How to Prevent Stress When Planning Holiday Travel
🎵 It’s the most str-ess-ful time of the year. 🎵
Holiday travel season is here! So soon. What happened to summer!? While travel can be stressful, preparing for holiday vacation comes with a double dose of anxiety. Not to mention logistical runarounds, group trip drama, and peak pricing.
Luckily, over time I’ve learned to navigate planning, people-pleasing, and pricing anxiety — and now experience minimal travel stress when leading up to my holiday vacation. Though a newfound confidence to travel alone and plan great vacations with ease reduces my holiday travel anxiety, here are seven other ways to prevent stress during the busy festive season:
1. Create a firm deadline when traveling with other people
When I first planned group holiday trips, I found it time-consuming and frustrating. From agreeing on a destination to chasing people down to pay their portion of the trip, I had sleepless nights worrying about prices going up because of the lack of action on some guests’ parts.
Without fail, there is always one companion who promises to “send their money soon” and either never follows up or stops responding. As someone who hates when people can’t make a decision (or be honest about their thought process) this put a strain on those relationships.
At some point, however, I realized that those guests were often less experienced travelers who relied on and trusted my expertise. They weren’t maliciously “wasting my time”, they were just passive people and I was giving them too much choice. I learned that to have less stress during holiday travel season, you must provide 1-2 destination options, a set per-person budget, and a deadline to either give a deposit or show a booked plane ticket.
When I switched my approach to offering more concise options and making a firm decision by a set date, I saw a dramatic difference. In fact, I first used this method while planning a New Year’s eve trip to New Orleans for 15+ people and it worked great! We only let one person push back on the deadline and sure enough they didn’t follow through (proving deadlines are essential!) Luckily there was a waitlist of companions who did want to go so we filled the spot quickly.
2. Build multiple checklists
I am one of those people who will stay up all night thinking about everything I have to do until it actually gets done. This is obviously harmful and unproductive, especially when preparing for an early morning flight, time zone change, and long day of being in transit.
To avoid evening anxiety, I always keep a journal by my bed and empty my thoughts, worries, and checklists onto a sheet of paper. Knowing that I won’t wake up and forget what I have to do gives me piece of mind and a head start for the next day (or week).
When preparing for holiday travel, you probably are stressed at work and trying to wrap up projects before you go. Maybe you are running between doctor’s appointments or on hold for hours with the insurance or phone company trying to check on your coverage overseas.
Regardless of what is causing the stress, a check list will help. Build a checklist for packing references, a checklist of what to do before you go, and a checklist of important information to know when you arrive at your destination. You’ll be glad you did! (I recommend multiple checklists because when one list gets too long it often leads to overwhelm.)
3. Remember to visit the doctor
Regardless of whether you are traveling or not, visiting the doctor is essential — especially if you are like me and have lupus or an autoimmune disease (you might feel great one month, and then fall apart with a flare up, the next).
To ease travel stress and anxiety, make sure you have your yearly check up completed and have seen a travel doctor to administer necessary vaccinations. Some countries may not let you enter without specific vaccines, so double checking with the CDC and your travel doctor can avoid mishaps at the border.
Beyond those obvious reasons, going to the doctor might help you prevent travel-related sickness too. If you have been having sinus issues, for instance, your doctor might be able to prescribe something (or offer advice) to help you have a more comfortable flight. If you have a bad cough or your asthma has been acting up, your doctor might warn against certain activities that will make things worse.
4. Pack a relaxation kit
Every traveler should have a relaxation kit, I’ve decided. It isn’t enough to just arrive early at the airport or account for extra holiday traffic to avoid stress. There are certain items you should be able to rely on when you need a dose of relaxation.
Your relaxation kit should be a small pouch of items that help you remain calm and at peace, while creating a barrier between the things that don’t.
My relaxation travel kit includes:
Ear plugs: block out chatty passengers and crying babies on a flight/bus/train (great for sleeping in hostels or with snorers too)
Eye mask: this allows my seat mate to turn on a reading light or open the window shade without worrying about bothering me while sleeping
Aquaphor: it may be commonly used for babies’ chapped skin but I smother my face in this petroleum-based ointment to avoid dry skin (it’s basically the bourgie version of Vaseline) [FIND IT ON AMAZON]
Hand sanitizer: I am not even close to being a germaphobe but transportation can get gross and travelers (especially ones who take immunosuppressant drugs) need to be extra cautious
Halls cough drops: when flying or visiting a dry destination, I always get an itch in my throat from the dry air so menthol lozenges like Halls help avoid that
Burt’s Bees chapstick: just like with Halls, I am obsessed with menthol so despite hating Burts Bee’s as a chapstick (anyone else think it smells really weird?) I still apply it under my nostrils and eyes to freshen up after a dry, taxing commute — the menthol is strong so use sparingly
Eye drops: dryness is often an issue when traveling; dry eyes can lead to excruciating headaches (especially if you wear contacts) so keep eye drops in your relaxation kit for emergencies; my Burt’s Bees trick also really gets your eyes watering
5. Super-hydrate days before
When I have a trip coming up I triple my daily water intake a few days before departure. While this might have me running to use the bathroom more often, being dehydrated while traveling for hours is an awful way to start your holiday vacation. It can lead to fatigue, weakness, nausea, headaches, or worse.
Dehydrated travelers turn into stressed travelers.
You can get confused and disoriented, and are more likely to forget important items at home or mix up travel logistics altogether. During my own travels I notice a clear difference in the benefits of drinking more water (and visiting the bathroom more often!)
Frequent bathroom breaks mean you’ll be moving and walking, which is great for blood circulation — especially if you are flying. Let’s not forget the lower risk of urinary tract infections, too!
Pre-hydrating will also help you combat dry air within the cabin; remember to avoid sugary drinks, alcohol, and caffeine if you are worried about hydration. These will make you even more dehydrated in the long run, despite their instant buzz.
6. Take advantage of travel deals
While I normally feel confident in booking last minute trips and curating deals on my own, I recognize that holiday travel often doesn’t work that way. If you do not have a flexible schedule, willingness to visit an alternative destination, or flexible budget, you’ll be better off paying attention to holiday deals at least 2-3 months in advance (or more if you have a very large group). Otherwise, the stress of watching peak prices skyrocket will have you wanting to spend this holiday at home.
Booking.com offers 10% off many hotels for people who sign up for their free Genius loyalty program and I noticed I often find the best deals on Fridays.
Fly.com’s “Todays Fares” can give you a list of the cheapest places to travel to based on your location and roundtrip pricing over the last 48 hours.
If your travel group size isn’t that big or you aren’t married to a specific destination, you’ll find the sky is the limit when it comes to deal shopping. Though securing your deals ahead of time takes away the adventurous spontaneity of travel, it replaces it with a stress-free process — perfect for travelers prone to holiday travel anxiety.
7. Create boundaries
As much as we’d like to avoid this topic, the truth is some loved ones and familial relationships are just toxic. Nevertheless the pressure of holiday season get-togethers is always there and without fail, every year is a train wreck. While there might not be much you can do on the people-pleasing front, if you come from a close-knit family or friend group, creating more boundaries can help relieve related stress.
If you know you can deal with your family for a few days but want to pull your hair out if it’s longer than a week, agree to a 3-day holiday vacation instead of 5 days, and save your emotional wellbeing. If there’s always a specific loved one who backs out at the last minute or fights about money, don’t put their portion on your credit card.
Lastly, if you know that traveling with other people in general induces anxiety (and that only worsens during the holiday season) don’t be afraid to just book a separate flight and hotel to the same destination, and cross paths just for dinner and tours during the trip. People will understand your need for personal space, and your actions might inspire others to set their own boundaries too.
How do you stay stress-free during the holidays?
Share your favorite ways to destress when traveling for the holidays. For some people it involves meditation, prayer, or listening to music. Others need to release the stress by going to the gym, running, or doing yoga poses. Whichever you decide, listen to your body and allow yourself time to balance planning and logistics with personal wellness.
If all else fails, don’t forget to live and laugh. Our time here is short.