5 Tips for Preparing for an Epic Vacation

iStock
iStock

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.

Cars driving on the Furka Pass in Switzerland

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.

People jumping off a boat into the ocean on vacation

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.

Man in woman with bicycles read a map in an Asian city

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.

Exhausted couple lying on a bed with luggage by their feet

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.

Young man holding a folded pile of clean laundry

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

6 Fun Backgrounds to Use on Your Next Video Call

You might be stuck in the living room, but it doesn't have to look like it.
You might be stuck in the living room, but it doesn't have to look like it.
Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re struggling to find a perfectly decorated wall in your house to serve as the backdrop for your video calls with friends, family, and coworkers, we have good news: Video conferencing platform Zoom lets you customize your very own virtual background.

To do it, log into your Zoom account, go to “Settings” on the left side of your screen, and choose the "Meeting" tab. Scroll down to the “In Meeting (Advanced)” section, and then scroll down farther to make sure the “Virtual background” option is enabled. After that, open the Zoom application on your desktop, click on the “Settings” wheel in the upper right corner, and go to “Virtual Background.” There are a few automatic options, but you can choose your own image from your computer files by clicking on the plus-sign icon.

Now, the only thing left to do is decide which image will best set the tone for your next video call. From the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room to Schitt’s Creek’s Rosebud Motel, here are six of our favorites.

1. The Rosebud Motel lobby from Schitt’s Creek

schitt's creek rose motel lobby
It's not the Ritz-Carlton.
CBC

You can imagine that David is just out of frame, doing his best to carry on a silent—albeit with lots of expressive gesturing—conversation with Stevie at the front desk. (More Schitt's Creek backgrounds here.)

2. Carl and Ellie’s house from Up

carl and ellie's house from up
Balloons not included.
Walt Disney Pictures

If you’re hoping to create a calming atmosphere, look no further than the cozy little sitting room where Carl and Ellie grew old together in 2009's Up. (More Pixar backgrounds here.)

3. The attic study from Knives Out

knives out attic study
Nothing bad has ever happened here.
Lionsgate

If your own study isn’t quite teeming with intriguing souvenirs and leather-bound volumes, feel free to borrow this one from the mansion in 2019’s Knives Out. (More Knives Out backgrounds here.)

4. The USS Enterprise from Star Trek

star trek's uss enterprise bridge
A great way to get your coworkers to fess up to being huge Trekkies.
TrekCore.com, Twitter

Blame your spotty internet connection on the fact that you’re traveling through the galaxy at the speed of light with this background from the bridge of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. (More Star Trek backgrounds here.)

5. The New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room

new york public library reading room
You reserve the right to shush any coworkers who forgot to mute themselves.
New York Public Library

Bibliophiles who can’t make it to the library can still pay a virtual visit to the sumptuous Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library’s iconic Fifth Avenue location. (More New York Public Library backgrounds here.)

6. The Werk Room from RuPaul’s Drag Race

rupaul's drag race werk room
Sashay away from the screen if you're taking a bathroom break during the call.
VH1

Dazzle your coworkers by calling in from the vibrant room where all the magic—and most of the drama—happens on RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you happen to be decked out in an ensemble made entirely of things you found at the Dollar Store, even better. (More RuPaul's Drag Race backgrounds here.)

You Can Now Order—and Donate—Girl Scout Cookies Online

It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts may have temporarily suspended both cookie booths and door-to-door sales to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be deprived of your annual supply of everyone’s favorite boxed baked goods. Instead, you can now order Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and all the other classic cookies online—or donate them to local charities.

When you enter your ZIP code on the “Girl Scouts Cookie Care” page, it’ll take you to a digital order form for the nearest Girl Scouts organization in your area. Then, simply choose your cookies—which cost $5 or $6 per box—and check out with your payment and shipping information. There’s a minimum of four boxes for each order, and shipping fees vary based on quantity.

Below the list of cookies is a “Donate Cookies” option, which doesn’t count toward your own order total and doesn’t cost any extra to ship. You get to choose how many boxes to donate, but the Girl Scouts decide which kinds of cookies to send and where exactly to send them (the charity, organization, or group of people benefiting from your donation is listed on the order form). There’s a pretty wide range of recipients, and some are specific to healthcare workers—especially in regions with particularly large coronavirus outbreaks. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, for example, are sending donations to NYC Health + Hospitals, while the Girl Scouts of Western Washington have simply listed “COVID-19 Responders” as their recipients.

Taking their cookie business online isn’t the only way the Girl Scouts are adapting to the ‘stay home’ mandates happening across the country. They’ve also launched “Girl Scouts at Home,” a digital platform filled with self-guided activities so Girl Scouts can continue to learn skills and earn badges without venturing farther than their own backyard. Resources are categorized by grade level and include everything from mastering the basics of coding to building a life vest for a Corgi (though the video instructions for that haven’t been posted yet).

“For 108 years, Girl Scouts has been there in times of crisis and turmoil,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sylvia Acevedo said in a press release. “And today we are stepping forward with new initiatives to help girls, their families, and consumers connect, explore, find comfort, and take action.”

You can order cookies here, and explore “Girl Scouts at Home” here.

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