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A Short Guide To Happy Travels

(June 2001)

When it comes to travel, there seems to be an overblown absence of optimism. Critics' and naysayers' predictions of doom bombard the papers, TV, and online media. It seems that much of the world expects the worst from its travel infrastructure, and its experts focus exclusively on the faults. All this sets the tone that travel is a hopeless ordeal. That being said, is travel really that bad? Or, is a truly enjoyable travel experience more a state of mind?

What's Right

I know many people who are consumed by nostalgia for the "good old days" of travel, thinking it was somehow less stressful years ago. Yet, let's not forget that the "good old days" meant exclusiveness. Today, there are many travel options that make it more affordable than ever; plus, it's become a lot safer than in the past.

For example, it's easy to find fault with airlines and take them for granted too. Call me Pollyanna, but what impresses me most about airlines is not what's wrong, but what's right. Air travel is a complex process that is accomplished so expertly that few of us appreciate the difficulty involved. When you think about it, it's amazing that thousands of airplanes can transport millions of passengers a day; most without incident.

For some, travel has just become joyless, and it's time they've looked on the bright side. People often spend too much time finding fault with the most trivial details—from eating barely edible airline food to enduring a Turkish toilet. My last vacation was far from joyless; it included several flights (the planes didn't crash), a cruise (the ship didn't sink), and a stay in San Francisco (there was no earthquake). Sure, there were occurrences along the way that tested my patience and fell short of my expectations. However, the joys of watching my kids frolic on the beaches of Mexico and the sheer pleasure of sitting on my cruise ship verandah watching the sunrise over Los Cabos far outweighed those minor annoyances.

Going With The Flow

Granted, it's easy to get caught up complaining about things while traveling. But if you let it, being bombarded by minor frustrations can eventually take its toll on your mental and physical health. As anxiety levels rise, the body reacts by tightening the muscles, speeding up the heart rate, and raising the blood pressure. And being continuously negative can only make things worse. The best way to reduce travel stress, and its effect on you, is to keep a positive attitude and to divert your attention from it.

Coping Skills

When you travel, it's wise to expect the unexpected and to plan accordingly. This will help take the stress out of situations that are out of your control. The following is a list of coping skills:

  • Take personal comfort into your own hands: Bring things that ensure personal comfort—comfortable clothes, a pillow, a blanket, a CD player, a computer, reading material, snacks, games, etc. Distract yourself by doing something enjoyable and engrossing.

  • Get Real: Look for the plausible explanations for travel setbacks. For example, think: "The flight was truly late due to a mechanical problem," rather than "The flight was late to make my day miserable." Ask yourself: "Do I really want to fly on a broken plane?"

  • Form a mini-support group with one or more fellow travelers: Share and consult with each other on whatever problems you encounter together. Most of the time, you'll end up having conversations that are completely unrelated, which can be enjoyable and make the time go much faster.

  • Have a sense of humor: The act of laughing, even if it is forced, tends to improve your mood and enhance your ability to come up with creative solutions to your problems.

  • Accomplish something: When snags arise in your travels, try to accomplish something you've been putting off. Read that book you've brought with you, or write that long letter to that special someone. Afterwards, you'll feel a sense of accomplishment.

  • Count your blessings: One of the best coping skills optimists have is their ability to remember all the good things in their lives. Think about your blessings. When things appear to be going wrong, remind yourself of what is going right.

  • Use bad experiences to your advantage: Researchers at the University of California at Davis asked 2,000 people about dealing with trying times. The study found that most individuals were able to salvage something positive from a rough experience. Most thought their experiences made them better able to cope with other problems that came along.
Enjoy The Journey

Being optimistic helps to divert our attention away from travel frustrations. When you are an optimist, you're more concerned with problem solving than with useless worrying, anger, and stress. I've learned that the journey can be as, if not more, fun than the destination. Enjoy the journey no matter what; and remember, it's your choice.

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