When I decided to write about minimizing travel stress, my first impulse was to share a mix of things I actually do, things I should do but often don't, and things other people do that seem to work for them. Then it occurred to me that bare honesty is more interesting and more useful. Why should you take my advice to, say, wear slip-on shoes, when I don't even do it myself? And so I decided that I would share what I personally, actually, truly do to make things less stressful when I travel.
All of my advice comes from one central idea. Imagine a bathtub--that's you. Each time something stressful happens, even if it's small, a little more water is added to the bathtub. If your flight gets delayed, or you have to wait in a long line, those external stressors will increase the water level, but so will internal things like hunger, a blister from uncomfortable shoes, or general exhaustion. If you're stressed enough, the bathtub overflows and suddenly you're crying because the airport restaurant closed and you can't get the fries you wanted. So take away internal stressors, things that are under your control. That way, when those external things add water to the bathtub, it won't overflow. You'll be calmer and more able to enjoy yourself--which is, of course, the goal of traveling.
1. I wear comfortable clothes that still look semi-stylish.
Typically I fly in leggings and a loose tunic or tank top, and throw a shawl around my shoulders. For jewelry, I'll wear maybe one pendant necklace that's easy to slip off when it's time to go through security.
This outfit allows me to be comfortable when I sleep (more on sleeping below), but still look cute in pictures. I can use the shawl as a blanket, or scrunch it up and use it as a pillow, or just shove it into the seat back in front of me if I'm warm. It also makes going through security easier when you don't have to empty things out of your pockets, on account of not having any pockets.
I typically wear dresses while on vacation or leading tours, but for travel days, I do specifically prefer leggings. I can sit comfortably in any position, on the plane or train or in the station. Plus, if I wear the right pair, they have a bit of compression, which is good for your legs when you fly.
2. I wear Converse high-tops.
Okay, standard advice is to wear slip-ons when you fly, to make it easier if you have to take your shoes off when you go through security. But I sometimes sleep with my legs crossed when I'm flying, and I don't want to think that one of my shoes might dangle off my foot and fall off, unbeknownst to me. This is maybe an unrealistic fear, but so be it.
Converse high-tops are comfortable and I like how they look with basically every outfit I own. I try to pack as light as possible, so wearing shoes that go with all the clothes in my suitcase is a smart move. The high-top is also nice to help my feet stay dry if it rains when I have a long walk planned. And really, it's not hard to untie them and loosen the laces while I wait in line at security, so it's easy to take them off when the time comes.
Lastly--and I'm sure this is mostly just a psychological benefit--I like having the extra ankle support. As someone who's broken an ankle before (from roller derby, not traveling), I think a lot about my ankles and their stability. Does that layer of fabric really make a difference and save me from possible injuries? Eh, probably not. But it couldn't hurt.
3. I keep my carry-on bag as small as possible, though still big enough to be useful.
If I'm traveling internationally, I usually check my luggage, which makes it easy just to use an oversized purse as a carry-on bag. But for smaller flights where I only have carry-on-sized luggage, I often ask at the gate if they'll be looking for anyone to check their carry-on bag. Oftentimes they are, to save space in the overhead bins. This allows me the benefit of the checked bag without paying for it.
It's really nice to have everything I need in my big purse, sitting on the floor under the seat in front of me. Plus, the less manuvering I have to do with a heavy bag, the better.
What I actually bring in my carry-on:
wallet, passport, earbuds, phone (with books downloaded to read offline), portable charger, spare pair of glasses (in case a contact lens tears), snacks, and water
4. I carry a lot of snacks and water. A LOT.
The last thing I want is to be hungry or thirsty while trying to navigate an airport, train station, or brand new country. I don't like to rely on the schedule of food and drink delivery on a plane, either. It's easy enough to throw a protein bar and some dried fruit in your bag to have on hand when your stomach starts to growl. Ah, but I'm being fully honest here--I like trail mix that's heavy on the chocolate, and Cheddar Cheese Cracker Combos.
I also keep more water on me than I think I'll want. Even though that makes my bag a bit heavier, it's far preferable to being thirsty. Yes, I do have to pee a lot, but it's important to get up and move sometimes, right?
Really, if I'm hungry or thirsty, my brain won't function as well. It may not be a big difference, but if I'm a little crabbier, or a little slower to notice my surroundings, that can take a toll. I want every advantage I can have while traveling. Staying full and hydrated are two easy goals to meet.
The only time I don't have a full water bottle, of course, is when I go through security. It's important to make sure you're following the security guidelines about liquid, so you aren't slowed down by an additional check, or forced to throw out your favorite water bottle. This does mean that I will often end up desperately chugging the last of my water before I reach the front of the security line. And I'm fine with that--more hydration!
5. I have something good to read.
There is a lot of down time when you're traveling. Even though (as I discuss below) I like to nap whenever possible, there is still a lot of time left when I'm waiting in lines, wanting time to pass. Instead of being impatient, I pass the time by reading a good book. Mostly I love fiction. In particular, I love to read books about foreign cities while I'm traveling. Ideally they'll take place in the same cities I'm visiting, but even if they don't, it's still nice to read about someone traveling when you're traveling too.
My favorite book (both while traveling and in general) is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The main characters travel all over Europe in the 1950s and 1970s. There are train trips, tea in cafes in historic cities, mysterious figures... oh yeah, and Dracula. But it's as much a travel story as it is a vampire story.
6. I sleep as much as possible.
My favorite thing to do on public transportation is sleep. Trains are best for this: more spacious than planes, and with a wonderful white noise from the rails and the wind whipping past. But even on planes, I sleep. On a trans-Atlantic flight, I sleep as much as possible. On shorter flights, my goal is to shut my eyes before takeoff and not open them till we land. Just like being hungry and thirsty, being sleep-deprived makes it harder for my brain to do its best.
How do I achieve this? Well, I'm in comfortable clothes, I can cover up if I'm chilly, and I'm not hungry or thirsty, so that takes care of the basics. I also prioritize sleep over free drinks or meals (on longer flights that offer such things). Since I've packed my own snacks, I don't need to be as concerned with staying on the flight's food schedule. When the drink cart comes by, I can keep snoozing instead of groggily dragging myself into wakefulness.
Sometimes I use a travel pillow or a sleep mask, but sometimes I don't. Honestly, I go back and forth on use of a travel pillow. Shoving it in my carry-on bag can feel like more trouble than it's worth, but I do enjoy the extra cushion for my neck.
Also, full disclosure: I get mildly airsick when flying, so I take the anti-nausea medicine Dramamine at the start of flights. I make sure NOT to buy the non-drowsy variety. Dramamine makes me just sleepy enough to happily drift off. I like that advantage.
And there you have it! My honest list of what I do to make travel less stressful. Your list might have different specifics, but if you stick to the central principle and keep your metaphorical bathtub as shallow as possible, I'm confident you'll have a better time, too!
Leaping Hound Travel Co-founder
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