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stress travel stressed out traveler businessman suitcaseCountdown to departure: three days. Before I board a flight to Vancouver on Thursday, I have to finish packing, call my credit card company, do laundry, print boarding passes, clean out the fridge, confirm my reservations … so many details, so little time!

Am I curled up, knees to chest, in a stress-induced stupor? Not exactly. I’ve adopted a few strategies for handling the pre-trip panic phase:

1. Make a list — or several.
This weekend, I jotted down a clothing inventory for each day of my trip, a more general packing list (medications, umbrella, etc.) and a list of everything I had to do before I left. Having everything laid out in writing helped me get organized … and gave me the satisfaction of whittling down my mountain of tasks one by one. (Our handy interactive packing list can help with this step.)

2. Start early.
Dumping drawers on the floor in search of your passport hours before your departure is, to put it mildly, poor planning. I headed off last-minute panic attacks by starting the packing process several days before my flight. As it happened, I discovered that my passport was indeed where I left it — score! — but that I was missing a few other odds and ends. Luckily, I still have a couple of days to run to the store. Crisis averted.

3. Have a plan.
As Ed Hewitt points out in 10 Things to Do Before You Travel, the first day of a trip is often the most nerve-wracking as you figure out how to get around an unfamiliar new place. He suggests making a plan before you leave: “Sketch out a walk near your digs, which can help you get oriented as well as shake off travel fatigue and jet lag. Also, check out any nearby amenities — like a rooftop lounge nearby, a balcony with a choice view or a heated pool for maximum chill-out at the end of a harried travel day.”

As for me, I looked up public transportation options from the airport to where I’m staying, so I know exactly where to go once my plane touches down. And I’ve scribbed down a few yummy-sounding neighborhood restaurants for that first night’s dinner.

4. Let go.
Once you’ve taken care of all the important stuff (the passport is packed now, right? RIGHT?), try not to waste too much energy on the rest. Slow down, take a deep breath and focus your fevered brain on how much fun you’ll have on your trip, rather than all the tiny little details you might have forgotten.

If you’re looking for me on Thursday, I’ll be in one of those airport massage chairs — having my last few twinges of travel tension gently rubbed away.

What do you do to reduce pre-trip stress?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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5 Responses to “Four Ways to Beat Pre-Trip Panic”

  1. Glenda Burnside says:

    With baggage fees so high, I send gifts to host, clothes, coat, cosmetics and hair dryer, extra pair of shoes or boots, my dogs special food, her bowls and little bed, toys, etc., in those post office flat rate boxes several days before I leave, so that it is all there when I arrive. Many zip lock bags ensure safe arrival of cosmetics, shampoo, and lotions, etc. D
    This way, I don’t have to deal with baggage, and I save a bunch of money. All I need will fit in a large purse. I bring a puppy training pad in a zip lock for my dog, should she need a comfort station, her papers and health certificate are in my purse. They check my walker for free, and she, as a certified service dog, travels free.

  2. Sherry Barber says:

    My husband installed a shut-off valve for water inside the house. With a simple flip of the handle, we are not at risk for flood while away from home. It really saved us last month: we returned from London and, as soon as he turned the water back on, we heard water gushing in one of the bathrooms. That would have been a disaster if it happened while we were gone. The device is called a ball valve and takes only a quarter turn to activate or deactivate.

  3. Caroll Lothrop says:

    I keep all the items I only use when traveling (binoculars, snorkle, camping equipment, camera bag, etc.) in one place, and pack what I need for this particular trip. I also have a cosmetic bag that contains travel size toiletries that gets refilled after a trip, so it is already to go for the next one. I have separate packing lists stored on my computer according to the type of trip we are taking: camping, conference, hotel-stay, etc. Last week was my first trip to Europe. I started making lists of things to do (international driver’s license, international cell phone…) weeks ahead, and ticked off several items each week. Starting so far ahead made this the least stressful trip-preparation ever!

  4. Nisha says:

    Here, I am very much with Caroll. I do exactly the same. i.e. I have separate packing lists stored on my computer depending on where I am going… beaches, mountains, domestic, international etc.

    Like her, I also have a ‘travel section’ in my house which is further divided in organized manner and contains travel sized toiletries, zip lock bags, binoculars, camera & accessories, hiking boots, light weight/quick dry clothes and a section is full of brochures that I collect on the way.
    Actually much more to it. :)

  5. Liesl says:

    Great article, Sarah, especially the tip about calling your credit card company AND your bank before you leave, even for domestic trips.

    I second the recommendations from the previous commenters, and here’s another for foreign travel. If your passport is due to expire sometime in the next year or two, mark your calendar for about 8 to 10 weeks before its expiration date. That way, you’ll have time to get a new passport photo taken and renew your passport before your next foreign trip and avoid any nasty surprises at the customs desk.

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