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I’ve traveled enough to know what not to do when planning a trip, and rushing around at the last minute is one of them.
Vacations are supposed to relieve stress, not create it. Done well, planning ahead for travel can be a form of self-care. With a little work up front, you can begin your vacation with a sense of calm, truly enjoying the experience and giving your mind and body a break.
While we can’t control the weather or predict travel delays, we can do our best to prepare for coping with unexpected detours. Sure, even with the best preparation, you’ll probably forget something, but it likely won’t be something really important.
Here are my standard operating procedures when planning for a trip:
Make a list. Unless you’re a frequent flyer and keep a packed bag on the ready at all times, then making a list is crucial. Different trips require different supplies, and it’s important to think through what you’ll be doing while you’re away. As you make your list, pretend you’re already there and consider the following: weather (Will you need an umbrella, rain jacket, sunglasses, or warm coat?); activities (Will you be walking a lot, swimming, snorkeling, or taking pictures?); health (Will you need to update immunizations, bring medications, or a water filter?); amenities (Will your accommodations provide soap, shampoo, and other items?); souvenirs (Are you planning to shop for items that will require extra luggage space?); and food availability (Will you need to bring food or snacks for special dietary needs?).
Get packed. I recommend getting mostly packed 2 to 3 days before you leave. (Yes, you read that correctly–not 2 to 3 minutes before.) I Promise you’ll survive without wearing your favorite clothes for a couple of days. Packing ahead of time not only reduces anxiety, but it also means fewer last-minute loads of laundry. Likewise, prepare a travel kit with toothpaste, creams, makeup, deodorant, and other toiletries so you don’t have to add things to the bag as you’re walking out the door. This may require you to buy some duplicate products, but it’s well worth the time it saves.
Minimize luggage. I have to admit I have a bit of an obsession with luggage. Over the years, my husband has learned to just shake his head in disbelief as I roll in with a new piece, and each time I’m hopeful it will be versatile enough that I’ll never need to buy another one. Needless to say, I’ve donated or consigned many bags that just didn’t work out. In recent years, I’ve simplified a lot. At some point I decided I no longer wanted to experience the anxiety of praying there would be space in the overhead compartment, or waiting (more like hoping) for it to pop down the chute in baggage claim. (An airline once lost my bag on a 30-minute flight.) So, what do you do if you don’t want to check a bag or rely on overhead space? You downsize. I’ve grown to love my Gregory Sage 45 (Amazon Associate Link) backpack, and I’ve used it as my only piece of luggage even on week-long trips. It holds more than you think–if you do it right. I’ve become best friends with Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes (Amazon Associate Link) because they compress clothes nicely, and there’s little wrinkling if you roll garments. The best part is that the backpack fits (barely) under the seat in front of me, so the boarding process is completely painless. Wearing a backpack is also much easier on my back than juggling multiple pieces of luggage. Now, I have two free hands: one for holding a book and one for holding tea.
Get your pets packed. If you’re boarding any animals it can be helpful to get their food, blankets, medications and toys ready and waiting by the door. I can’t begin to tell you what a fiasco it has been when we’ve tried to round up our excited, barking dogs and their supplies just minutes before leaving.
Change your sheets and make your bed. It can be such a relief to return home to clean sheets, especially if your time away includes camping or strenuous activity.
Wash and put away the dishes. Just like clean sheets, returning to a clean kitchen keeps stress levels low. It also makes it easier to cook a quick snack or meal if you’re hungry when you return.
Empty the fridge. If you’ll be gone for a week or more, plan to use perishable food items before you leave so nothing expires while you’re away. In the days preceding your trip, plan your menus accordingly and use up any leftovers to reduce waste. We often have “breakfast for dinner” on the nights before trips. It’s fast, easy to clean up, and usually takes care of the perishables.
Make a grocery list. As crazy as it sounds, preparing a menu and shopping list for the week you return is really helpful. It’s probably unlikely that you’ll remember what you’re running low on after spending a few days away, and it makes grocery shopping so much easier.
Take out the trash. There is nothing worse than returning home to a mysterious odor. Doing a quick trash round-up before you walk out the door is just smart.
Drink a lot of water. The day before a trip, I start drinking more water than I usually would. Being on a plane for several hours can be dehydrating, so it’s important to start off with a full tank.
Now imagine returning home to find it clean, organized and ready for your normal routines to resume. Plus, with the exception of laundry, there won’t be many chores to do so you can enjoy your vacation up until the very end.
Stage your bags. Park your bags near the laundry room. Even if you’re not quite ready to do laundry yet, it will be nearby when you are. This is especially helpful if you return home late at night and the only thing on your mind is a shower and a pillow. You may need to retrieve a few items from your bag, like shoes and cosmetics, but you’ll have the laundry pile ready to go when you wake up in the morning.
Get groceries. Remember that list you made before you left? Yep, just run to the store and pick up a few things, and you can be back in an hour relaxing again.
Express gratitude. Reflect on the positive things you experienced on the trip (or even some of the unexpected snafus that were equally entertaining in hindsight). Sometimes we spend so much energy dreading the return to normal, that we forget to celebrate the joys of the present
Traveling can be an act of self-care, but it’s up to us to make it that way.