During just the first four days of Hurricane Sandy, over 20,000 flights were cancelled according to the Chicago Tribune, and the super storm continued to disrupt travel around the world for hundreds of thousands of people scheduled to fly to or through the East Coast of the U.S.
Of course, natural disasters aren’t the only thing that can derail your travel plans and cause serious stress.
Many things can make a business or vacation trip far more stressful than it should be:
- Traffic accidents that tie up highways and turn them into parking lots
- Sudden illnesses like food poisoning, the flu, strep throat and more
- Work status changes such as a layoff or a promotion that requires you to work
- The loss or theft of your passport, credit cards, driver’s license, and more
While there’s no real way to prepare for everything that can go wrong, travelers can implement a number of things to make their travel smoother and less stressful even when things do go wrong.
1. Book your travel early
Setting your travel plans as early as possible – even if they’re loose at first, they’ll solidify later – gives you the best option for finding better deals. Just like booking the first appointment of the day at the doctor’s office – set your alarm and take the first flight out in the morning because those are less likely to be delayed.
Booking your travel early and purchasing your travel insurance soon after gives you access to a few time-sensitive coverages, like pre-existing condition coverage and ‘cancel for any reason’, as well as the longest amount of coverage time for trip cancellations.
2. Give yourself plenty of extra time
As airports expand, more parking spaces are needed and those spaces are farther and farther from the check-in counter. They’re also the cheapest parking, so they often fill up quickly and many have less-than-frequent transport services between the airport and the parking lot.
Yet, just one unpredicted travel problem can cause your trip to be delayed to the point that you miss your flight or miss a connection.
Leaving for the airport early may mean that you spend a little time in the airport – if all goes well – but you’re less likely to be in a bad spot if something unpredictable happens. Remember, the airport personnel like to take time off during the holidays too!
Plus, the side benefit of arriving and getting through security early is that you’ll have time to relax after that friendly security pat-down we’re all so fond of and pick up a snack for the flight since the airlines stopped soothing us with treats.
3. Pack smart and prepare for a worst-case scenario
While the airlines ask for your ID when you surrender your bags, it’s not typical for someone to be on the other side matching bags to the owners. Recent media reports indicate that thefts from baggage carousels, as well as by the TSA and baggage handlers, is far more common than expected. Even worse? Thieves don’t seem to care which luggage they snatch because thefts now range from designer luggage all the way to the proletariat basic black.
See Packing Smart: Best Tips from Travel Experts for more smart-packing methods and learn why most savvy travelers now take a picture of the contents of their luggage.
Some packing tips you may not have thought of are the following:
- If you’re traveling with someone, put one complete outfit (underwear too!) in the other person’s bag. If one bag is lost you’ll still have a change of clothes.
- Alternatively, if you’re traveling solo, put a complete change of clothes in your carry-on. See the packing cubes at Magellan’s for a way to do this neatly.
- Put a complete copy of your travel itinerary in each bag – including contact information for where you’re staying. This helps the airline know where to bring your bag when they find it (if they read it, of course).
4. Get digital – for you and for the kids
Before you leave home, make sure you have securely saved all important travel documents and your itinerary and that you have plenty of digital entertainment for the kids.
If your passport is stolen after you arrive, you’ll have a copy of the pages you need to get it replaced before it’s too late to make your flights home. See the 4 Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents for more details.
If your travel is delayed for a really long time, the familiarity of a favorite book, or show, or video game can prevent a kids melt-down. While no parent wants to rely regularly on digital parenting, there’s never a better (or more forgivable) time than when you’re traveling to loosen the reins a bit and let the kids zone out.
Just be sure to pack earphones that fit them, backup batteries, chargers and adapters for your chargers if you’re going abroad.
5. Park smart and prepare for a worst-case scenario
In the rush to get parked and catch the transportation to the airport, it’s easy to forget to remember where you parked it. Snap a quick photo of the sign on the row where you parked your car so you’ll remember it when you get back.
One of the worst-case scenarios is returning to find your car won’t start or it’s been damaged or broken into. Park your car nose out so that if you return to find the battery has died or it has to be towed away, it’s easier to access the battery and/or hook it up to a tow truck.
6. Protect your health before and during your trip
Being sick while away from home is one of the most stressful things that can happen to a traveler. These days, planes are so overcrowded that germs are allowed free reign to test even the strongest immune systems.
Plan ahead for travel by:
- Getting plenty of sleep before your trip
- Making sure your vaccinations are up to date
- Preparing a personal medical portfolio
- Packing and carrying a travel medical kit
- Knowing how to prevent common illnesses like norovirus
- Understanding how to travel safely with medications