Do you love to travel? I do – but not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Traveling can be so much fun, and such a great way to teach our kids things they can never learn in school. But let’s face it, traveling can also be extremely stressful. Personally, I’d rather NOT have a ton of excess stress while I’m vacationing (or even when I’m traveling to see family, or for work). That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time and energy figuring out ways to reduce stress while traveling.
To be fair, I owe a huge debt to the great example my parents set for me and my brother. They also valued family travel (even though they certainly didn’t have tons of extra cash lying around to make this possible!). Because they made this a priority whenever possible as I was growing up, I’ve shared this love with my husband as well as our daughters.
So if you wish you could travel more, but dread the stressors that inevitably go along with traveling, see if any of these tips can lighten the stress load on your next family trip!
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
How To Reduce Stress While Traveling:
1. Know your priorities
It’s been my experience in life that nothing truly worthwhile comes without some sacrifice. So let’s suppose you want to travel – or travel more – but think you can’t afford it.
What are you willing to sacrifice in order to make this happen for you and your family?
Is travel as important as
- your daily latte?
- your weekly takeout?
- your monthly date nights out with your spouse – even if that’s something as modest as dinner, a movie, and a sitter for the kids?
- your cable or dish subscription?
- your kids’ destination birthday parties?
- your unlimited data plan on your phones (not to mention your kids’ phones)?
I raise these examples not to tell you how to live your life, but rather to tell you how we live ours. These are common expenses that we have consciously eliminated in our lives, in part so we can focus our finances on more travel.
Occasionally our girls ask why they don’t have elaborate destination birthday parties like some of their friends. We offer to take the money toward their next plane ticket, and put it toward a birthday party instead – but skip the vacation. They always choose the vacation.
2. Think long and hard about the company
Once you’ve made the commitment to make travel happen, think long and hard about the company you choose. I am blessed with kind and loving in-laws who adore me as much as they do the girls. But if you can’t stand your in-laws, do you really want to embark on a three-generation cruise with them, just to say you went on a cruise? (Even if they’re offering to pay for it?)
This goes both ways, though. IF you have close friends or family in far-flung places, perhaps you can use a visit to them as an opportunity to travel for less?
My dear husband and I were able to afford to honeymoon in the U.K. in part because my dear friend Raiah was living in London at the time, and she and her husband graciously hosted us for a week. (We all had a blast!)
To be clear, I’m not talking about imposing on someone who’s not up to hosting, or not so keen to see you. But even if you’re using a relative as an excuse to take your family to a new place, perhaps that relative can help you find reasonably-priced accommodations near where they live, that you wouldn’t have been able to access on your own.
This is how my younger brother Evan and I got to visit Canada and the United Kingdom for the first time, as well as many places within the U.S. One of our older half-brothers was in the Navy; every time he got transferred to a new post, my dad started planning a family trip to visit him. Sure, we stayed in a lot of not-so-glamorous lodgings on U.S. military bases; but those bases were far from home, in places we never would have seen otherwise.
3. Plan for success
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: plan, plan, plan.
Plan as much of your trip ahead of time as is feasible. You don’t want to invest in things that aren’t a sure bet. But researching options for, say, discounted weekly transit passes before you even leave home is so much easier than doing it on the fly. And if you know how to take the local metro from the airport to the hotel, you’ll be in a better position to do this (assuming it’s cost-effective) than if you have to rent a costly taxi on arrival, just because you don’t know any better.
And many places have discounts that are only available online, or if you order in advance. Even if you make a spur-of-the-moment decision to add an attraction into your trip, do your homework online. The last time we visited Mexico, I spent all of 5 minutes on my phone, researching a nature preserve I thought the girls would enjoy. That 5 minutes of research, plus another minute printing out a coupon in the hotel’s business center, saved us 20% on our admission fees.
And don’t forget to plan carefully for what happens both before and after your vacation. One of the surest ways to add extra stress to your plate is trying to leave straight from work, and jump right back into life as soon as you get home. (Been there, done that, learned my lesson.)
4. Avoid being penny-wise but pound-foolish
This goes along with careful planning:
- Do you really want to take 4-6 people out to breakfast every morning you’re away? Or will the hotel that costs $5-$10 more per day be a better bargain in the long run, because it includes a full breakfast?
- Does your unit come with a kitchenette, or at least a microwave and refrigerator? Will you be better off planning to have one nice meal out every evening, but taking the leftovers back to your unit and munching on them on the beach the next day at lunchtime? Eating at a quality restaurant each night may seem pricey, versus inexpensive options (like fast food) at each meal. But if you make that your ONE meal out per day, and “eat in” for breakfast and lunch, you’ll probably spend a lot less in the long run.
- If you consume alcohol, do you have to have one or more drinks out at dinner each night? Or would it be better to grab some local beer/wine/your drink of choice, and enjoy one on your balcony while the sun sets before heading off to dinner?
- Which gear MUST you bring from home? Would it be better to bring every last thing you need (but incur extra luggage charges), or perhaps to rent some items at your destination?
- If you’re going to be out all day anyway, can you skip the luxury hotel in favor of more modest accommodations?
- Even if your local public transit at home is sketchy, can you get over that long enough to research the local bus/subway/train system at your destination? (In my experience, pretty much everywhere else in the world has better public transit systems than we do in the U.S., and they’re by far the more cost-effective and reliable way to get around.)
5. Make the right choices for your family
As you’re considering what kind of vacation you want to have, think long and hard about what will work best for your family, at their current ages and stages.
- Now that the girls are older and out of diapers, I travel a lot lighter than we used to. I’ve gotten sick of lugging excess luggage. And now that I know they’re not going to go through 10 outfits a day, as babies can do, I’m OK with packing each of us just a few changes of clothing, and doing a little hand-laundry in the sink each night. (Again, this may not be your choice – and that’s fine! – the point is to think through your choices.)
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- If you’re traveling somewhere where you don’t speak the language, and/or you have concerns about safely eating the food you get from local restaurants, perhaps an all-inclusive resort stay is right for you. We used to LOVE doing this, when the girls were young enough that they didn’t have to pay the all-inclusive fee. With them eating for free, we saved a ton over eating out.
- If you want to see lots of places but aren’t so keen on the advance planning needed to do that, consider whether a cruise or group tour/package vacation is right for your family. You’ll have to find one that’s kid-friendly, of course, if your kids are coming too. But while these options generally cost a lot more upfront, they’re often a huge savings over trying to pay for the same packages on your own, stop by stop.
- If you truly want a VIP experience and plan to vacation yearly, consider whether investing in a timeshare, resort experience, or vacation club is a worthwhile option for your family. Having members-only access to a network like the the Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club is a great way to travel with built-in concierge privileges. With a membership like this, you’ll be able to get tons of insider local advice, special discounts, and other opportunities that even the regular guests at the same resorts can’t access. This can require a chunk of change upfront, but it’s a worthwhile investment if your family can swing it.
6. Remember that you’re only human
Are you and your family a bunch of night owls by nature? Then what on earth makes you think a 5am flight, with two 45-minute layovers (= no time to buy food), is a good idea? Let alone leaving home at 2am just so you can get to the airport on time?
Seriously! Think about it! Most of the travel stress I’ve felt (and seen) over time has come from trying to pretend that these basic laws of human nature don’t exist!
Kids, especially, get hungry and tired and cranky. Telling them to suck it up and deal while they’re away from home is a recipe for disaster. And your excitement about that once-in-a-lifetime vacation will quickly wear off if you, say, decide you’re all going to walk 5 miles uphill to the hotel – when you haven’t walked more than a mile (on flat terrain!) since you were half your current age and/or weight.
There’s only so much you can do to fight the laws of (your own human) nature, even on the trip of a lifetime. If your husband can’t function in the morning before that first cup of coffee (raises hand), then for goodness’ sake, make sure you’ve got time and space so the poor man can get his coffee! If you’ve got five kids under the age of 5, then no, they WON’T be able to help you schlep luggage (or keep track of their own stuff).
And if one of your littles is prone to motion sickness, you will either remember to pack the Sea-Bands and Children’s Dramamine, or you will suffer the consequences. As will everyone else in your rental car, and/or the poor people sitting in nearby rows on the airplane. (Alas, I speak from experience on both counts.)
7. Check your entitlement
Have you figured out yet that things CAN and WILL go wrong while you’re away from home?
Especially if you’re in another country? And especially if you don’t speak the language of the locals?
Humility will go a long way toward having a more pleasant experience when traveling. With so many things beyond our control, our own attitudes are often one of the few things we can control.
Likewise, sympathy and empathy are much more likely to make you friends than annoyance and entitlement. I’ve seen people rant at the poor airline folks at the rescheduling desks after a delay. Having worked in many customer-service jobs in my life, my heart always goes out to these poor people for the daily verbal abuse they get along these lines. I can’t help but let them know this. And while this isn’t the reason I express my sympathies, it’s amazing how willing they often are to go out of their way to help me because I’m nice to them.
I’ve also been in foreign countries more than once where arrogant Americans blundered around in local establishments, speaking English as loudly and obstinately as they could. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well with the locals. Even taking the time to learn a few words of the local language before you leave home goes a long way.
As proud as I am to be an American, I’m always secretly pleased when people in French-speaking countries (the only other language I can speak well) are surprised to learn this. It’s unfortunate that Americans often have a bad rap globally for their sense of superiority, rudeness, and ability to speak nothing but their own version of English. Every time I can prove otherwise, people are SO willing to shower kindness, friendliness, and hospitality on us in return.
8. Learn as much as you can about local life
Ability to speak the local language – or at least a willingness to reach outside your comfort zone – will also go a long way toward giving you insights into local life that you could never gain otherwise. I’ve made friends in other countries because of this, and I’ve also learned far more about what life is like in the places I visit because of this.
Depending on your family’s size and ages, as well as your destination and abilities, there are several ways you can do this. You can read the newspapers the locals read, and/or watch the local news (even if it’s not in English and your abilities in the local language are limited). Or take morning walks through the neighborhoods where you’re visiting. Or talk to the locals as much as you can – the shopkeepers, the artisans, the tour guides at the sites you visit, etc.
This is important for so many reasons. Not only will it broaden your own knowledge of the world and the people in it, but your children will learn so much more. And I don’t know about you, but at least half the reason I take the girls on trips is so they can learn things they’d never learn at home.
Even just visiting some of the stores the locals frequent (my favorites are supermarkets and the local Costco, if there is one) is such a fun learning experience, from the products available to the people-watching. Visiting public parks and squares, and attending local festivals that overlap with your visit, are also great ways to experience local life in person.
9. Remember the basics
Again, you’re not superhuman. Nor is your spouse. Nor are your kids.
Think you’re all going to function at your best on no sleep? Or (even worse for kids) no food? Think again.
Remember to bring everyone’s meds. Especially, the rescue inhalers, epi-pens, insulin, or whatever other “emergency” stashes you and yours need to function.
Carry plenty of snacks. Pack water bottles for everyone, and use them. Don’t leave your unit without filling and packing them in your bag. (Depending on where you’re going, you might also want to tuck a few plastic bags and a small roll of toilet paper or tissue pack in your purse.)
Likewise, plan for sun, and mosquitoes and ticks, and blisters, and various other boo-boos. Remember to use sunblock and hats, bring comfortable shoes for everyone, and pack band-aids and a few acetaminophen (grown-up strength and children’s chewables) in your daypack, just in case.
10. Savor the moment
Again, it’s all about attitude. Remember that your kiddos are watching your every move, and learning from your example.
Remember that U.K. honeymoon I mentioned earlier? Part of the agenda while there was to hike the tallest peak in the U.K., Scotland’s Ben Nevis. I was game, don’t get me wrong – but this part of the plan was more my husband’s goal than mine.
The day of our hike, we left our B&B in a steady rain. By the time we’d walked the mile to the base of the mountain, I was already starting to feel the rain soaking through my layers to my skin.
The temptation to be miserable and grouchy was strong.
But then I looked over at my new husband, the rain dripping off his hat brim onto his glasses, and saw his huge smile. And realized he was in his element, and couldn’t be happier. And I made a conscious decision:
- I could be grouchy and cross all day. Not the best example to set on our honeymoon.
- Or I could suck it up, keep my reservations about our sanity to myself, and power myself through the day with the thought of what a story we’d have to tell our kids someday – once we’d made it to the top and back down.
I chose the latter route. I will never forget that hike – or many other things I’ve done in my life that I wasn’t sure how I’d survive at the time. Taking a few minutes to reflect with gratitude on the opportunity, versus being annoyed at the less-than-perfect parts, has often made all the difference.
Do you get stressed away from home? How do you reduce stress while traveling? Let us know in the comments!
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