Traveling during the holidays — or any time of year — can be stressful. There’s a lot of planning and preparing involved, plus a nagging fear that the vacation might not happen as you envision it. If we’re being realistic, it probably won’t — and that’s OK! Challenges help us grow as individuals. 

We can’t promise a stress-free travel day, but we can provide tips on how to minimize the stress level during your vacation. As a frequent traveler and travel writer, I’ve learned how to manage anxiety and stress when I’m on the road. After all, the word “travel” comes from the French word “travail,” which means to work. So it’s not always going to be all fun and games. Here are my best tips on how to have a low-stress vacation. 

Request time off from work early

Let’s back it up to a few months ahead of your planned vacation. It all starts with setting the dates and requesting time off from work as soon as possible. Vacation time is valuable in the corporate world, so it’s essential to make sure that there’s no miscommunication when asking for time off. 

Set a meeting with your manager or boss and be straightforward about your travel plans. Bonus points if you and your colleagues choose your vacation days collectively, which encourages covering for one another in the office. After the meeting, send a follow-up email with the exact dates that you will be out of office, so it’s in writing. When that’s done, you can take a deep breath and start the fun stuff — planning! 

Set an out-of-office email

It’s a few days before departure and your stress level is inching up the thermometer. There’s so much to do! Take a deep breath and make a list of the tasks that need to be completed before you step on the plane. It might include purchasing travel-size shampoo, doing a load of laundry, and packing your suitcase. But don’t forget the best part — setting an out-of-office email! 

Put in a little extra time to organize your files or remind clients/colleagues that you’ll be unavailable for the next few days (or weeks). Create a short and sweet out-of-office auto-reply email so that people understand that you’re taking some much-needed time off. In the email, mention the days you’ll be gone and a different person to contact with timely inquiries. If there are questions you’re asked continuously over email, include links to webpages with the answers or create an FAQ document. This should help create a smooth transition when you come back to the office.

Prepare for the airport

Let’s face it, airports are not the most calming environments. To make traveling a little less stressful, give yourself enough time to get to the airport before the flight takes off. The general rule of thumb for domestic flights is to arrive an hour/hour-and-a-half before boarding. For international flights, try to arrive two to three hours before boarding. This gives you time to check in, choose a seat, check a bag, mosey through security, and grab a coffee (or a glass of wine) before settling into the flight. It’s better to be early and wait at the airport than run through people to get to the gate before it closes.  

Travel light

I used to be a terrible overpacker. I packed as if I were going to some remote island that wouldn’t have stores where I could purchase things if I forgot something, when in reality, I was just going to New York City. I learned the value of traveling light after an instance when my luggage got lost, and I went a few days without any of my belongings in a foreign destination. It was frustrating, and I was kicking myself for not packing fewer things so that I could keep my bag as a carry-on. 

Travel light so that you don’t have to worry about or keep track of too many items. This is especially helpful if you’re bouncing around to a few different places during your vacation. When you’re packing, just remember that wherever you’re going, there will be stores where you can purchase additional items. Try to leave any valuable electronics or jewelry at home so that you don’t worry about their safety when you’re on vacation. When it comes to clothes, you may think you need ten different tops, but you’ll probably be wearing the same shirt every day for a week. Happens to the best of us.    

Create a bucket list

Sometimes it helps to simply make a list. Yes, that’s very Type A of me to suggest, but hey, it may help with the whole travel planning process. Rather than create a day-by-day plan, create a list of things you want to do in the place you’re going. That list may read “absolutely nothing but chill by the pool with a piña colada,” or it may be a bucket list of activities to do.

Try not to create expectations of how each day will go, because if it doesn’t go according to plan, it may add to your stress level. When you arrive at your destination, use your bucket list to help you find things to do each day, depending on the weather or how you feel. For any activities or tours that you want to book, remember to look through reviews or ask for recommendations from your hotel before booking!

Prepare backups 

While you’re making a bucket list, remember to back up all your devices. Yes, this may seem like a reminder that you don’t need, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget to do this simple task before traveling! Back up all devices on an external hard drive or, at least, make sure your cloud is updated.

The last thing you want is to lose any critical data or photos if your laptop, iPad, tablet, or phone gets damaged, lost, or stolen. Email yourself essential information (contacts, passport, visas, and reservations) so that if something were to happen to your valuable electronics, you could easily retrieve certain information while you’re still traveling. 

Purchase travel insurance

This may not be necessary for a quick four-day trip, but if you’re traveling for any longer than a week, look into purchasing travel insurance. Some companies let you design your own insurance coverage based on where you’re going, the activities you’ll be participating in, and how long you’ll be traveling for. When choosing a plan, make sure that emergency medical expenses (overseas), medical evacuation, hospital confinement charges, the services of a physician, and trip interruption are covered. 

Some plans even have the option to pay an additional premium to cover high-value items, such as laptops or phones. Travel insurance will protect you and your belongings in the instance of lost or stolen luggage, sickness, injury, or safety threats. It’s especially handy if you know you’ll be participating in adrenaline-pumping activities like scuba diving or snowboarding. Purchasing travel insurance helps you have one less thing you need to stress about when you’re on vacation.

Download useful travel apps

Never underestimate the power of a handy travel app, which can help you manage your bookings, track a flight, make currency conversions, learn a new language, and navigate a foreign city. Meetup is a useful app to download if you’re a solo traveler looking to interact with locals and find things to do. TripIt organizes your entire itinerary and documents into one place. It lets you view confirmation emails, flight itineraries, reservations, booking info, tickets, and rental car info all on the app so that you’re not scrambling to find all these documents.

XE Currency Converter is an offline app for making conversions, while Google Translate deciphers up to 60 languages without Wi-Fi. Maps.me is handy for navigating your way around a foreign city when you’re not connected to the internet, while HotelTonight lets you book available hotel rooms for that evening if you happen to get stuck in a different city. All of these apps will help you travel with a little less stress when you’re on vacation.

A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101:

One of the most stressful parts of traveling is getting through security — save yourself some hassle with these tips.

Read up on your travel insurance options before you head out on your trip.