10 Ways to Handle Travel Stress Like A Pro

Step 1: Take advantage of downtime to practice mindfulness or meditation -- or simply distract yourself.Read More

The madness of traveling can be, well, maddening – but don't let the travel stress get to you. (Source: iStock / Wittayayut)

It’s vacation time! You’re excited, anxious – giddy, even. All of that expectant joy can go right out the proverbial window, however, if your well-laid plans go upside-down. Heck, even small inconveniences (what, no WiFi on the plane?) can sour your mood and pile on the travel stress – the very same stress you should be shedding. To avoid getting wound up during relaxation time, keep these 10 tips in mind – they’ll ensure you keep enjoyment as your number-one priority on vacation.

1: Practice plane/train/bus meditation.

The to-and-from ordeal is often the most anxiety and stress-inducing of any part of a trip. Here’s the good news, though: Time aboard a bus, train, or plane usually means you have time to calm down and collect yourself. If there’s a meditation app you like (we recommend Calm), be sure you download one of your favorite meditations and play it in transit. Keep it to about 15 minutes, though; you don’t want to be disconnected from your surroundings for too long or you may miss your stop/connecting flight.

2: Bring a “Zen” book and carry it with you – everywhere.

As with all travel accessories, keep this one small – but make sure that’s it’s an actual book and not something you download onto your phone. We’ve found that there are too many other distractions on a phone so you never really end up focusing on your reading.

Also, be sure to pick something that allows you to read concise chunks/chapters/sections and reflect. Books of poetry are usually good choices, but some novellas also do the trick. Whatever your selection, make sure that it elicits positive, calming emotions. (In other words, don’t pick a dark murder mystery or horror novel.)

3: Create a calming playlist and download it onto your smartphone.

For us, the calming playlist that soothes us abroad is the same one we listen to when drifting off to sleep. Whatever your preference, pick a series of songs, running about 30 minutes total, to listen to during downtime – like on a bus or plane. Just make sure you download your playlist to your phone/tablet so you can listen without depending on a cell signal or WiFi.

Tune in and zone out. (Source: Shutterstock / Jaromir Chalabala)
Tune in and zone out. (Source: Shutterstock / Jaromir Chalabala)

4: Memorize a mantra you can repeat to yourself on the fly.

Seem silly? It was to us at first, too, but when you’re out and about or in the midst of an activity, you don’t have time to read your Zen book or listen to your calming playlist. So, have a mantra at the ready – no more than a couple of lines – that you can repeat to yourself during brief pauses or breaks. Our recommendation: Write one for yourself that emphasizes what the number-one priority is for your vacation (have fun, relax, or enjoy a new experience) while moving beyond the negatives that hamper that priority (missed flights, the wrong hotel room, lost luggage, and so on).

5: Practice breathing exercises.

This is another good exercise when stress is through the roof and you don’t have a lot of time to collect yourself. Just take a pause, excuse yourself for a moment (perhaps to the bathroom so as to avoid suspicion), and complete four cycles of intentional breathing. Start by slowly breathing in through your nose, filling your lungs over the course of four seconds. Hold the breath in for four seconds, then release through your mouth slowly over four seconds. If you do this four times, you will have slowed your heart rate and released a great deal of tension in your muscles.

6: Don’t over plan.

This may seem counterintuitive, but it isn’t. The more you plan, the more there is in your itinerary that can go wrong. The more that goes wrong, the more travel stress mounts and you lose all sense of enjoyment. Our recommendation is to very clearly set an overarching goal for your vacation or trip, keeping it fairly broad (have fun, unwind, relax, experience something new), then measure each item in your itinerary against this. Is something you’ve planned going to add more stress and take away enjoyment – just because it will be a hassle to fit in? Consider striking it, or at least making it optional. (Also, use one of these trip planning apps to make your life even easier.)

Don't over plan – you might add more travel stress. (Source: iStock / hocus-focus)
Don’t over plan – you might add more travel stress. (Source: iStock / hocus-focus)

7: Make backup plans.

For those itinerary musts, always have a backup plan in place. If you’re interested in visiting a specific site or monument, for instance, research it in advance using reputable guidebooks and websites. Find out what the potential hurdles are to visiting. Then, have a contingency plan at the ready so you can quickly pivot if plan A doesn’t work out.

8: Download a brain game app on your phone.

Not sure a meditation app or music will work to soothe your frayed nerves? Then we recommend an engaged distraction – one that has a clear benefit. Download a brain game app like Elevate – not only because the games are engaging, dynamic, and fun, but because they’ll actually keep you alert and sharpen your mind.

9: Carry a stress ball with you.

If you’re someone for whom soothing voices, games, or music are just not going to work, there’s another option – a physical release from travel stress. While exercise in foreign environments can be a challenge (though very much worthwhile if you can manage it), you can also release your travel stress in a more incremental way using a stress ball. You may never use one at home, but when you have nothing else to help you shed your angst, you’ll find they’re very useful.

10: Watch the caffeine.

We know – vacation is the time to indulge, to not hold back. And while we’re all about savoring and spoiling, keep in mind that caffeine does tend to make you high-strung. If you find your fuse is short and every little hiccup is getting to you, then take a look at how much caffeine you’re imbibing and consider pulling back – at least for a few days. You might also find you sleep better.