6 causes of holiday stress – and their solutions

Dream It. Do It. Love It: View from the planeI’ve written before about how retreats – complete with breaks from the internet – can be much better for relaxation than a typical holiday. But sometimes it’s fun, sight-seeing, relaxing with friends and family, great weather, exotic food and drink we want! We’ve just got back from a city break in Copenhagen and are about to start planning a holiday to Spain in September, to suss it out as a future home. So today I’m going to focus on holiday stressors, and how to beat them.

1. Upset plans

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us” – John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley.

The first thing to remember is to focus on what’s within your control. That includes packing cleverly, sorting insurance, doing your research, planning ahead – whilst accepting that plans don’t always stick, being smart about safety, etc. When things outside of your control cause problems – delays, accidents, injuries, other people’s actions – remind yourself that the only thing you can control is your reaction. Don’t waste precious time or energy staying angry or worrying about what you can’t change. Ask yourself ‘what can I do about it?’ Fix it, make a complaint, or let it go – then commit to your choice! Don’t say you’ll let it go, but then keep complaining about it, or keep worrying that you should have done something. If you do make a complaint, it’s usually better to do that as soon as possible – take detailed notes, and seek advice. Once you’ve taken action, let it go until it needs to be followed up on, and get back to enjoying everything else.

2. Transit issues

Missed flights, long waits or queues, road traffic, lost tickets… these probably top the list of many people’s top causes of holiday stress. Minimise the risk of travel problems by doing your research ahead of time. Some people like unplanned adventure, but if that’s not you, research your route and take a note of alternatives in case of problems. Ask people who’ve been before for tips – friends and family, or people on online forums. If you’re driving/cycling, get your car or bike checked out before you go; make sure you’ve got a spare tyre/maintenance equipment, first aid kit, maps etc. If you’re going to rely mainly on satnav, make sure you’ve got the most up-to-date info on your device; if it’s new, spend time getting familiar with it long before you go; and consider a paper back-up.

3. Forgetting essentials

Whether it’s a pen-and-paper job, or a digital list (try apps like Evernote, Remember The Milk, Wunderlist), take 20 minutes to create a holiday checklist. Use categories like clothing, including footwear, outerwear, swim-/sportswear; gadgets (and chargers/cables/batteries); health/beauty products (first aid kit, prescription medicines – pack those in hand luggage with prescription copies); entertainment – books, podcasts, DVDs for the kids; and any other category you need to consider. Go through them again, and decide what you really want to take and what you’d be better picking up at your destination. A bit of research can help you reduce luggage weight or avoid being without/overpaying for something you need.

List documents you need to bring – passport, insurance documents, driver’s license, prescriptions, etc – and make digital backups of them in case of loss or theft. You can scan boarding passes using your phone these days, but bring printed versions in your hand luggage too. My phone version wouldn’t scan yesterday, but I’d shared it with Conor (I’ve created a ‘family’ Dropbox folder for things like this) so we had copies on both phones, and we’d printed paper versions just in case. Keep phone numbers of your bank and other important contacts handy, and contact your bank ahead of your trip to let them know roughly where you’ll be and when, so that they don’t shut down your card when you use it abroad, thinking it’s fraud.

List things you need to do before going (charge batteries, arrange pet-sitter, give plants to neighbour, set up email autoresponders, etc.), and perhaps places/activities you really don’t want to miss on your trip – although you might prefer to leave the whole thing to serendipitous adventure. Do what works for you and keep tweaking your lists.

4. Overspending

Set a budget! A firm one, plus a buffer for if some brilliant opportunity comes up. You could also ask your bank to temporarily lower your spending limit, so that if your card is stolen, the thief can’t do so much damage. Shop around for best deals, and consider sites like airbnb.com for great-value stays in other people’s properties. If you want to cut out accommodation costs altogether, consider working holidays (see workaway.info) or house-sitting opportunities (nomador.com and mindmyhouse.com).

5. Clashing needs

If you’re travelling with other people, have a good talk about what each of you wants to get out of this holiday before booking anything. If one of you wants relaxation and the other wants high energy sightseeing or partying, you could be in trouble. Be honest about what you want, decide if you can compromise or separate to do your own thing at times, or if you’d just be happier not travelling together. Better to travel with someone else, or alone, than to go and spend a week arguing with someone or feeling resentful. Set expectations with people back home too – colleagues, clients, family members – decide how available for contact you want to be. Be upfront, be clear, and make peace with your choice – don’t ruin it with guilt!
Dream It. Do It. Love It: Beach

6. Health issues

Dehydration is a common, major problem on holiday – watch your fluid intake, and alternate alcoholic or caffeinated drinks with water. Take ear plugs and an eye mask for better-quality sleep. Note the brand names and active ingredients of any medication you commonly use, and search online for equivalents at your destination in case you lose yours. For stress relief, studies have found that smelling lemon is a mood booster, enhancing release of the hormone norepinephrine, which helps us cope with stress. Put a few drops of lemon essential oil in water in a small spray bottle and spritz yourself happier.

And finally, practice your mindfulness techniques! A few moments of paying attention to your breathing can help you stay relaxed through bumpy landings, long queues and the rest – and being fully mindful of the tastes, sights, sounds and smells of your holiday will make the memories stronger.

Be well, and happy travels!

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