How to Be Less Stressed When Traveling, According to an Expert Jetsetter

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The whole point of a vacation is to get away from the anxiety and to-do lists of daily life. But what happens when the thing that’s supposed to bring about ease starts causing stress? It’s actually quite a common phenomenon—and one that I'm intimately familiar with. But the pressure of planning a perfect vacation, and the little or big curveballs that happen once you’ve embarked, don’t have to change the course of your trip. Take it from me as someone who has put together hundreds of itineraries, logged thousands of land, sea and air miles (including this epic rail journey from Oslo to Bergen), traveled the world for a year, had my luggage lost on multiple occasions and wrote about basically all of it, there are some smart and savvy ways to limit stress when traveling so you can enjoy every second of the journey. 

1. Put Together a Budget

OK, so finances aren’t really a fun topic to kick things off. With that said, if you don’t have a budget—and a game plan of how to stick to it—travel costs have a way of creeping up. Luckily, there are also some pretty clever and easy ways to save money on travel, from setting up price alerts to flying into secondary airports

2. Do Some Research

I understand that not everyone derives the pleasure I do from meticulously researching and planning a trip, but it’s super helpful to come into a vacation with a baseline knowledge of the place you’re going. If for no other reason than to have a sense of places to eat, play and stay in your destination—and, equally important, get clued in about cultural customs and social taboos. Because you definitely want to avoid being *that* tourist

3. Use Google Maps

This goes back to the planning process, but I’m personally obsessed with Google Maps. I curate maps of past and future travel destinations and bookmark literally everything—great hotels, restaurants, sights, shops, bars, etc. That way when I’m wandering around and have a hankering for food/drinks/museums/shopping, it’s all mapped out for easy access on my phone or computer. 

4. Tap the Hotel Concierge

The concierge at a hotel is one of your greatest resources. People don’t realize that it’s not necessary to wait until you’re on-site to take advantage. I frequently send the concierge an email ahead of my stay and get the ball rolling on things so that when I show up, I can fully enjoy my vacation.  Depending on the destination, said. email might read: "Hi, I'll be staying at X hotel over X dates and am interested in securing dinner reservations at X, Y, Z restaurants. Can you assist in securing those?" Or if it's a place I'm less familiar with, I might ask for restaurant recommendations and then look at this and respond back which ones I'd like booked. I recently asked the concierge at a hotel we'll be visiting in Comporta in June to provide some recos for dolphin watching excursions and then booked the less expensive of the two options they provided because it seemed great and more wallet-friendly.

5. Splurge on a Luxury Tour Operator

The hotel concierge is great for arranging excursions, buying museum tickets, and making dinner reservations, however, if you need (or simply want) someone to take the guesswork out of planning every last detail—from flights and ground transportation to hotels and activities based on your interests—I highly recommend splurging on a luxury tour operator that specializes in creating tailor-made trips such as Scott Dunn or Black Tomato. It’s pricier than doing everything yourself for sure, but what you’re paying for—and getting—is completely full-service. That means a bespoke itinerary and support if anything comes up while traveling.  

6. Alert Your Bank Before Leaving

There’s nothing worse than trying to pay for something and your card being declined. It’s made worse if you’re in another country and have to navigate calling your bank from a far-flung destination in a different time zone. Just save yourself the hassle and get ahead of the situation. 

7. Invest in a Great Carry-On

Obviously, sometimes a trip calls for a larger suitcase, but whenever possible, I much prefer to just bring a carry-on. Obviously, not checking a bag extinguishes the risk of the airlines losing it in the process (talk about a stressful situation!). I also find that having fewer outfit options cuts down on getting ready time and also makes me more mobile. 

8. Buy a Suitcase in a Color Other Than Black

When there are dozens of black bags coming out of the baggage claim, it heightens the chances someone is going to grab your luggage by mistake. I once chased down a guy who unwittingly pull from a suitcase from a carousel—because, no, ribbons or some cute tag aren’t really great distinguishers if someone is in a rush or not paying attention. I highly recommend buying something in a bold color. Antler and Away win points for the prettiest hues, ranging from ocean-y blue to blush.

9. Pick Up Some Packing Cubes 

Packing cubes don’t just take the stress out of packing, but also traveling. For example, I always stick a cube with a change of clothes and essentials in my carry-on during trips when I’m checking a bag in the event that my luggage goes missing. As the trip unfolds, you can repack stuff so all the dirty laundry goes together, which makes the notoriously bummer-inducing unpacking process far more manageable, too. 

10. Download WhatsApp

Even if you have a great international service plan (looking at you Google Fi and T-Mobile), there will be times when WhatsApp is just more convenient when traveling abroad. Given its widespread popularity outside of the U.S., I’ve used WhatsApp to message rental hosts, concierges, tour operators, babysitters and restaurants. Download it and save yourself the trouble of calling and texting.

I Road-Tested Royce & Rocket's New Carry-On Suitcase with Shelves—and It's an Organizational Game-Changer

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Lindsay Cohn is a travel writer and serial trip planner who has visited 46 countries across six continents (and counting). When not globetrotting, she’s most likely either doing...