There are tons of articles about how to reduce stress when traveling. They speak about how to handle new places and give advice on how to navigate through an airport or how to pack more efficiently. These are great tips, but before you actually begin your traveling, you have to plan it—and that can often be the most stressful thing of the whole experience.
My wife and I started our own travel business because we are a rare breed. We LOVE planning travel. We have our stress triggers like everyone else, but travel is never one of them. Since we became travel agents, one thing we have noticed is that most people genuinely want to travel, but the overwhelming process of planning a trip deters many from taking that leap.
So here are 5 simple ways you can reduce stress when PLANNING a vacation.
- Get a travel agent. Now, of course I’ll be labeled bias, but seriously… get a travel agent. Yes, they are still around, and they are still very much helpful. You will not regret having a good travel agent on your side when planning a vacation. Mary Clegg, vice president of the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA), said, “A travel agent’s job is to help you plan the perfect trip. They know how to fulfill your vision because they’ve been in your shoes. Travel agents are some of the most traveled individuals around and can make recommendations based on firsthand experience in many cases… [travel agents] are still widely available to alleviate the stress of your vacation planning.” (More info on my travel agency). The travel supplier industry is deep and wide. There are thousands of different ways you can travel to any given place–between the never ending hotel selection to the vast amount of tour operators. A travel agent will ensure that every dollar you spent so long saving up for this trip is put to good use. He or she will make sure that you aren’t paying too much for transportation, or that the hotel room that is advertised online is actually the one you are getting. And many companies, including First Hand Travel, are a no-fee travel agency. This means that we do not tack on extra fees for booking your trip so really there is no downside! I have another quick article just on this here: Should you still use a travel agent?
- Be realistic. There are thousands of fun things to do and see in any given place. I will just go ahead and tell you: you can’t do all of them, at least not in your typical 5-10 day trip. Amelia and I went to Japan for two weeks and traveled around the southern part of the California-sized country. We barely scratched the surface, and we knew that going into it. We picked and planned out the things we for sure wanted to do and even then we didn’t get to all of them. For example, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is a highlight for any first-timers in Japan. In our 14 days we actually only spent one day exploring the city of Tokyo (we stayed in the capital a total of 4 days but one day was a rest day and the other two were day trips to Kamakura and Mt Fuji respectively). Anyway, we had placed the Imperial Place visit at the end of our route for the day. When we got to the palace in the evening, it had already closed. We just didn’t make it in time. I was bummed for about 5 minutes but we just re-routed to a nearby café, got some coffee and I was happy.
Trying to do every fun thing you come across when you spent all that time researching things to do can turn even the best trips to complete misery. Be realistic about the length of your trip, your budget, and your capabilities.
- Don’t spend too much time and energy on plane tickets. The airline market is what it is. There are people and programs that attempt to predict when prices for certain tickets will go up or down, the best time to buy tickets, and so on. These are great tools you can use to get a general idea of the system—but don’t be fooled, no one can truly predict the prices of airline tickets. If you are planning your trip far enough in advance (6-8 months+) you have a little wiggle room to be patient and wait to see if flight prices or travel times will change in your favor. Sometimes, though, it gets to the point where you need to just buy. And (this is critical) once you buy, stop looking at tickets. If they drop the day after you buy, don’t beat yourself up about it. There is nothing you can do now but continue planning your trip. You will never regret buying a plane ticket too early, even if the price drops after you buy it. Your memories will only consist of how awesome your trip was!
Again, with our trip to Japan, we had checked maybe 3 months before our date of departure for flights and the prices were incredible—$1600 per person! From Charlotte, NC to Japan! And the flight time was pretty good too. We were stunned. But for some reason we didn’t buy, we wanted to wait to make sure the dates we picked out worked for us. The next week we checked again and the cheapest we found was about $2300 per person. We ended up buying the tickets for $2500 pp for a better flight, and we didn’t look back. When I think about our trip to Japan I don’t think about how we missed a great opportunity on ticket prices. This leads to my next tip, and this one is for free: Spend more for a better flight. Don’t drive 4 hours away to another airport to save $100. If you can save $400 a person, then maybe look into it. Generally, though, spend that extra $70-120 to cut that layover down by 10 hours, or to get the closer airport. You wont regret it.
- Create a budget. A simple budget. When I create budgets for trips, I set a goal (not including plane tickets) of what I want to keep costs under. Then, within that budget, I decide how much I want to spend on hotels, food, activities, and petty cash. I know this seems to be common sense and how many people probably do it, but many don’t. The biggest way this has helped me is with booking hotels. If, for example, you can map out how much you’ll need for food, activities, and petty cash, you can get a number for how much you have left for accommodations. You can see how much room you have to splurge on a nicer hotel and you will be less stressed on spending an extra $30 a night on that nicer hotel because you can plainly see that it still fits in your accommodation budget.
- Don’t let the unknown scare you. People spend their entire lives going to the same beach 4 hours away from their home as their vacation for the year. Then they retire and move to that same beach to live out the rest of their days. Hey, to each his own. But that’s not me. And I recommend something different. You don’t have to go to Asia or Africa. There are countless gems to be found in your own country. How does this help reduce stress when planning travel? When you inevitably begin the process of planning your travels, even when you are working with a travel agent, you will be making choices and decisions that involve future-you going to unknown places. You can find information, pictures, and reviews on the internet for just about anywhere nowadays, but anyone who has traveled will tell you that the only way of truly knowing what you are getting yourself into is once you’re out of it. This can be exciting or stressful, depending on how you approach it. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Don’t let not knowing how the transportation works at a new place deter you from going there. Don’t be afraid to book that day trip to explore nearby caves. Stay at that funky, local resort you found online instead of the Marriott. We are in the age of transportation! You can be just about anywhere in the world in less than a day. If you can accept and come to terms with the fact that traveling to new places will at times present bumps in the road then, instead of being stressed about it, you will learn to see the joys and memories that it can potentially produce.