5 Ways To Realistically Take The Stress Out Of Holiday Travel

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Dec. 20 2022, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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Whenever I read stories about how to take the stress out of holiday travel, I’m always left, well, even more stressed.

I mean, getting TSA precheck, having lounge access, arriving 50 hours early for a flight and paying for global entry are all great, but what about the advice for all of us regular-smegular folk who seek simple advice related to navigating the regular-smeglar (shout out to Cardi B!) experience of everday travelers.

You know, those of us who aren’t necessarily getting pitched travel experiences or taking perfect Instagram-ready photos of our luxury villa rentals. (No shade to those folk, but I’m just saying!)

Well, here are a few efforts I’ve taken over the years, as someone who has traveled a lot (well, more than many in my network who don’t own passports and base travel choices on crime reports), with high levels of anxiety, worry, and dispair:

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1. Just check that bag, sis. (And invest in quality luggage while you’re at it.)

As much as I love to see the newish trend of packing everything in a carryon (prompted by a time in history I call the Lost-Luggage Fiasco Of Summer 2022), I’ve been a carry-on bae (even for trips of 14 days or more) since two of my bags went missing back in the early 2000s. Trauma will have you slumming it for decades, but, here’s your sign to go ahead and budget for that extra $30 or so and check that bag. (Disclaimer: This doesn’t apply if you’ve recently read multiple news reports of, yet again, a luggage crisis. Proceed with caution.)

I recently took a trip to Puerto Rico, and as I usually do, I had a duffle bag and my one free carryon suitcase. Well, wouldn’t you know that at one airport, they had to check my luggage to my destination simply because there was no space. I almost had a mini heart attack and lost the whole feeling in my right arm due to having to carry that duffle bag through the connecting airport because I had no carryon to cart it around on.

On the trip back, I checked both bags. Enough was enough. Fear be darned, I’d enjoy my in-flight cocktail, say a prayer, and awkwardly carry the tote that the company gave us for our trip with my laptop and souvenirs in it. It was literally a weight off my shoulders and eased my travel experience tremendously.

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Oh, by the way, by the time I got home, I noticed the wheel on my carryon luggage was busted and had separated from the plastic base. This not due to reckless handling, but due to the luggage being ill-constructed and cheaply made. (My duffle bag, a Walmart purchase, made it through the check-in joruney without a scrape, blemish, rip, or broken zipper.) I’d ordered it on Amazon, despite a few bad reviews, to replace another carry-on piece I’d had for years, but instead of replacing that one with the same quality brand, I bought a cheaper one made by a brand I didn’t recognize. Big mistake! Spending a bit more for quality luggage that has longer warranties and are made with better materials is a must, especially if you travel as much as I do.

2. Find ways to (glamourously) pack less.

I always overpack. My carryon would literally be busting at the seams with just-in-case outfits. In more than 15 years, I’ve never had to wear even half of such outfits. I always end up either wearing one outfit for the day, or mixing-and-matching my staple go-tos.

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And your go-tos don’t have to be boring tourist outfits like T-shirts and jean shorts. (And again, no shade, sis, if that’s your style. Rock on!) You can pack key pieces that bring the wow, are great for photos and can be worn for almost any occasion. My go-tos are solid, but brightly colored maxi dresses, printed caftans, statement sneakers (that I wear on the plane so I don’t have to pack them) and unique accessories (for those, well, boring tourist outfits. Yes, I have a few.) Hats, sunnies, earrings, rings and makeup all count as accessories for me and pack well.

3. Stop over-planning your trip logistics (or don’t plan them at all).

Woman at the airport
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Being the overthinking, over-planning, Type-A Capricorn I am, I’d try to control almost every aspect of a trip as I can. While I know that cancellations, delays, and annoying, stressed-out passenger peers are the norm of air travel, in particular, I want to be able to be the headmaster of every other aspect of the experience.

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This last trip I took to Jamaica changed all of that. A popular cliche in the region is, “Everyting irie,” and sure enough, you’ll learn to just go with the flow of life if you ever spend enough time there (especially in my favorite parish, Westmoreland.) I travel there often because it centers me, puts my controlling nature in check, and reminds me to enjoy the priceless, sweet moments of life. It also reminds me to slow down, to offer people grace, and to stop worrying so much about seeking perfection.

I now try to apply that same mentality whenever I take trips anywhere. I literally will buy the ticket and plan nothing else. I’ll get the gas, book the hotel, and drive. I’ll call my bae, say I’m coming to Jamaica, and just go. No excursions, no restaurant bookings, no Whatsapp messages or texts about planning meet-ups.

And for the times when I have no choice but to plan things, I take deliberate efforts to release expectations of how the trip should go in terms of planning plans B, C, D, E, and F for time delays, weather catastrophes, or traffic delays. I tell myself, if it happens it happens. It’s OK. It’s God offering me the chance to experience something new, different, and with less pressure.

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As long as you’re safe, following the airlines’ (or locales’) rules (about things like a return tickets or visas), take the pressure off by keeping your initial plan super-basic (ie a hotel is booked, that’s it). Book some things like experiences, visits with family and friends, restaurants, or excursions in real-time once you’ve arrived. And be OK with those plans changing. Hey, you might even spend a peaceful night alone, eating tacos and sipping Proseco in the hotel—an alternative that turned out better than stressing yourself trying to plan out a day of activities.

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4. Let someone else lead the experience for a change.

When I travel, even if it’s booked by someone else, I like to have a hand in all the decisions. Let’s say I’m booked to flight with a certain airline at a certain time. I’ll ask for the flight time and airport I prefer based on my experience and the nature of the trip. Or let’s say they booked a certain room, but I just don’t think will be my cup of tea. I will request a different room or even a different resort, while having never tried it and not even giving it a chance.

On another recent trip, I learned that letting go of the reins a bit and allowing someone else to plan and choose can be a great way to relieve stress. For you, this could mean actually letting that auntie or cousin book the flights and hotels, or using the services of a travel agent. It could also mean booking with a travel group or booking a package versus a la carte flights, hotels and experiences.

For at least one part of your trip, let somebody else handle the planning, even if it’s something as simple as the car service, a restaurant visit or an activity. And keep an open mind

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5. Be aware of what you’re booking, when you book it.

For example, I once didn’t pay attention to the group number I’d be with when choosing my seat on the plane for a recent trip. As a result, there was no overhead space for my carryon, something I loath because, if you’ve read this far, you know I hated checking a suitcase. The anxiety that brings on is almost debilitating for me. On another trip, I ended up squeezed in the middle seat because I waited until the last minute to check in for the flight.

Some things are unavoidable when traveling, and again, sudden changes and inconveniences are, of course, common parts of the experience, but some stressful situations are avoidable if we simply read through the details of what we book and plan accordingly.

Sometimes, you might need to upgrade that ticket or pay a little extra for a certain seat. Sometimes you might have to book flex travel, try a different airline, or adjust how you pack in order to accommodate the experience you’d like to have. Sometimes you have to turn off social media, look to the true experts (ie news sources, travel groups or people who have actual experience travelling, in real life) in order to make informed decisions that fit where you’re going and your purpose for travel at that time. Maybe you thought you got the all-inclusive option, when you didn’t. You thought it was “ocean view” but found out it’s more like the trees, pool, and miles of landscape before the ocean you’re seeing.

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Read the fine print, ask for help and opinions, watch YouTube views, read reviews, then book accordingly. If all of this sounds like too much for you, go back to tip 4 and cut out the stress altogether.

Bonus: Create what I call a ‘Travel Routine Of Joy’ that never changes, no matter where you’re going or when.

Might I say: The same people with TSA Precheck oftentimes end up at the same point at the gate at the same time that I do, especially when traveling internationally. The same people rushing to get off the plane as soon as it lands often end up at the car pickup areas around the same time I do. Sipping a cocktail in a louge is great if the lounge is actually open or isn’t super-crowded.

(And to be honest, some of us simply don’t have the funds, credit score, or desire to invest in such luxuries. Maybe we’d rather eat at our favorite airport spot, save that expense for an extra activity once we arrive, or spend our last penny to go on a trip we’ve been putting off since Ms. Corona showed her tail two years ago.)

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Waiting in a line for security to check my bag is part of the process. Annoying delays and crowding and people, well, peopling, are par for the course. Someone passing gas or coughing throughout the flight, a disgruntiled rude businessperson yelling and pressing forward, a baby crying and screaming, or someone obnoxiously eating stinky, messy food are all norms of travel that I have no control over.

I’ve learned to laugh and enjoy the small things, and to create my own travel routines of joy. On almost every trip, I make sure I listen to my favorite downloaded Spotify playlist, enjoy my favorite cocktail at the same airport restaurants I love, wear a scarf scented with lavendar oil and cozy up with it on the plane, and offer grace (mentally and in action, if there’s an opportunity) to a parent who simply is trying to get where she needs to go in peace.

Just reminding myself that traveling is a luxury and that I’m blessed to be able to get to where I need to go safely is super-helpful in taking the anxiety out of it all. Once I’ve arrived, I can take a deep breath, accept (or enjoy) the journey, give thanks, and release.

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By: Janell Hazelwood, MAOL

Janell Hazelwood, MAOL, is an award-winning journalist, speaker, editor, and strategist who has worked for companies including The New York Times, Black Enterprise, and Conde Nast. She's also a proud HBCU journalism graduate who enjoys serving global audiences of women professionals and entrepreneurs. She holds a master's degree in organizational leadership (MAOL) with a concentration in coaching, allowing her to pursue her ultimate goal as a lifelong servant leader to women professionals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit founders.

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