I can’t help but encounter it on the way out the door. Otherwise, I sometimes make lists but then don’t refer back to them in the rush to get to the airport.
2. Use the one-minute rule to start packing in the week before you leave.
The one-minute rule is that if a task takes less than one minute you should do it straight away rather than add that item to your to do list.
Find an empty box. The week before you leave, as you think of items you want to pack, throw those items into the box. This makes it easier to pack later. Alternatively, you can just put your items into your empty travel bag or suitcase.
Whether you use a box or your suitcase, keep your receptacle open rather than closed.
Very small differences in how convenient a behavior is can dramatically change how likely it is you’ll do that behavior. The difference between leaving your box or suitcase open or closed will likely determine whether you actually follow through.
Where you put your box/suitcase is also important. It needs to be “under your nose” i.e., in a prominent place in your house.
3. Plan for likely hazards.
Likely hazards are things like:
Plan practical strategies e.g., tell your lateness-prone family member they need to be ready 20 minutes before you plan to leave.
I sometimes tell people I’m going away a day before I’m actually leaving to help reduce last minute requests on my time. I also try to return from trips on a Saturday rather than a Sunday where possible - the flight loads are lighter, and it makes the upcoming week easier because Sunday is available for unpacking, running to the grocery store, catching up on personal email etc.
4. Use the $10 rule (or the $20 or $50 rule).
Chris Guillebeau’s $10 rule is that if spending $10 or less will improve your experience (including reducing stress) then spending that money should be an automatic “yes.”
You can adjust the threshold however you like e.g., $50 if it reduces the stress of your entire family.
Examples include things like: tipping someone to help with your bags, buying food or drinks at a pricier but more convenient location, taking an Uber rather than walking a short distance if walking would be unpleasant, or a renting a slightly more spacious car.
5. Visualize your travel day.
What I mean by ‘visualizing your travel day’ is to think through each step of your travel day, in detail, a few days before you leave. Doing this will help you anticipate all the little bits and pieces you need to do. This could be as simple as helping you remember to put your driver’s license in an easy to access location so you’re not fumbling for it going through security at the airport.
6. Take a glance at maps before you depart.
For example, if you’re driving a rental car between the airport and your hotel, plug the route into Google Maps a day or two before you leave so you can get a sense of the driving directions. This will help your trip go smoothly if you’re feeling discombobulated when you get off your flight.
For anything you need to purchase on arrival (e.g., milk for coffee) take a look at what’s near your hotel and figure out how to get there so you can buy your item.
7. Sit down for a couple of minutes before leaving the airport.
Everyone is usually in a rush to leave the airport but it can be very relaxing to sit down for 5-10 minutes once you get off your plane. If you have airport lounge access, you may be able to go to the lounge on arrival. If not, just sitting down for a few minutes and reorganizing yourself, or grabbing a water from a water fountain, can help reduce stress.
8. Know your options for if your flight is delayed or cancelled.
A general guideline when you face a travel delay is to reach out to the airline by as many channels as possible e.g., Twitter, phone, and the airport agents. Where possible you should know an alternative that would work best for you, so that you can request what you ideally want. If you have any good friends or family who are “road warriors” (i.e. very frequent travelers) it may be worth a call to that person for advice about what you should do, especially if that person also uses the airport and airline you’re using.
Many credit cards provide travel delay protections if you follow their rules. For example, my card requires I book the trip as a round trip rather than two one-ways. Confirm your benefits in advance, and make sure you know what the process is if you need to use those benefits.
9. Pick flights that aren’t prone to lengthy delays or cancellation.
It’s easy to Google the flight stats for flights you’re considering (just Google the flight number and a bunch of results will pop up). Especially if you’re traveling with children, it may be worth a small difference in the fare to avoid flights with a high percentage of lengthy (30+ minute) delays.
If you’re traveling with a young child on a long flight, then overnight flights are preferable. If you’re traveling with kids, it’s also worth knowing which airlines have family-friendly boarding and seating policies (and which don’t).
10. Link something you enjoy to your travel days.
For example, I pack peanut butter sandwiches for long flights. It’s something I don’t usually eat but I enjoy it when I travel. For very long flights, I sometimes make the sandwiches on frozen bread (and wrap them in a paper towel) so they stay fresher longer.
If you have a favorite podcast or TV show, maybe save an episode to watch on your travel day.
11. Don’t assume travel will be unpleasant.
Sure there are unpleasant travel days, but many times everything goes smoothly. You might luck out and end up with a spare seat next to you, and have a very enjoyable flight. If you do some simple preparation, there’s no point dreading a trip that may go just fine.
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