While a vacation maybe me one of the highlights of your entire year, the days leading up to departure can be stressful. For some people, this stress can bubble over into a full blown anxiety or panic attack complete with physical symptoms.
Building up all this negative energy prior to your departure isn't healthy. It can lower your immunity while traveling making you more susceptible to illnesses. It will also take you longer to unwind during your holiday. This means you'll be short changing yourself from all the positive health benefits of re-charging and rejuvenation that a vacation offers.
Chances are if you're a parent taking a family vacation, your stress levels are multiplied exponentially. Now you're not just worried about packing, planning and potential pitfalls for yourself, you're also worried about how all these things affect your partner and children.
As travel agents, we see it all the time with our clients. We normally schedule a "pre-departure" call about 2 weeks before vacation to answer any "last minute questions". We're used to receiving a rapid fire barrage of inconsequential questions. More often than not we let our clients vent their pre-departure anxiety. For many people, it's simply the added concerns over packing, final decisions and making sure work and school obligations are being addressed. Some clients really do have issues coping and show physical signs of stress like headaches, shallow breathing, digestive issues, insomnia and more. If you're prone to suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, pre-travel stress may be a trigger for you.
Admittedly, I travel a great deal for both business and pleasure and I still experience pre-travel stress. I don't think it ever totally goes away but there are ways to better cope. Here are some tips that will help you enjoy less stress and more vacation:
1. Share Your Concerns
Acknowledgement is the first step in finding solutions to your problems. If you or others around you notice your stress and anxiety levels are climbing then talk about it. It could mean sharing your worry with your partner, your close friends or even your travel advisor. Sometimes knowing you're not alone and that others share your concerns can be a comfort. If your anxiety is manifesting in physical problems then you should speak to your medical professional for treatment help.
2. Ask for Help
Despite binging Netflix and those karate classes, you are NOT a superhero. Do not be afraid to ask your family and friends for help. Bear in mind, delegating tasks to family members may add to your stress in the short term. It will require letting go of Type A tendencies and acceptance of consequences for lack of follow through but should eventually be beneficial. It can be a long play option but certainly worth it. Again, do not be afraid to ask for professional help if your symptoms are getting to a point where you're having difficulties. It's important to learn coping mechanisms than to turn away from traveling completely.
3. Focus on the Positives
To get through the immediate stress and discomfort, focus on the long term benefits. Again, another "long play" strategy. For example, packing and flying sucks but our family will forever enjoy these new memories will have from this trip to _______? This is something we've always dreamed of doing. I never dreamed I'd have all this work ahead of time but it will be worth it when we get to ___________? My children will get so much out of this trip to _______ that it will be worth it in the long run!
4. Avoid "What if....." Thoughts
Practical problem solving is one of the things that seems to leave the brightest of people when they become stressed. As a travel advisor, "What if" scenarios are what I hear the most....
"What if we get lost?" - Google maps/ask someone for directions
"What if we don't speak the language?" - google translate
"What if we don't like the food?" - Find a market/pack snacks
That said, vacations are a big investment for most families and nobody can afford to be out of pocket.
"What if we miss the flight?"
"What if we get sick?"
"What if we need to cancel our trip?"
"What if there is a hurricane, snow storm...?"
Because none of us has a crystal ball to see into the future, having travel insurance is a great way to give you peace of mind when it comes to the really tough "what if" questions. Having this kind of peace of mind is priceless, especially if you're prone to worry.
5. Wisdom Over Control
As a young child, I was taught the serenity prayer and it has served me well in stressful situations -
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Whether you are a religious believer or not, these are powerful words highlighting which situations we have control over in life and which ones we do not have any power over.
When it comes to travel, we can take action to avoid stress by taking charge of the things we do have control over. For example, not leaving packing until the very last minute or give yourself extra time to go through airport check in and security. We all know last minute rushing only adds to stress and anxiety.
If your flight was delayed or cancelled due to weather or mechanical issues, that is way beyond your control. It is not fun being inconvenienced but it was certainly beyond your control. Should it happen, then we will problem solve along with the airline to get you on your way. Hopefully you have travel insurance to protect any out of pocket costs. Having a contingency plan for unlikely situations does give you some peace of mind. It does control give you some control over how you react to any unforeseen detours should they happen.
6. Be Aware Of Your Triggers
If you know something is going to drive you off the deep end then try to avoid it. If your spouse is the indecisive kind when it comes to dinner reservations, make them prior to your trip to avoid confrontations in the heat of the moment. If flying makes you nervous, pack distractions like headphones and your favorite playlist, audiobooks, eyeshades or whatever brings you comfort. If your kids are always asking to buy souvenirs, give them a vacation spending card or budget prior to departure.
7. Travel with Others
Speaking of distractions, traveling with other people will help to take the focus off yourself. Worried that your child will be the only one acting out on the plane? Invite family, friends and neighbors with kids the same age to travel together with you. Giving your kids a playmate will make the flight go faster and having other parents around you will help alleviate your anxiety. Group travel can also mean group benefits that can help with financial worries too. That said, if your in laws drive you insane then you probably wouldn't want to take a free vacation with them?
8. Stay Informed
Being caught unaware can be very stressful. Keep yourself informed from the right sources. Don't crowdsource important travel information from social media. Ask your travel agent what documents you need to travel with your children. Don't listen to media hype. Get your travel knowledge from direct sources like The U.S. State Department and CDC directly. Be alert to weather reports for your travel cities. Often part of the joy of vacation is unplugging from every day stresses. If you are planning to travel within 24 hours, do catch up on news reports so that you are aware of any pending situations that could cause travel delays.
9. Have Back Up
Working with a travel advisor means you always have back up. If you do run into any problems or hiccups during your travels, your problems become our problems. We're the ones sorting out any issues while you can continue having fun and enjoying your vacation.
10. Unpack properly
If you're a frequent traveler like myself, I've found unpacking properly has alleviated a ton of pre-travel stress for me. We travel agents often travel very last minute with available space. This means we have to pack very last minute.
Before I would unpack quickly and admittedly, not put everything back in its proper place. Now I am even more diligent about unpacking from a trip than I am packing for a trip. I insure that electronic batteries are all fully charged for my camera and computers. I've bought extra chargers and cords for my electronics and have them in a pre-packed bag ready to go. Same with cosmetics - I keep a ziploc bag of all my typical travel size necessities ready to go in my suitcase. I organized my closet in a way that I can see everything with one glance making it easier to grab outfits and go.
Again, I'm not sure there is any easy way to avoid the stress we feel preparing for a vacation holiday but there are ways of coping with your stress. Even taking small steps to improve how you copy can be beneficial.
When our family travels, my husband always waits with great anticipation for the captain to turn off the seat belt sign when we reach our cruising altitude. That's when he announces "We are officially on vacation". By this he means it ends all of our stress packing and navigating our way through the airport. He usually follows with the remark "...and if we've forgotten anything, the hell with it". I guess it's his way of letting go of stress.