Tackling the Holidays: Tips to Avoid Travel Stress and More

By MR. FRANK WILCOX, Staff Writer

Almost everyone who travels this holiday season may encounter at least some travel stress. With the celebrations can come bigger crowds, tight schedules, and high expectations. Navigating all that can be challenging, so here are some tips on coping so you have a happier 2019 holiday season.

According to a Self magazine survey of mental health doctors from last year’s holiday season, many strategies are available to mitigate holiday travel stress. Converting them into what works for you could lead to a jollier holiday.

Write down the situations that you think you might encounter during travel that will cause you stress.

A bit of preparation can go a long way in helping prevent stress, and seeing your thoughts on paper might reveal some avenues of relief for the weary traveler.

“This is called expressive writing,” said Jason S. Moser, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. “That effectively can ‘offload’ those thoughts and feelings on paper, make them more concrete, and facilitate rethinking and problem solving.”

Identifying exactly what your specific concerns are regarding upcoming travel can help you brainstorm solutions to them—or at least help turn them into best-case scenarios. Worried about traveling with a cranky companion to the airport? Write down those stumbling blocks to a happy holiday now and come up with ways to deal with them well before they happen.

Do some stress release beforehand.

Whatever your preferred method of stress relief—be it working out, having a cup of tea, meditating, talking to a friend or counselor, or even just reading a book—make time to do it before you travel. You may not have as much (or any) time for this part of your personal routine during holiday travel, so take advantage of the opportunity while you can. The reduced stress you experience will hopefully carry over well into your trip.

Leave plenty of time to pack.

Sometimes, planning time to pack is not as much a problem as remembering what to pack. If there are some items that you absolutely cannot leave home without, consider making a list and posting it somewhere you can see it well ahead of time. Look at it when you pass by, and you may gradually memorize it. You could even pack those must-have items early so that all you will have to do when it is time to travel is pack the rest and go.

Travel at off-peak times if you can.

Sitting behind a long line of vehicles stuck at a standstill on the highway is no way to kick off a fun holiday. Leave early—maybe even earlier than you think you should—to get rolling before everyone else hits the road. Nothing can kill your holiday buzz like being stuck in a long holiday line, be it plane, train, or automobile. Beat the stress by beating the crowds. Consider seeing if you can go on vacation a day or two earlier than the expected holiday rush or work remotely from your destination if you can and avoid holiday traffic altogether.

Give your passengers a prep-and-pep talk before the big journey.

Just like the pilot of an airplane, if you’re the driver, you want the people riding with you to know what is OK and what is not. Lay down some ground rules, like no backseat driving or only one pit stop every two hours. Make sure they’re prepared for the ride with distractions such as videos or games, have all the snack food they need, and have packed the necessities. Do one final check that you have the essentials with you (including passengers—no need to repeat “Home Alone”) before you roll out.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Even the best-laid plans can go awry once they are in motion. Prepare to hit traffic in one form or another, and be prepared to be patient.

The National Safety Council recommends a few other holiday safety measures:

  • Decorate safely. Each holiday season, emergency rooms see thousands of injuries from decorating. Make sure you keep dangerous poisonous plants away from small children and pets. If you are putting up a live tree, keep it properly watered and away from heat sources. Do not put breakable ornaments on the bottom branches, where children or pets can get them. Turn your tree lights off when you are not in the room.
  • Take special care with fire sources. Candles and fireplaces offer special challenges to staying safe. Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace, and use a fire screen. Make sure you get your chimney cleaned once a year. Keep candles away from flammable material and extinguish them when you are not in the room.
  • Beware of food poisoning. Food poisoning can really play havoc with a holiday. Make sure you wash your hands frequently. Keep raw meat away from fresh produce. Use a food thermometer for proper cooking and make sure not to cross-contaminate food. Put leftovers back in the fridge within two hours. Properly refrigerated foods will keep for three to four days as leftovers.
  • Give safely. Buy only age-appropriate toys for children. Do not buy toys with small parts for young children. Avoid giving young children gifts that have magnets or button batteries, which can be harmful or fatal if swallowed.

With these tips, you will be on your way to having a merry holiday. Keeping safe and avoiding travel stress can go a long way to giving you more quality time with loved ones this season. You can appreciate those special moments more and wassail well into the new year!