Tips for better travel days

I’ve done a lot of traveling during the past six years, domestically and internationally. Over the years I’ve grown to be a pretty good traveler, but I can still find travel days and transitions hard. As I prepared to return from my latest trip after 5 weeks abroad, I had a series of anxiety dreams (finding someone else’s name on my plane ticket, returning to find that my parents had sold my childhood home and moved away, etc.) that reminded me how important it is to take extra care of myself while I’m on the road. Here are some of my techniques for low-stress travel days:

Stick to the routine.
Whenever possible, I like to schedule flights in the late afternoon or evening. That leaves time in the morning to carry out my usual routine or just do something normal like take a walk or go out for breakfast. It helps make a travel day feel just like any other day. (This does require finishing all of my packing the night before—something I also highly recommend.)

Don’t go (too) cheap.
In backpacker travel circuits, a lot of stock is put into doing things on the cheap. There are lots of economical and adventurous ways to get from A to B that are fine (and fun!) mid-trip, but if I have a plane to catch, it’s almost never worth it to take a route that involves extra time, steps, or uncertainty. Cab rides to airports can be prohibitively expensive, but I’ve found there’s often a happy middle ground. On recent trips to San Francisco and Paris, I took Uber to a train station where I could catch a direct line to the airport, rather than having to transfer two or three times with my luggage. It only added 10 dollars to the cost of each trip and saved me a ton of stress (and luggage lugging).

Build a forcefield.
Airports are intense places. Stand in the arrivals hall at the international terminal watching all the reunions and you think the whole world is in love. Wait for a flight that has been delayed three times over and you think you’re about to witness a riot. As much as I can, I try to build a forcefield around myself to keep out all the negative energy flowing around me. I walk and move around so I don’t overhear others’ conversations for long, and I try to find a quiet corner at an empty gate until just before my flight boards. Once on the flight I put on my headphones (see below) and don’t take them off until we land.

Invest in time and gear.
One time when going through security I left my passport on the luggage belt, and only got it back because some nice person behind me in line noticed and ran after me. I spent the rest of the day frenetically feeling for my passport in my bag every 5 minutes, convinced I’d lost it again. Now I always leave extra time so I don’t have to rush, since that’s when I’m most apt to forget things. I use a travel wallet so I always know exactly where my travel documents are. And for the plane ride I bring noise-cancelling headphones and a refreshing and yummy-smelling facial mist to keep me comfortable and relaxed. I might only use them a couple of days a year, but they’re more than worth it.

Say thank you.
Have you ever listened to the way people talk to flight attendants? It doesn’t give one great faith in the goodness of humanity. No matter what happens—a 48-hour delay, a broken TV screen, a twelve-hour flight where they run out of vegetarian meals (all of these things have happened to me)—chances are the flight attendants had no more control over it than you. If you had a bad travel day, your flight attendants just had a bad work day, so say thank you. If nothing is wrong and you’re having a great flight, say thank you. Pursue upgrades without expectation or entitlement. I got bumped from row 33 to an aisle seat in row 8 with extra legroom and two extra seats next to me just by asking, and by never expecting I would get moved. Then I said thank you. On basically every other flight ever, I was stuck with the seat I had, and I said thank you.

Stick to the routine.
This one gets listed twice because I think it’s the most important one. When I’m on my way out, I stick to the routine. When I get back home, I stick to the routine. That’s the fastest and gentlest way to get over jetlag, get through transition days, and shed that dull “Where am I?” feeling. For me that means going grocery shopping, cooking a meal, answering emails, and getting back to my office as quickly as possible. Andy often schedules a meeting for the first day or two after he returns so he’s immediately accountable to a person and a schedule.

Finally, be okay when it doesn’t go right. Something great is there to meet you on the other side—a new adventure, the comfort of home—and if things get screwy on the way, your arrival will be all the sweeter for it.


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