February 18, 2010

Tips for Stress-Free Travel

Picture 2

Greetings from an edgy and interesting Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve set up camp in the Silom area and have been having fun working, writing, wandering, and talking with people.

Last week I took my inaugural journey on Air Niugini Airways, flying on the Manila-Port Moresby night flight, and then later over to Singapore on my circle of the region. I don’t think they’ll be joining the OneWorld alliance anytime soon, but it wasn’t that bad either.

***

The title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer: I almost never experience travel that is truly stress-free. For starters, not all travel can or should be predictable. Sometimes the unexpected is better than the planned.

Secondly, not all stress is bad, because some of the most challenging times in our lives are the most stressful. No risk, no glory—that kind of thing.

Yet, when heading out into the world, it helps to control as many variables as you can. I’d rather experience travel stress related to something fun than something preventable that was my own fault. With that in mind, here’s a primer on low-stress travel—and your contributions are welcome too.

Pack everything in the same place every time. On most trips I take the same clothes and the same gear. I also try to put them in the same part of the bags every time. If necessary, I can now pack for a two-week trip in about 20 minutes. It also helps when packing and unpacking in hotels or guesthouses. I walk in the room and immediately unpack everything I need for the stay. The night before leaving, I repack.

I’ve recently switched bags and have been evaluating a new system. Thus far the verdict is mixed: I’ll probably be better for it in the long-run, but in the short-run I hate the fact that I don’t know where things are. I might even go back to the original, well-worn bags because the system was so ingrained.

Spend more money. I often get stressed out spending small amounts of money. Overall, this isn’t always bad—it’s led to a healthy paranoia about debt and a lifelong adherence to frugality. However, it has its downsides too, in that I can spend hours walking around trying to decide what to eat, or hours trying to figure out the public transit system somewhere instead of just flagging down a taxi.

It only took me about 100 countries—I’m a slow learner—but I finally created a $10 rule for myself that has been rocking my world. The $10 rule is that when I’m traveling, I deliberately avoid worrying about most things that cost $10 or less. As I said, this makes a big difference. I actually eat three meals a day now. If I can’t find free WiFi, I’ll walk into a hotel and pay for the connection. SO MUCH LESS STRESS.

If you get lost, look dumb.If something goes wrong in an unfamiliar setting, stand around for a while and look as lost as you are. Someone may show up to help, especially if you look different from most of the people who live in the country. If you don’t speak the language, most of the time someone will show up to help with that too.

Side note: in my experience, this practice does not work in Russia. In Russia, you’re on your own.

Carry three copies of your passport in different places. I’ve lost two iPods, one Nintendo DS, and countless other things around the world. Thankfully I haven’t lost my prized passport yet, but just in case, I’ve got multiple copies that would make the replacement process easier if it happened. One goes in one bag, the second goes in the other bag, and the third goes in my wallet.

Know that you’ll probably make the flight. The times that you think you’re going to miss the flight but then make it greatly exceed the number of times you actually miss the flight. Most of the time, you’ll probably make it, so don’t kill yourself if you’re running late.

Personally I like hanging out in airports, so I usually pitch up quite early. However, because of transfers, a meeting, or general ineptitude, I’ve also been OMG SO LATE so many times—but in almost every case, the flight was still waiting. And the few times when it wasn’t, well, something else worked out.

Memorize your passport number. This is how you tell an experienced traveler from a beginner: before an international flight lands, everyone is given a landing card to fill out. This card always asks for your passport number. Look around and see who has to pull their passport out of the bag to look it up versus who has it memorized. If you start traveling around the world, you’ll need your passport number for a lot of things, so you might as well memorize it.

Side note: I like to play a fun game where I try to fill out the landing card as quickly as possible. My personal record is nine seconds. It turns into even more fun when the immigration official makes me complete a new one because he can’t read my handwriting—perhaps disqualifying the record.

Get free airline lounge access anyway you can. Most lounges in the U.S. suck, but they’re better than sitting outside. Half of the blog posts I file while traveling are uploaded from various airline lounges. I’ve probably spent a cumulative total of several days inside the Cathay Pacific lounge in Hong Kong.

How you get access varies depending on the situation. I have elite status with all three alliances due to status matching, which helps. You can also wrangle a premium ticket, pay for an annual membership, or find someone willing to let you in as a guest (it doesn’t usually cost them anything). Whatever you have to do, if your goal is reducing stress, and even more so if you’re working on the road, the lounge helps a lot.

Be proactive if something goes wrong. If you have a complaint with an airline or hotel, don’t just tell them what’s wrong—tell them exactly what you want them to do to fix it. Propose an alternative solution, ask if there’s anyone else you can talk to, whatever. Just do something.

Note that standards of customer service vary considerably around the world. In many places, no one will take the initiative to fix something for you unless you are proactive about making it happen. If the situation is important, don’t wait for someone else to correct it; take action yourself.

***

You Want Adventures, Right?

Remember, the goal is low-stress travel, not stress-free travel. At the end of a recent trip I came home to Portland after 20 hours of flying from Asia. It was 11pm by the time the airport train dropped me at the bus stop. As I walked to the stop I could see the bus leaving. I was a mile and a half from home, and the next bus didn’t come for 24 more minutes.

Instead of hanging out, I decided to walk the rest of the way. My feet were sore from wearing the same shoes for weeks and then flying all day… but I’m supposed to be a runner, so what’s 1.5 miles? I had to carry my bags, but that’s why I travel light, yes? It rained a little, but hey, I live in Portland.

The walk home gave me time to reflect back on the trip and consider the various things that had gone right or wrong. All things considered, I love my adventures and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Have anything to add? Feel free to share your advice for others in the comments.

***

P.S. Those of you in Bangkok, you’re invited to join me on Friday night from 7-9pm. RSVP here for details.

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Image: ChrisCB

Comment on this article

78 Responses to “Tips for Stress-Free Travel”

  1. Ha – love the look dumb comment. (And the Russia followup comment too.) For me it’s just about a little bit of serendipity and “being in the moment” – go with the flow. It won’t always go to plan and if you accept that, when you get drawn off course it will not be so jarring.

  2. Good tips! I totally agree with the low stress, not stress free concept. Part of the adventure of travel is the “newness”, living in the “now” and getting out of well worn routines that numb us to the magic all around us.

    On our open ended family world tour, we find slow travel without any time constraints or “have to’s” keeps our stress low. We follow our bliss, so go when it feels right and add extra days (or weeks or months) when that feels right.

    Also following the weather helps. Having ideal weather makes exploring a new place a lot more fun.

  3. I really enjoy your posts. I am not a big world traveler, but travel quite a bit in the US for work, and I appreciate your attitude about “reduced stress” travel. I am often surprised by how upset people get about delays and missed connections, when most of the time you are just talking about a few hours. Many people view the “travel” part of travelling as a huge obstacle to overcome, rather than figuring out how to just enjoy it somehow, or at least make it tollerable. Keep a snack in your bag incase you get hungry, a good book to read, and don’t worry – you will get where you are going some day! And if an $8 margarita will make you feel better then go for it!

  4. great insights from a truly regular traveler!

    while i certainly do not travel the amount or distance you do, i do try to minimize the stress and that awful “i know i forgot something, but i don’t know what it is” feeling right before i board the planet/train/automobile.

    in my case, i use a virtual “Pack everything in the same place every time” concept using a google spreadsheet. i have one file, with different sheets: day trip, overnight, two days, week. i’ve traveled enough to figure out exactly what i need, depending on the number of days of travel. there certainly are differences depending on the type of travel (family, meetings, speaking engagements, etc.) but this reduces the amount of worrying time when planning for the trip.

    and i can’t agree more about your $10 rule – terrific!

  5. Love the theme and content of this article. Great tips.

    Two tips I share in my classes:

    1. confirm, reconfirm, and reconfirm again every aspect of your trip. Many travel problems are avoided by this. It is much easier to correct an airline reservation problem the day before with customer service than at the airport.

    2. change mindset to problems = opportunities. The majority of my travel problems have resulted in positive outcomes. I have received upgrades for rental cars, lodging, flights, and so on, when something went wrong. I have been bumped from flights (voluntarily) several times, resulted in free future travel. When lost, I view that as an chance to explore something new. I have never been mugged, although I have had my rental car towed in Portugal. Funny story. That is what motivational speakers do: turn mishaps into memorable stories.

    Good stuff. Thank you for your insights.

  6. I like the $10 rule. I’ll start incorporating that when we hit the road again this weekend for Uruguay.

    Another couple of pieces of advice with the passport copies. Have a scanned electronic version stored online somewhere or with a loved one at home. That way, if you get everything stolen you can still print out a copy to take to the Embassy as proof.

    Additionally, instead of just carrying copies, create a credit card sized laminated copy of the front page of your passport. It’s much more durable than a photocopy, fits in your wallet and looks a bit more official (e.g., people in Argentina accept it as ID when we use our credit card). If you’re going to be somewhere long-term, put a copy of your residence/work visa on the back.

    I miss Bangkok and Southeast Asia. Safe travels!

  7. Hi Chris,

    Tried to send you an email to RSVP for your Bangkok meet-up tomorrow night. There seems to be a glitch in your e-mail. Can you let me know where the meet-up is. I would love to attend.

    Thanks!

    Nancie

  8. I think the email is working OK, but not to worry — I’ll send you a note to confirm. Looking forward to seeing you!

  9. February 18, 2010

    Mark Dowdell

    Your love for video games amazes me. I’ve been making my way through your articles one by one from the beginning, and I’ve noticed you mention video games quite a bit. I especially loved the reference to the Wii, PS3 and Game Boy for the three presidential candidates. Classic. Here, you mentioned losing a Nintendo DS, which must have been a huge downer.

    It’s reassuring to see that although you have such a vibrant and adventurous lifestyle, you can still sit down and play through a good video game. I think they get a bad wrap these days, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. Keep being who you are, Chris.

    Mark D

  10. February 18, 2010

    Jennifer Blair

    As a business traveler for the last 16 years, I also learned a few tricks. One is to have a wardrobe color scheme where everything matches – like black, gray, white & red. When you pack, make up enough outfits for your stay, and finally, remove one.

    In hotels without restaurants, ask where the closest grocery store is, so when you work late you can still have a meal. Grab a rotisserie chicken and a fresh green veg. You can cook the veg. with the hot water from your room coffee pot. (And if you care strongly about your coffee, bring your own in a zip-lock bag.)

    Bring your own computer, and chat with loved ones online, live, for free and you won’t feel isolated.
    Finally, walk as much as possible. Exercise is your friend, and gives you energy. If you must watch TV, march in place during the commercials.

    And treat yourself to one great meal or evening out per trip. You deserve it.

  11. It’s always a treat to read your blog posts Chris and thanks for these tips. Also thought Audrey’s suggestion re laminating a cc-sized photocopy of the front page of your passport was cool.

    Had to laugh when I read about the game with the landing card, as I do that too. Nine seconds has to be a record!

  12. I love your tips Chris. Personally I dislike long haul travel but you clearly have it finely honed!

    The main thing to pack is a great attitude!
    :-)

  13. I can certainly relate to the “You’ll probably make your flight” comment. I know I’ve stressed over arriving early enough for some time, and it’s just not worth the trouble. If I miss it, I’ll still get where I need to be, just a bit later.

    When you’re relaxed, it can be quite humorous watching others stress out. I know I’ve seen fellow travelers spaz out at the airport. Sure, I was tired and wanted to be home now, instead of a couple hours delayed. But I made it safe and sound, and had no problems.

    Another travel tip, however… you might want to carry earplugs. I know mine have come in handy a time or two.

  14. Great article! I love travelling and slightly “underplan” it to leave room for surprises and ad hoc recommendations from local people you meet during the trip. Booking and confirming flights and hotel rooms beforehand will definitely reduce stress but so does leaving “blank” time in the schedule. Also love walking – best way to see a place for real. One afternoon in Burma I wandered the streets purposelessly. A local teacher who speaks some English walked by and he ended up buying me coffee. We had a nice chat and it was a highlight of the trip!

  15. I’ve found that if you have kids with you, and you don’t seem stressed, they will follow your lead even if you miss a flight, lose something, etc.

    If they are over tired. Forget it:)

  16. Great tips in the post and comments.

    Once, and only once, I didn’t have a change of clothes in my carry on bag. I spent the long flight concerned that someone would spill a drink on me.

    I always have a change of of clothes in my carry on luggage for when the in flight spill may occur. It’s also useful for when your stowed luggage gets lost. At least you can change into fresh clothes whilst your luggage is located.

  17. I totally agree with the ‘spend more money’ comment and think it can be generalized to ‘just make a decision’. Trying to decide where to eat, how to entertain yourself, or where to spend the night can be a time consuming process; especially when traveling with others. The problem is often made worse by wandering around aimlessly and adding more options to choose from.

  18. Most of your tips can be applied to regular life, too, especially the $10 rule, not being afraid to look dumb when lost, keeping everything in the same place, and keeping copies of the most important stuff.

  19. February 18, 2010

    Michael McDonald

    Great advice! I pack for 2-4 week trips with a single roller-board. As the trip progresses, I rotate dirty clothes to the bottom of the bag as I repack. Don’t forget your favorite running shirt that is hanging on the hook on the back of the hotel bathroom door! Doing laundry overseas is a nice diversion to read and destress, plus some intl hotels will give a free allowance of two pieces laundered per day. In addition to memorizing your passport number, be sure to know the expiration date. There is often wi-fi “leakage” outside many airline lounges and hotel lobbies, and Sky Team has been running a special of $25 admittance to the Sky Lounges. Agree you will get zero help at Moscow Sheremyetevo (SVO), but people are more likely to help on the Metro and elsewhere in the city. Helps to know 10 words of Russian, esp “please” and “thanks”.

  20. I’ve found that if you stand politely with a map long enough, someone will come and ask if you want help. I’ve also found writing a fair, reasonable, detailed complaint letter is effective. I’ve gotten 100% refunds on hotel rooms, a handful of $40 travel vouchers, and a $150 voucher from American. I always close asking “What reason can you give me to use your services again?”

  21. February 18, 2010

    ~Christopher~

    Whenever I think you’ve written your best work, you print another, Chris. This is my current favorite.

    My experiences in Russia (U.S.S.R, actually) during visits in 1985 and 1987 were outstanding.

    One memorable experience was meeting a group of young dissidents in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) who faked mental illness to keep out of military service. One shared about his grandfather working and dying in Stalin’s camp. We spent the day together, they invited me to their friends’ high school dance and we drank vodka by the Neva River until 2 a.m.

    I was in Volgograd on the day of my university graduation and met a young woman who gave me a bouquet of lilacs as a graduation gift. The people in Moscow loved to use their English skills and I always received directions from them. The people of Tiblisi and Sochi loved sharing food. People in Kiev were friendly.

    I encourage you to return, Chris. There are new adventures ahead!

    Peace,
    ~Christopher~

  22. Good article and I do similar things myself but the $10 rule is a new one for me and really interesting.

    Another thought on the passport copies, I have a scanned image attached to an email that I sent to myself at my google mail account. That way I retrieve a copy of it from anywhere as long as I can get online.

  23. Having lived in Russia for a while I can back you up to the hilt on this one: Get lost, and you’re on your own.

    Learning the alphabet helps, though – at least in Russia. In Georgia or Thailand, I think you’re out of luck. :D

  24. February 18, 2010

    Don Holkum

    Great post! and great advice about traveling including in replies! Concerning having specific solutions to a problem: our hotel room was not ready and the housekeeper was rude, when we arrived this weekend. I asked for a discount of the management, which was refused at first, but when I threatened to report it to the chain, we got the discount.

  25. Good tips. I especially liked the “not stressing over money” one. How much of that do you think is from age? When I was younger, I used to work hard to save $, even when I had plenty. (I toured across North America as a comedian.) On off nights when I wasn’t camping I’d sleep in my car in a rest area, using an outside pump in the morning to wash my hair, etc. (Brrr, always brutally cold water, man!) As I got older, I didn’t mind spending money for nice hotel rooms on my off nights. I think–for me, any way–a lot of it is simply age.

    I’d add:

    1) Unpack and use drawers in a hotel, even if it’s just one night. Makes you feel rooted.

    2) Sacrifice time if you’re traveling w/children. They’ll want to explore and rushing them makes the trip harder on everyone.

    3) In general, have some flexibility so you can see what the locals recommend that aren’t on the tourist guides–they know the best stuff to see and if you are all planned out, you’ll miss it.

  26. That is SO TRUE about Russia!

    I’m totally with you on just walking when you miss the bus, too. I sometimes get off a stop early, too, just for that extra five minutes (or whatever) of reflection on the day.

  27. Loved this post! I too have a system for traveling which includes unpacking immediately on arriving so that I can feel “at home.”

    Mostly, though, I love your go-with-the-flow attitude and thinking outside the box. My deadline for giving notice at my current, somewhat cushy job is in a week and a half; I’m feeling various degrees of panic and stress as I contemplate striking out on my own.

    Thanks for demonstrating over and over again that it is possible to enjoy life outside the box!

  28. Great synopsis of some good tools to stay less stress while on the road. As my wife and I finish up our 4 1/2 month RTW we’ve learned some things the hard way (which, of course, means they are firmly wedged in our brains) and had some pleasant surprises. But all of it is good. I mean, we’re traveling the world for goodness sake.

    We’ve lost my luggage to Ethiopian Airlines (now 85 days without it), our iPhone to a thief in a Buenos Aires movie theater, and a camera to the Indian Ocean in Lamu, Kenya. But as you say, it’s all part of the adventure and why we do what we do.

    Keep up the good work of helping fellow adventurers find their own inspiration to step out and live more fully.

  29. Chris -

    The spend more rule is brilliant! I can’t count the hours I’ve wasted agonizing over the dumbest decisions – should I really splash out on the curry or stick with the cheaper daal? Time is precious and this helps to make the most of it.

    My top trip for stress free travel is to take a stress free attitude along. Things get lost / stolen, trains get cancelled, museums close when you want to visit, people sometimes hassle you. If you just enjoy the experience and don’t let it get to you, its amazing what sometimes transpires. Some of my best travel days came when Plan A gloriously failed and we ended up somewhere unexpected doing something amazing.

    Thanks for a great post,

    Phil

  30. I agree with Aubrey above. I always scan important documents (passport, visas, immigration stuff, etc.) and e-mail them to myself, so wherever I am in the world (where there’s internet access), I can readily print them, in case I lose the original and/or the photocopy versions. Got this tip from a friend working with Homeland Security.

  31. I love the $10 rule, and laughed out loud at your comment about Russia.

    This is a given, but should be stated: Never check your bags if you can help it. A LOT can fit into a carry-on and you don’t need much more for a 2 month trip than you do for a 4 day trip.

    Also, I’ve found carrying a few empty ziplock bags has come in mighty handy and helped me avoid stress when things break or get sopping wet but must be kept.

    And I completely agree with Amanda’s comment regarding scheduling “blank” time. In general, the less I feel I need to maintain an itinerary, the less stressed I am. The best part of traveling is frequently the unexpected, unplanned moments.

  32. …..that’s why Russia is even more fun!!

    For the recently displaced ex-pat:
    Falling into the ‘look dumb’ category – speak up and let people hear your accent – in cafes, standing in line somewhere. It never ceases to amaze me how much people are compelled to ask “where are you from?” and the little gems that follow out of that – i.e., best masseuse ever, life saving vet, your favorite little restaurant, etc, etc – all the things that make your semi-permanent move ‘low stress’.

  33. First off, I love the $10 rule. You’re so right – not worrying about trivial expenses can save you so much time and frustration.

    In addition to keeping a copy of my passport in my bag, I also keep copies of at least 2 credit cards and my health insurance card. Getting treated at a foreign medical facility can be hell without your health insurance ID info.

    Thanks for the tips, Chris!

  34. I love the $10 rule! Ah, I sense freedom….

  35. Nice post Chris. It’s cool listening to your experiences in Bangkok, Thailand. It was funny when you mentioned look lost, but this won’t work in Russia. Also, I kind of felt embarrassed when you mentioned the part of telling the difference between a experienced and beginner traveler. I’ve traveled to Taiwan many times, but I always have to look at my passport number when filling that form out! Oh well…

  36. you made a great point with the $10.00 rule. there is a difference b/w frugality and just being a dumbass in the name of trying to save a few dollars, or cents.

    i love bangkok–especially the national palace. and the people are so gracious and poised.

    thanks chris!

  37. February 18, 2010

    Zoe Van Story

    I enjoyed this post…Thanks!

  38. Good post and comments. Some really useful tips. A few more from my own experience:

    Accept that things go missing, are lost or forgotten. It’s really rare they can’t be replaced.

    Those few things that can’t easily be replaced by spending a few dollars (prescription drugs, young Janie’s favourite rabbit, glasses) either have a spare or make it a standard procedure to confirm the item is still in your possesion. (a friend uses a collar and leash for their child rabbit).

    Have standard procedures for what you do regularly. Similar to packing things in the same place, do things the same way every time. Eg, when leaving a hotel I pack my bags, lock them, place them on the bed. Then do a final search of the room, checking on and under tables, chairs and bed. Opening the cupboards and anywhere else I might have placed something. I also check the wall plugs (I even usually use only one plug) for powercords. Then again check for passport and wallet.

  39. Thank you for articulately stating the $10.00 rule ~ I tended to avoid paying for the luggage carts until I finally listened to my back saying ‘ enough already ‘.

    and I too have taken to scanning my Passport, emailing it to myself, and keeping on file, beats having extra paper. I also keep wire ties and ziplocs bags stored in an extra compartment in my suitcase.

    Enjoy Bangkok ~ one of my most favorite Asian cities.

  40. This is EXTREMELY helpful! Im planning to travel around Asia mid this year. And the tips you gave are funny-because of all your side stories-and perfect!

  41. Simple tip Chris that may not seem significant if you don’t know already. A change of socks throughout your day helps you to revive when tired. You don’t have to approve of the comment. I just wanted to give the tip if you haven’t been doing this already.

  42. Great tip about memorizing your passport number… That never even occurred to me. I’m going to do that right now!

  43. Always check the weather! I’ll never forget the time I got stranded in Munich because a storm canceled all trains for a day and a half. Realize you can’t control it, and schedule (or re-schedule) your time and traveling accordingly.

    I haven’t figured out the best way to do this, but if you’re using debit/credit cards, make sure your bank knows EXACTLY where you’ll be. When I was living in Denmark, my debit card got canceled twice by my bank’s fraud protection department, even though I had e-mailed and twice told them verbally I’d be out of the US.

    Some people might hate this idea, but I try to pick up some cheesy little trinket from every city/country I visit. Little things like shot glasses, magnets, patches/pins, whatever. It’s fun to collect them, and as long as you keep them small, they won’t take up much space or weight. My friend collects magnets everywhere she goes and her fridge looks SO COOL.

  44. The beautiful thing about traveling so much is that you really do learn not to stress. So many things can go wrong (often times do), but you start to realize that what might seem to be a disaster may just turn out to be the most amazing part of your trip.

    I have experienced many disasters from the serious to the hilarious – road blocks causing multiple day delays, getting all my possessions stolen, getting my suitcase peed on by a mangy dog… Yet each and everyone of those experiences led me to meet the most amazing people.

    Like agreeing to change seats with a passenger so he could sit near his newlywed, not looking to see that I was going to be a human sandwich for the 12 hour flight to bangkok, cursing myself for being too nice, then being pleasantly surprised when they moved one of my neighbors to a roomier seat, and even better I ended up with a very intriguing guy as my new neighbor.

  45. Fabulous post, Chris!

    I do have to say that I think the $10 rule can turn into a nightmare if applied too liberally on a tight budget. I agree completely about not fretting about purchases under $10 (like: do I eat at this place for $8, or keep walking in hopes of finding a deal for $6) – that’s a no-brainer; spend the money to reduce stress.
    But to allow yourself to spend money on things you wouldn’t normally spend money on – as long as it’s in $10 (or less) increments – can lead to some serious budget-breaking.

    And I’m all for copies of passports with backups. You can also get some peace of mind by leaving a “kit” of id copies and pertinent information at home with a trusted somebody who you can call in a pinch to help out.

  46. Spend more money – this to me is the winning suggestion. frankly, i dont see the point of scrimping too much that you end up staying in a place with loose security or eating in restaurants which will make you sick. I don’t mind spending more as long as I’m safe, in a clean hotel and comfortable.

  47. So many of this rings true. In asian countries I especially seem to get help when being dumb and lost. Usually get help before I need to act dumb though, Will remember that advice in Russia though as I am heading there mid this year.

  48. Chris,

    I was going to ask you how you’d spend your time at the airport but you kind a answered in later part of the post…What do you like to do if you don’t have access to the lounge?

    I used to memorize my passport number too, I think it’s a good trick!
    Etsuko

  49. As both a traveler and a former tour guide, I think the best thing you can do is be prepared as possible and then let it go. I’ve seen too many people let their trips be “ruined” because things didn’t go as planned. Well, things hardly ever go as planned! I’ve missed flights, made friends with the wrong people, gotten amoebas, etc. Even if you’re miserable at the time, you’ll end up with a good story. If you spend time mourning the trip you were “supposed” to have, you’ll miss the one you were meant to have.
    I think the best travelers are the ones who do their homework beforehand, remember to pack their sense of humor, and then just relax and let it be.

  50. Never lost your passport your lucky. I lost my in Japan, but at that point I had lost several other possessions so I was more embarrassed than stressed and actually the American Consult was very helpful the hard part was getting the Visa re-instated because no one in the office spoke very good english. Yet it’s a story and the most stressful part was spending $100.00 to get the passport replaced so your lucky you have never lost yours. I think mine is sitting under a seat in a karaoke bar somewhere, or there is a Japanese person using it for something. In which case I don’t want to know, but there were a lot of Kate’s going to get blacklisted by the government jokes going on after that (got to love my friends).

  51. Hey in most cases going through little stress, or killing your own fear, to make something good happen is awesome. Do it for the story!

  52. I have nothing much to contribute to what you’ve written. But I just loved the simple, no-nonsense, “this is it” style you wrote. I’ve followed AONC but never commented. :)

    So I’ll finally do it. I like reading this stuff.

  53. February 19, 2010

    Ceil De Young

    I loved the look dumb hint. Always works for me but I never thought I’d hear a man say that. I’ve had my luggage lost so often that I always carry a change of clothes in my carry on bag. I also have a bag for hygiene and personal items that I never unpack even at home. It’s always road ready.

  54. Definitely enjoy your posts Chris. A few things to add:

    Regarding passports, leave a paper copy with a friend/relative who can fax it to you. I would not scan this and put it online, the security risk to your identity is to great.

    Check CDC/State Dept websites for medical information in non-European countries. Both recommended carrying Cipro (a type of med that neutralizes water borne illness) which came in handy when I fell into a still water lagoon in Bali. Don’t freak out about intl travel, but this tip saved my life.

    Don’t be afraid to explore but ask a local where it’s OK to go and where it isn’t. Life is no different in big cities around the world, no one cares that you are a tourist. Just be smart so you can enjoy your adventure.

    Call your credit card company before you leave the US & specify what countries you will be in and when. I do this on every trip and they note my acct. This way card txs aren’t blocked as the card company trys to figure out if the txs is legit.

  55. I like that walking home idea, Chris! There have definitely been a few times like that for me, granted not after two weeks overseas. Keep living the adventure!

  56. Great tips Chris! One note on the passport copies – I also make sure a trusted friend (usually my brother) has a pdf copy as well. In the event that everything goes wrong, he can always email the pdf to the embassy. Thankfully, it has never come to that, but nice to know I have the last resort!

    Love your ideas on packing. I have my trusty Costco wheelie bag that has served me well for many years now. My rule for packing has been if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go (essentials go in first, everything else is up for grabs). I too have started carrying a couple of different sized ziplock bags after a dryer mishap in Amsterdam left me with a load of wet clothes.

  57. The $10 rule is great. It’s especially relevant when talking about food – people on holiday often forget that it costs money to feed yourself when at home too!

    I used to stress about spending $18 for food in one day while on holiday, before realising it would have cost $10 to feed myself if I’d stayed at home and done nothing. For me it’s only the extra cost (not the total cost) that needs to be considered.

  58. February 20, 2010

    Ceil DeYoung

    I loved the travel tips.

  59. Chris, I want to thank you for keeping us cubicle dwellers sane and hopeful, that the slogging we do, both at work and home will oneday lead us to explore the big exciting wide world.
    Cheers

  60. February 20, 2010

    carolyn madison

    Hi, Chris, thanks so much for all the good ideas, tips, support to live the good life. I put all my numbers in my phone like: Bank #, Passport #, Drivers Lic #, Flight #, Hotel phone #, etc. I also put the confirmation # if it seems important.

    Of course, I never put a password in, in case I lost the phone. It has made my life so much easier, as you say when you have to fill out the sordid forms…

    Again, thanks for all you give to us.

    Carolyn

  61. I enjoyed the article. I generally follow something like the $10 rule, though I never really specified an amount for myself. In Tokyo I paid about $8 to take a taxi to a destination that ended up being only about a block away. I was tired, had an appointment in 10 minutes, and wasn’t sure if I was even walking the right direction. If I’d have known where I was going I wouldn’t have spent the money, but since I didn’t, it was worth it.

  62. Great site Chris. Thanks to all for the tips. The $10 tip is number one. Wasted so much time going through what you described. I think I’ve been coming around to that way of thinking during my last couple of trips. The world didn’t suddenly come to an end when I simply tried the first option. My passport & flight numbers etc are all in a tiny notebook which I carry in my purse. Like the fact that my passport is safely tucked away during the flight. Don’t trust my memory when it comes to filling out forms!

  63. The travel tips are great, Chris.
    I concur with Susan above, standing around with map in hand always produced help in Europe at least. Or approaching college aged kids or much older well dressed gentlemen worked, they nearly always spoke English. The kids especially had a great time with giving directions and we usually ended up teaching each other new words in our respective languages. Great fun!

  64. The most important thing to take on a trip is a money belt which lies flat under your clothes. Passport, plane tickets, large amounts of money should be kept there. Also a list of important document and phone numbers. Wear the moneybelt 24 hours a day…..do not put it in your handbag! Do not carry a wallet…..put the days money in your front pockets. Not only are their pick pockets out there, it is easy to leave wallets and purses somewhere in the stress of traveling to a new place. With a moneybelt….you do not have to think about it…….you always have your important stuff safe with you.

  65. I find that just being out of the US makes traveling less stressful! In other countries you can buy a one way plane ticket, with cash, the day before your flight and not be flagged as a terrorist!

    Going through airport security is also much less stressful in other countries even though they seem just as secure. (In Chengdu China my husband had a lighter and a pocket knife confiscated that made it through US airport security multiple times!) Every time I go through US airport security I basically feel like a criminal and get really nervous for no reason.

  66. Great tips! Although I think if you’re going to try “looking dumb” you need to be careful depending on where you are. There are a lot of places where looking like you don’t know what you’re doing can make you an easy target for robbery and scams. I like the ten dollar rule. I think that it’s so easy to get caught up with getting the best deal that you forget that it’s not really all that much money you’re fussing about.

  67. Good post! I would add: Make a travel list and run through it before you leave. Before I did this, I was always forgetting something. Now my travel list (as a memo on my phone) helps to ensure I don’t forget anything…and don’t have to spend money on stuff once I get to my new location!

    -Erica

  68. I couldn’t agree more with the comment above saying problems = oppurtunities. On my last trip to Brasil I promised myself that I would not stress when any problems occured. And it was amazing, because by not stressing I was able to think clearly and see how to either fix the problem OR how the problem was an oppurtunity. It was fantastic!!!

  69. I always feel a little ‘stressed’ until I have my boarding card in my hand then I am home free and also love kickin about in airports.

    My tip with your passport is to tuck a credit card in it and keep it in a “Velcroed” pocket. This then becomes your ‘escape’ pack, lets face it if some mongrel grabs your bag and gets away, there is not much you can’t do with a credit card and a passport.

    After living in various countries in Africa, I sewed Velcro into all my trousers! Pickpockets HATE it!

    It has saved my stuff many times in crowds, dubious night spots, dancefloors etc. It makes a hand on your bottom on a dance floor a much more pleasant experience!

  70. Ugh! I am so annoyed that I didn’t read your blog last week like I regularly do! – I just missed your talk in NZ by a day and got back to BKK where I recently relocated to – would have been wonderful to meet you and other like minded people in this fantastic city.

    From 5 years traveling around Asia – My other tips would be;

    For women take a couple of nice silk scarves/pashminas – not only can they dress up an out fit when needed but can keep you warm in air conditioned environments and act as a blanket on planes Also they are very handy when your style of dress may be considered immodest by local standards (showing shoulders etc)

    I also find silk scarves very useful when walking around congested areas when the pollution is too much – I wrap them around my mouth and nose.

    The other thing I usually do when traveling is take some of my own muesli and coffee – I find the option of starting the day with some quick no fuss familiar food easier, healthier and less stressful option.

  71. hi chris,

    funny to see you writing about that 10$ rule and how long it took you to establish that :-) it also took me several years to find out how much easier and stress-free travel can get when I don’t turn around every cent all the time.

    cheers from the Tyrol,
    CHris

  72. I love to tyravel but obviously want to avoid as much stress as possible and for me that means planning ahead. While many people like to figure things out on the fly, I like a broad plan in action. This means having a hotel booked when I arrive in a foreign country with a cab waiting at the airport to take me there. It means having a plastic folder with all my paperwork in – maps, passport, tickets etc so I know I can easily access any information I need. I probably won’t actually decide what I’m going to do until I get to the hotel, but knowing I can get there, unpack and unwind makes a huge difference to me. After a long flight, the last thing I want to do is to trawl round a foreign city looking for digs or asking for directions.

  73. It’s interesting that this guide is fairly plane-centric, because my personal #1 for stress-free travel is avoid planes wherever possible. This differs by personality, of course, but it’s worth trying at least once using a slower but less…intense…method of transport and seeing if you like it. I’m far happier taking an 8-hour, slow train ride to Portland than a ’2 hour’ (plus encumbrances) plane flight. You get far more legroom, the scenery’s better, the security and border control are far, far, far less of a hassle (apparently terrorists don’t use trains…) and train stations tend to be far better situated than airports. People on trains are generally a lot more relaxed and pleasant to talk to (due to all of the above) than people on planes. There’s more space for the people with screaming babies to spread out a bit. It all adds up.

    And that’s in North America where the trains are antiquated. I’d never fly _anywhere_ in Europe. Take the train! I’d even prefer a decent coach to a plane, in most cases. I only fly when there really isn’t a practical alternative.

  74. Wonderful tips to get us all right on track on our travels. Of course we all agree about the $10.00 rule. I wanted to remind everyone that they can custom the amount for themselves. For moms they might want to also have an amount that they will just hand their kids when they ask for something (especially teenagers) and not even think about getting the change back! These tips will help our travel refresh us for those days we must spend at home!

  75. There is only one thing better than shopping in Hong Kong, and that’s eating. From small noodle joints to upscale French restaurant, you will locate all sorts of restaurant, eating hall and snack stall on earth in Hong Kong. Here I found small amount of Hong-Kong-styled snacks online (yummiexpress.freetzi.com). This is definitely a good choice before I have $ for another trip.

  76. I’d say that the secret to low-stress travel is being able to accept the inevitable and not worry about it too much.

    For example, about two weeks ago I missed a flight home – for the first time in my life. Sure, it was a bit stressful at first, but then I re-booked it for the next day (for just $75 extra) and spent a fantastic evening and night with someone who may well be the woman of my dreams.

    Apart from major emergencies (losing all your money and belongings, getting arrested etc.), things are almost never as bad as your stressed-out psyche makes them out to be. Just accept what happens and try to arse your way out of it.

    When everything goes perfectly according to plan, there is rarely any room left for adventure – and adventure is what we want when we go on trips.

  77. Pingback: On money and kindness while traveling | emgarv.wordpress.com

  78. Pingback: How to Travel the World Long-Term When You’re Highly Sensitive | A Highly Sensitive Person's Life

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