One of the great things about the festive season is that for many of us our focus shifts from work or study, and on to having a break.
December is the most popular month in Australia for travel. And with airlines continuing to compete for our business, flights interstate or overseas are more affordable than ever. Even if your travel plans amount to a weekend away by the beach there is still something to be said for having a break.
But let’s be honest. While it looked super relaxing in your mind’s eye when you were browsing through brochure images of sun soaked bodies on the sand or tranquil tree top walks through national parks, in reality, does travel also involve just a little stress?
For every glossy image of the model family, there are countless real-life families where the harried family is carrying multiple suitcases while rushing to catch their flight, or the screaming toddler causing everyone stress (parents included!), or the sullen teenager who won't look away from their phone to have a conversation.
By the same token, for every idyllic, postcard-perfect, island-hopping, loved-up holidaying couple that you see on Instagram, there are countless others managing quibbles over who-forgot-to-pack-what, agonising sunburn, insect bites, and perhaps that romantic touch of gastro when dining abroad on unfamiliar cuisines.
Nobody is the perfect travel partner (this includes you!), and most holidays have their hiccups in one form or another. The trick is to anticipate likely problems ahead of time that you can have some control over, and to learn to be flexible for those things that you don't have control over.
For those things that we can have some control over, we've put together 10 Top Travel Tips, and we've split these into two categories - Tips to help you organise the Outside world, and Tips to help you organise the Inside world.
Organising the outside world
So there are some things in the outside world that you can’t control. But a little bit of organisation ahead of time will help to make sure that you’ve done what you can to ensure a relaxing holiday. Think about how you can apply these tips to your next trip:
1. CHECKLISTS, CHECKLISTS, CHECKLISTS
Even if you are a seasoned traveller, it never hurts to use a checklist. There are plenty to download for every kind of holiday. It may seem a little over the top but it beats a week of chapped lips because you forgot lip balm when long haul flying, or finding out the hard way that a tea towel would be so crucial to a camping holiday!
2. USE YOUR PHONE AS AN ORGANISER
Even if you never plan to call anyone, using your phone to organise your holidays is a must! Spend your mental energy on enjoying your trip rather than cluttering it with various bits and pieces of information to remember.
Use your phone to store various checklists of things to pack, sights to see, places to eat, or a list of people to buy gifts for along with their clothing sizes if relevant.
If you're travelling overseas, use your phone to store important information such as every flight, hotel address and phone numbers, travel insurance details, and take photos of all passports and visas.
Mobile apps can also be super helpful when you're on holidays. Map apps can help you navigate a new city, whether driving or on foot. Many countries have apps for their public transport systems, entertainment venues as well as local itinerary planners, which can show you what the sights are, where to shop, where to eat and where to stay. Bilingual dictionaries can also be invaluable when you have no time to waste in finding the nearest toilet!
3. HAVE SYSTEMS IN PLACE
Think of the most disorganised holiday that you've had. Where were the stressful points? Forgetting where you put your boarding pass when you're about to fly? Being unable to work out which clothes were clean and which were dirty? Piles of paperwork from holiday sights and locations getting all mixed up?
Having a system is an ideal way of getting organised. Keep track of passports, room keys, money, and back-up money in discreet spots and be sure to use the same spot every time. Put away dirty clothes in plastic bags to avoid mixing it up with your clean clothes (and then having to do the dreaded smell test). Keep paperwork or mementos from places you've visited in a separate place from the paperwork for places you're yet to visit; this way you don't have to rifle through absolutely everything every time.
4. THINK SAFE, BE SAFE
Yes your main aim is to relax and have fun, but it makes sense to take a few simple precautions to look after yourself and your group. Leave your itinerary with someone you trust at home, and touch base with them at least once so they know you’re ok.
Stick together or stay in pairs when in an unfamiliar place, at least until you get your bearings. Don’t leave your luggage anywhere that isn't secured. And if travelling overseas, don't take risks that you wouldn't at home (e.g. riding without a helmet, walking down a poorly-lit street in the middle of the night, or accepting lifts from strangers).
5. LIVE IN THE MOMENT, NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
And finally, a word about social media. After our recent post about the impact of social media stop and think before you post. Remember, the most important thing about this holiday is how much you enjoy your time with the people you are with (after all, you've paid to spend this time with them!), and not how envious you are able to make your friends.
Spend your holiday staring down the barrel of a selfie stick, and chances are you’ll miss the best bits. So save the posts for when you get home (you’ll avoid giving the burglars a tip-off that you’re not home too) and enjoy your trip!
Organising the inside world
The tips above give you some ideas on how you can keep things in the outside world organised – your luggage, your itinerary. But what about the inside world? Our own thoughts, memories and feelings can be just as much a source of stress as those external triggers. We need to be just as organised when it comes to our thinking, to ensure travel goes as smoothly as possible. Let’s start with the tips below.
6. LEAVE BEHIND THE MENTAL BAGGAGE
By all means, pack the physical baggage. But leave the mental baggage at home. You might have memories of the last nightmare trip where all your passports were stolen. Or maybe your baggage is more about a person you are travelling with – knowing that they dawdle and complain, you’re just waiting for the problems to start.
Sometimes carrying those negative expectations can reduce your enjoyment of the holiday or even increase the chances of whatever went wrong last time happening again. There’s nothing like a tense and captive audience to set a complainer off! So leave behind that old baggage. This is a new holiday and a new start. A fresh and positive mindset will give you all the best chance of enjoying the trip.
7. APPRECIATE THE MOMENT
Travel can be fast paced. From racing to catch that train on time, to rushing to get packed by check out, fiddling with our cameras, and fussing with our foreign change - there can be a million things to distract us.
So on your travel remember to do a few simple things. Stop. Breathe. Look around you. Appreciate this fabulous destination that you planned for, saved up for and worked towards. You’re finally here! Don’t let precious moments slip by with you being too stressed or distracted to enjoy them.
8. GET SOME PERSPECTIVE
Okay but what if things go wrong? Well even the best planning can’t prevent delayed flights, vomiting toddlers and lost luggage. When things like this go wrong the temptation can be to turn a problem into a catastrophe. “Delayed flights? The whole holiday is ruined!” “Vomiting child? We may as well go home!” "Lost luggage? Let's just stay in the terminal and rant at someone; there’s no way we can enjoy ourselves now!”
Try and get a little perspective. Yes it’s a problem, but has it ruined your entire holiday? Is there a way you can make the most out of the time you have, even if it’s not quite in the way you planned? Holiday hiccups are all part of the process, and they make some of the best stories when you get home. Just keep it in perspective and it will be okay.
9. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
When planning a holiday it can be easy to get carried away with setting the most awesome itinerary. Expectations are raised, and not fulfilling all of them can seem like a failure.
How many have planned to recreate Audrey Hepburn's Roman Holiday, only to find that the city isn't quite like how it seems in the movies but instead is overrun by tourists and you just can't get a decent photo (Spanish Steps, anyone?).
Or if you happen to be in Paris for a week and you have young children or an elderly relative, is it likely that you can spend long days traipsing through the cobblestone streets in the middle of winter, sampling wines and cheeses at the various bistros about town?
Think about the reality of your situation, manage your expectations given the limitations, and you'll avoid that trip down disappointment lane.
10. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
Ultimately it pays to remember why you planned to travel in the first place, and make your decisions so that they align with that reason. Did you go for adventure? For relaxation? To learn? Or was the driving force to spend quality time with the people you are travelling with? You’ll make good decisions if you make them based on the things that matter most to you.
If you planned this trip to be able to spend quality time with your kids and they are calling time out, then pass on the tour, the show, or the shopping. An afternoon chilling out in the hotel might not be wasted time after all. Keep focused and own your holiday rather than letting your holiday own you.
So if you are travelling around this time of year, make use of these tips, get planning, stay safe and bon voyage!
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 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010). Australian Social Trends, cat. no. 4102.0, viewed 20 November 2015, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20Sep+2010