“Over the meadow and through the woods. To Grandmother’s house we go…” It’s a wonderful, nostalgic song about traveling by sleigh to the grandparents’ house for the holidays. But make no mistake: The song and reality seldom matched. That sleigh ride in midwinter snow was cold! Bitterly cold. The horse could flounder in the drifts. The sleigh could get stuck or slip off the trail. Meanwhile the kids in the back were saying, “Are we there yet?” 

Travel these days should be easier, but it’s often not. The airports and train and bus stations are congested with weary and grouchy travelers. Car travel in snow may be safer on our plowed roads and more comfortable due to heaters, but it can still be hazardous. Drifting snow, ice, and white outs make for white knuckle driving. Accidents and break-downs happen. Kids still whine, “Are we there yet?”

What can you do to make holiday travel less stressful?

First, embrace the process. We can make no end of trouble for ourselves by expecting it to be easy, efficient, and stress free. When millions of people hit the road, the rails, and the air, glitches and delays, are bound to happen. Crowds can be overwhelming. Tempers are often frayed. 

Stress happens when what we get isn’t what we expect. If we expect delays and prepare for them, they don’t trouble us as much. When we expect that some of the people will be grouchy and impolite, we can choose to respond with understanding instead of responding in kind.

We may not be able to control the people or vehicle traffic, but we can manage it by following tips like these:

Tips for Less Stressed Travel

Car travel: Don’t get focused on making “good time.” It will only stress you out. Instead, focus on making the ride as good a time as you can. Download an audio book for the car. Sing to your playlist. Sing loud. Play road games with the kids. (Count the red cars. Keep track of how many different state license plates you all see.)

If there’s more than one driver, do take shifts. Plan regular stops to stretch and regroup. A brief nap at a safe rest stop is better than pushing on when tired.

Public transport (air, bus, train): Always leave early for the station or airport. You’ll be less stressed if you are at the beginning of a line, not in the middle. Plan on unexpected layovers by bringing things to do while waiting. Allow plenty of time to make connections. It’s better to put in your earbuds or read in a waiting room for an extra hour or two than deal with the drama of a missed connection.

Do program your phone with the phone number for your tickets in case you need to make a change. Staying at a hotel? Make sure you have that number too.

Make sure you keep family members you are visiting up to date about any delays.

Baggage: Travel as light as you can. Mail holiday gifts or have them shipped. Yes, everyone needs toiletries and changes of clothes but probably less than you think. Put everything you want to pack on your bed then make a game of eliminating as much as you can. Aim for a backpack or carry-on bag per person to make packing the car easier or to avoid baggage claim stress. Whether checking bags or carrying on, label everything inside and out so you can be more easily reunited with lost or delayed baggage.

Self-care: Whatever your mode of travel, wherever you are going, you will do better if you are well-rested and well-fed. Plan ahead so you and whoever is going with you gets a good night’s sleep the night before. Eat a healthy meal. Pack healthy snacks and plenty of water. Good self-care is a great preventative for stress.

Plan with the kids: Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Include kids in the planning. Talk to them ahead of time about what to expect. Let them know it is normal to be bored and tired but that being cranky won’t help. Discuss what to bring along to make it go better. Work with each child to pack their backpack with a sweater, books, some crayons and paper, a puzzle book or word find book, a favorite comfort object, and snacks. Make sure that comfort stuffed “lovie” or blanket is on a tether so it can’t get left or lost somewhere. Download some kid videos and music on your tablet or phone for long waits or long drives. 

If going by car, travel while the children sleep for at least part of the trip. Very early morning or nighttime travel can make the time go faster for the kids and easier for you. Just make sure you and the other driver take turns getting some sleep yourselves so you’ll be alert when it’s your turn to drive.

Traveling with kids as a solo driver? Back to self-care: Make sure you get enough sleep and take frequent breaks so you stay alert and pleasant for the whole drive.

Choose compassion: When people are over-stressed and anxious, they often aren’t their best selves. People get surly in lines. Some are critical of our kids if they are fidgety. We can get critical of other parents who don’t seem to be keeping their kids in check. Resist the temptation to respond to crankiness with crankiness of your own. Instead, assume that everyone is dealing with their own stuff as best they can.

Practice random acts of kindness. Offer to help when it looks like help will be helpful. Smile. Positivity tends to inspire positive behavior in others.

Be polite: We can make someone’s day with simply courtesies. Be sure to say please and thank you with a smile to waitstaff and attendants who are often underpaid, overworked and taken for granted. TSA officers often take a lot of abuse from people who are frustrated and harried. Be patient in line. Be friendly when you — finally — get your turn. Don’t blame them for carrying out policies they have no part in making. They’re just doing their job.

If one of the officers is cranky, let them know you understand how hard it is to work with the public and wish them a better rest of the day. If someone is truly inappropriate, resist the impulse to argue. Instead, ask calmly to see their supervisor. It’s more effective and far less stressful.

Happy traveling, everyone!
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