The stresses of holiday travel can bring out the worst in all of us. One survey found 44 percent of respondents admitted to losing their tempers during a trip, while one third have yelled at a stranger and almost 25 percent have ended up cancelling travel plans entirely simply to avoid the stress. Given that the holidays are supposed to be about relaxing and reconnecting with loved ones, it’s high time we all got better at keeping our cool.
Want to enjoy the holidays again? Start by learning how to keep your travel stress in check with the strategies below.
We all know airports and roads get jam-packed during the holidays, so there’s no use in fighting the inevitable. Instead, prepare for it by allocating more time than usual for every stage of travel, from driving to the airport, to going through security, to walking to your gate. What’s a good metric to shoot for? Aim to get to the airport at least an hour earlier than you normally would. And take advantage of apps offered by your airport or airline—these can provide you with real-time updates so you’re able to stay on top of your flight’s status even when you’re far from the gate.
Also be sure to plan for delays so that you’re prepared if the worst case happens and you find yourself stranded in the airport. Pack extra snacks, a change of clothes, and entertainment options in your carry-on. Knowing that you’re ready for any outcome will give you peace of mind.
Everything feels more stressful when you’re laden down with bags or have to wait for a luggage cart to become available in order to move through the airport. Avoid these hassles by packing everything in a carry-on. That way, you’ll be able to skip the line to check bags and you won’t have to worry about your luggage getting lost. But do take note: If you’re flying with gifts in your carry-on, make sure to keep them unwrapped; the TSA often flags gift-wrapped packages because their contents are tough to identify.
If you must check a bag, make sure it stands out from the crowd (either buy a brightly colored suitcase or cover your luggage in identifiable markers) and take a picture of the suitcase to share with officials if it winds up getting lost. Also be sure to keep essential items in your carry-on (even if you do check a bag)—medications, eyeglasses, and a change of clothes should stay with you at all times.
If you want to avoid the hassles of traveling with a bag altogether, consider shipping your personal belongings and gifts to your destination ahead of time, then passing through security with not much more than the clothes on your back.
Bring Some Creature Comforts
Before leaving for a trip, think about how you can maximize your comfort for the duration of your travels. Bring along a lightweight blanket, a travel pillow, and earplugs if you’re hoping to sleep on the plane, and download movies, podcasts, e-books, and other forms of entertainment to your laptop, smartphone, or tablet (or go the old-fashioned route and pack some actual books and magazines). That way you’ll have something to keep you occupied even if your plane is delayed or you end up not being able to sleep during the flight.
It may also be helpful to read up on simple stress management techniques like breathing exercises or meditation. Knowing that you have the tools to cope with anxiety-provoking situations is a great stress reliever in its own right. (Even better? Go ahead and book a meditation vacation for after the holidays).
Take Care of Your Body
It’s much harder to cope with stress when you haven’t eaten for 16 hours. Avoid this and other unhealthy pitfalls by prioritizing healthy habits on the road: Stay hydrated, eat balanced meals (you may want to pack some healthy snacks from home), and try to squeeze in some physical activity—a few walking laps around the airport or some simple stretches will help keep your blood flowing and reduce stress.
Also be sure to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after going through security, scrub thoroughly after using airport and airplane bathrooms, and disinfect hotel surfaces like door handles, TV remotes, and light switches. Taking a few simple precautions can help keep you healthy while you’re on the move (Don’t even get us started on the stresses of traveling when you have the flu).
It can be tough to remember in times of stress, but it’s worth always following the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, try to avoid yelling at TSA agents, slow-moving groups of travelers, or the parents of crying children. Don’t shove other passengers while boarding and disembarking the plane, and help neighbors who are struggling to lift luggage into or out of the overhead compartments.
In short, try to embrace the communal spirit of the holidays and treat everyone around you with compassion. By staying on the good side of flight attendants, security guards, and fellow travelers, you’ll help make the trip smoother and more pleasant for everyone—and that includes you.