A vacation is supposed to be a getaway, but getting out of your comfort zone can be stressful, too. Missed flights, lost luggage, busted budgets—there’s a lot that can go wrong when you travel. In fact, it’s more or less inevitable, says Lee Huffman, a travel blogger at BaldThoughts.com.
“You're not alone. It happens to even the most seasoned travelers. Something unexpected will inevitably happen,” Huffman tells Mental Floss. “A missed or delayed flight; not getting the exact rental car or room that you reserved. Murphy's Law at its finest.”
There are, however, a few ways to hedge against Murphy’s Law and minimize the stress of preparing for a big trip. We asked Huffman how he manages travel with his family and how the rest of us can plan for an epic, stress-lite vacation.
1. ANTICIPATE MISHAPS.
When it comes to safeguarding against setbacks, research is everything. You don’t want to be caught off guard when, for example, you try to rent a car overseas and discover you need an International Driving Permit. Here are a few other common scenarios you might want to look into before you head out:
- If you plan on using the car rental insurance that comes with your credit card, research what’s actually covered. Most have limitations.
- Don’t assume English is spoken everywhere you go. Research local customs before you leave and download a translation app just to be on the safe side.
- Make sure you know your airline’s rules for traveling with children or pets. Many airlines charge extra for everything from picking a seat to printing your ticket at the airport.
Of course, no matter how much you prepare in advance, something can still go awry. That’s just part of the travel experience, says Huffman. “Trust me, I've been puked on by my baby during a redeye flight without a change of clothes, stranded in the airport overnight with my young son, and so many other wild stories," he says. "They were horrible experiences at the time, but now I can laugh at myself and the situation.”
If nothing else, you’ll have a story to tell when you get back from your trip.
2. GET YOUR MONEY IN ORDER.
There’s often stress over whether you can (or should) afford the vacation in the first place. Maybe I should wait until prices drop, you think, or maybe I should just skip traveling altogether.
“People question whether or not to buy tickets to that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Huffman says. “As long as your other bills are being paid, you're saving for your future, and making a little dent in your debt, then yes, you should spend a little money to ensure you create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Of course, having your money in order is easier said than done—but once again, it all goes back to proper planning. Start saving for your trip early so you’ll have a vacation fund to draw from when the time comes. “Even if the savings is just a fraction of your overall vacation expense, that money will help reduce the sting of paying for airfare, hotel, and everything else you've planned,” Huffman advises.
There are ways to “travel hack” your vacation, too, which essentially involves using credit card sign-up bonuses to earn frequent flier points with partnering airlines. In fact, this is how Huffman says he affords to travel with his family so often. (If you have issues with credit card debt and paying your balance off on time every month, this method is not for you.)
“Sign up for every loyalty program you come across,” Huffman suggests. “Yes, your email inbox may become a little fuller. But it is worth it because airlines and hotels often send deals to subscribers that are never seen by everyone else. These savings may help you go on your next vacation a little quicker.”
3. LIMIT YOUR ITINERARY.
It’s tempting to squeeze in as much as possible when you travel, but don’t set yourself up for a headache. Make a list of “musts” and “maybes”: things you just have to do and things you’d like to do if you have time. When you prioritize your sightseeing this way, you can relieve yourself of the pressure to see everything. You’ll actually have time to enjoy yourself.
It can be helpful to plan your lodging accordingly, too. The closer your proximity to the activities on your list, the more you can fit in (and still easily bop back to the hotel for an afternoon nap). At the very least, you can book a hotel or Airbnb that’s close to public transportation so you can get where you need to go with ease.
4. GIVE YOURSELF SOME BUFFER TIME.
The worst thing about a vacation is coming back from it. Especially if you have to jump right back into work, the return can be jarring. If possible, you can ease back into work mode by giving yourself some extra time to relax when you get home.
“If you're going on a vacation of a week or more, try to arrive home two days before you go back to work,” Huffman suggests. “Having a day to decompress, sleep in, unpack the suitcase, and do a little grocery shopping before returning to the office does wonders for your mental health.”
As an added bonus, he says, it’s typically cheaper and less crowded to fly on Saturdays than Sundays, anyway. And if your return flight is delayed, you don’t have to worry about making an awkward phone call to your employer explaining why you need to extend your vacation.
5. PREP FOR YOUR RETURN.
There’s nothing worse than walking in the door after a long journey and being greeted by a filthy, smelly home. Set yourself up for a nice homecoming by doing some pre-trip cleaning and go grocery shopping for snacks that won’t go bad while you’re away.
“I try to wash and fold all of my laundry before going on vacation as well,” Huffman says. “This provides an abundant supply of clothes to choose from to have the perfect outfit while traveling and it ensures that I have enough clean underwear for my first day back. I mean, really, who wants to do laundry first thing after returning from an epic journey around the world?”
All images courtesy of iStock