Let’s face it, for the most part, travel is fun. There’s something about getting away from our daily routines and familiar surroundings that awakens our senses and makes us feel more alive. Travel offers us a change of pace, a change of scenery, and perhaps even a change of diet (for better or for worse). It is supposed to leave us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. But travel can also be stressful. I’ve been on vacations where I couldn’t wait to get back home and go to work so I could rest.
Every trip has its share of ups and downs, but the secret to making the most of a trip is in how we choose to maximize the fun and minimize the stress. Here are our 10 tips for making any trip better.
Be sure to check web-based calendars of events for the destinations and attractions you plan on visiting. You don’t want to drive across the country to Walley World only to discover that it is closed for two weeks for repairs. (Sorry, Clark.) You also might discover some fun events that you want to work into your itinerary.
Also be sure to research the weather in your destination. In 1992 my wife and I took our two young daughters to Destin, Florida. Three days of torrential rains kept us stuck inside the hotel. The only thing on television was endless coverage of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco being pursued by the police. The girls were miserable. Had we checked the forecast, we could have chosen to stay somewhere else. At the very least we would have seen that maybe we needed to bring our “Barney the Dinosaur” VHS tapes.
Go with the flow
It can be quite stressful when things don’t exactly as planned. A tour or an event on which you had your heart set could be sold out or cancelled; your rental car could have a flat tire during rush hour; or the raw oysters you ate last night might have you hugging the toilet this morning. The best way to alleviate the stress of the unexpected is to learn to go with the flow and accept that it is all a part of your adventure. In other words, don’t let surprises spoil your trip. Have a go-to backup plan to help compensate for whatever doesn’t work out.
My backup plan usually is ice cream. I play this game with myself that whenever something doesn’t go as planned, I treat myself to an ice cream. It doesn’t help with my diet, but it does help with my stress.
Allow yourself to be spontaneous. I am convinced that spontaneity has some kind of magical powers. Some of the most serendipitous moments in my travels have been the results of doing something unplanned and acting on impulse.
While in Memphis researching BBQ joints on a recent assignment, I decided to take in a little rock ‘n’ rolll history and visit Sun Studios. As luck would have it, the Broadway cast of Million Dollar Quartet was in the studio taking some publicity photos. They were elated to be in the room where the music legends they portrayed launched their careers. After the photo session, they hung around and performed Elvis songs for about 30 minutes and I got to hear it all!
Bring a camera
A camera or a smartphone with a good camera is one of the most useful tools you can bring on a trip. The obvious reason is to take pictures of your adventure to share with friends and preserve your memories. But there are other uses as well. I like to take pictures of my rental car when I turn it in to show there was no damage. As a frequent traveler I find it extremely helpful to take pictures of my hotel room number and my parking space, especially as I get older. And as a foodie, I take pictures of my food and restaurant menus in case I want to try to recreate something I particularly enjoyed when I get back home.
Traveling light can reduce travel stress and save you money in checked baggage fees. The more you pack, the more you have to keep up with, the more you (or the airlines) can lose, and the more laundry you’ll have to do when you get home. There’s nothing wrong with wearing the same outfit more than once on a trip. Dryer sheets are great for freshening up something that you’ve already worn. Beside, it’s good to leave a little room in your suitcase for anything you might want to buy along the way.
Don’t cram too much into your itinerary
Suitcases aren’t the only thing that you don’t want to overstuff; the same goes for your itinerary. There’s nothing more stressful than rushing to meet a looming deadline at work. The same holds true for your vacation; trying to do too much in one day can be exhausting and will leave you and those traveling with you a little cranky. Crankiness sucks the fun out of experiences. So make sure you have a sufficient time cushion between items on your itinerary. Another benefit: Having a loose schedule gives you more opportunities to be spontaneous.
Make a budget and stick to it
It’s easy to overspend when traveling. Overspending greatly contributes to travel stress. To avoid this scenario, set a budget and plan your trip accordingly. Travel, accommodations, meals, and entertainment are the four main categories for which you’ll need to budget. Once I determine a certain amount to budget for the entire trip, I book my travel and accommodations. The amount left over becomes my budget for meals and entertainment. I then put that amount on a prepaid credit card that I use while on the trip. I can monitor the card’s balance with my smartphone.
Don’t buy new clothes for your trip
As tempting as it may be to sport new duds on your trip, remember that the people who live in your destination haven’t seen your old duds. If you really need new clothes, buy them at your destination and let your new clothes be your souvenirs. It’s better to have an authentic Hawaiian shirt from your trip to Hawaii than one all your friends have seen hanging on the rack at your local mall.
Try something new
New experiences always make for more memorable trips. With this in mind, purposefully try something new whenever you travel. Look to do things on your Bucket List that you can’t do at home. Also, don’t be afraid to try new foods. One of my travel rules is not to eat at any chain restaurants, since I can do that at home. Instead, I usually look for local mom-and-pop restaurants that serve local cuisine. New places also bring a sense of anonymity; being away from people who know you is the best time to try things you could possibly look silly doing such as singing karaoke, hip-hop dancing, or ice skating.
Keep a travel journal
Keeping a journal of your travels allows you to relive your experiences and reinforces the journey in your memory. It’s best if you can develop a habit of writing a recap of each day’s adventure at the end of the day. What you did do? Where did you eat? Where did you stay? What did you like and not like? How did the experience make you feel? What do you wish you had done differently? Journaling will not only help preserve your travel memories, it also greatly will enhance your storytelling skills as you regale your friends with tales of your exploits.
What do you do to make your trips better?