If handling all those 11th-hour odds and ends has you biting your nails, snapping at your spouse or curling up in a stress-induced stupor, your pre-trip routine probably needs a little work. Read on for five strategies to help you avoid last-minute mania before your next journey.
1. Make a list -- or several.
Before leaving home, consider jotting down a few lists: a clothing inventory for each day of your trip, a more general packing list (medications, umbrella, etc.) and a list of all the little tasks you have to take care of before your trip. Having everything laid out in writing will help you stay organized ... and give you the satisfaction of whittling down your mountain of tasks one by one. (Our handy interactive packing list can help with this step.)
IndependentTraveler.com reader Carroll Lothrop offers a handy tip: "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!"
Which leads us neatly to ...
2. Start early.
Dumping drawers on the floor in search of your passport hours before your departure is, to put it mildly, poor planning. Head off those last-minute panic attacks by starting the packing process well before you leave. In the case of passports and other important documents, check a few months in advance to make sure they will be valid at least six months beyond the date of your trip (some countries require this).
Start the actual packing process at least a few days before your departure, giving you time to run to the store for travel-size toothpaste, new sunglasses or anything else you might need.
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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."
Even if you like to keep your plans relatively open, it's still useful to nail down two vital things for that first day: where you'll stay and how to get there from the airport. Is there a convenient public transit option, or an affordable shuttle that you should reserve ahead of time? Knowing that you're taken care of for at least the first few hours of your trip will give you one less thing to worry about.
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4. Take care of yourself.
Preparing for a trip is stressful enough without the dreaded feeling of a ticklish throat or stuffy nose coming on. "Oh, no," you think. "I can't get sick -- I have to be on a plane in two days!"
It's no secret that stress can take a toll on your immune system, so take care of your body before a trip by going to bed on time, eating plenty of fruits and veggies, and getting a little exercise. (Once in the air, don't forget to follow our tips for Avoiding the Airplane Cold.)
5. 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.
What do you do to reduce pre-trip stress? Leave your tips in the comments below.
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-- written by Sarah Schlichter