Though I love many things about travel, I can also admit that travel can be stressful. Sometimes really stressful where you wonder if it was even worth it.
The good news is that it's possible to make travel stress-free, or close to it. But, as a warning, it takes some planning. I know there are those who are not fans of planning in advance and would rather wing it, but your chances of having stressful moments in situations where you don't plan are arguably higher. I don't have studies to back this up, just good old experience and stress-induced agitation.
Over the years and throughout my travels, I've discovered a few things that have helped me to travel without all the stress and drama. Here are my top tips for stress-free travel:
Create a go-to packing list – I am almost always Team Carry-On, and because I am, I have to be very thoughtful about what I pack. I can't just throw things in a suitcase because then I get stressed once I'm at a destination about what to wear and if I have the appropriate clothes, and so on. But by creating a go-to packing list that I can work off of and adapt for each trip, I have some guidelines that help to make sure I don't forget anything.
Pack early – Now that you've created that packing list, I'm thinking you should probably just go ahead and pack, yeah? Trust me when I say packing early will significantly reduce your stress. Who wants to be running around at the last minute frantically throwing things in a bag? Not me. Also, after one particular situation in which I ended up having to take an earlier flight due to a snow storm, I was SO grateful that I had already packed my luggage and could just pick up my bag and go.
Do some research before you go – I'm a self-proclaimed travel research nerd and think everyone should find their inner travel research nerd when they have the chance. You don't need to go crazy and create excel spreadsheets or anything like that, but I have found that even a little bit of research goes a long way. How else will you know what to prepare for? You don't want to be that person stressed out because you didn't bring the right clothes or shoes, or missed buying tickets for something that required advanced purchase.
Book at least your first accommodation – I have some friends who do not do this and will literally just book the flight ticket and go. And it seems to have worked out for them, so that's good and all, but this is a definite no for me. I need to at least know where I'm staying when I arrive. Otherwise, talk about stress with a capital S. If you like the pressure of trying to find a bed at the last minute, then go for it! But if the idea makes your chest hurt a little (welcome to the club), book that accommodation.
Get to the airport early – Do not be like me. I have a bad habit of making my way to the airport like it's the grocery store. I take my time and think my plane will be there waiting for me to arrive. Due to Global Entry and TSA Precheck, it typically takes me only a few minutes to go through security and get to my gate for domestic flights, but this also depends on me not running into traffic or anything else that could hold me up. And then international travel is a whole different arena, one where I've admittedly been that person running — make that sprinting — to catch my flight. So, don't be like me. Get to the airport early.
Consider if those layovers and connections are worth it – When I was younger and on a tighter budget, I had no problem with layovers and connections if it meant cheaper airfare. But somewhere along the way, I got older and realized that some of these layovers and connections are incredibly stressful! Whether it's a layover that was too short and, once again, had me sprinting to catch a flight, or numerous connections that exhausted me by the time I reached my destination, I've had some pretty stressful experiences due to these types of situations. So now I think about those things when comparing airfare and decide whether the potential stress is worth it.
Always remember safety first – When I was a college student studying abroad with a limited budget, I definitely made decisions based on cost but not always safety. Not to say I was hitchhiking and jumping on the backs of motorcycles at every possible opportunity, but I would sometimes choose a bus in an unfamiliar area rather than paying a little more for a taxi. And while many of these instances were fine, there were times when I knew I should have just paid extra to be safe and not stressed out over my current situation. The stress, and more importantly, lack of safety are NEVER worth it. So if it's a choice between being safe and less stressed out versus a cheaper but potentially less safe and more stressful alternative, go with the former.
Of course travel won't be stress-free all the time because the unexpected always happens, but with these tips, you've at least done what you can on your end to create a less stressful experience.