The Myth of “Stress-Free” Travel

by | Mar 23, 2007 | Travel and Dining, Weekly Column | 2 comments

bonvoyage.jpgOne of my aspirations in life is to see the world. Both my wife and I enjoy visiting new places and experiencing different cultures. We’ve learned, however, that there’s a price to pay for those relaxing, pleasurable visits to the world’s fascinating places. It’s called “travel.” Being someplace new is enjoyable. Getting there usually is not.

A few years ago I set out on a mission to eliminate or at least reduce the stress of travel. So far, I have mostly failed to reach my goal.

It’s not for lack of trying. I start a trip by comparison shopping. I make the travel arrangements far enough in advance to get the best routes, departure times, and seats. I have detailed checklists to keep me from forgetting an important item. I pack one week ahead of my flight to be sure everything I want to take is cleaned, available, or otherwise ready to go.

My goal is to walk out the door on the morning of a trip, calm, cool, and refreshed. I am usually successful. Then I get to the airport. Even with all my preparation, about 50 percent of the time, the “stress free” part of a trip ends in the parking lot of Rapid City Regional Airport.

I’ve learned that, even if a trip is intended as a vacation, it’s not a good idea to expect the vacation to start until you actually arrive at your destination. Traveling today requires you to be totally alert, completely conscious, at all times. You’ve got to have your “game face” on from the moment you arrive at the airport.

When travel snafu’s happen—and in my experience they happen often—you often have a small window of time to assess the options and make the best decisions. Failure to do so may mean standing in lengthy lines, sleeping in airports, and becoming separated from your luggage for several days.

If (or perhaps I should say “when) a flight is cancelled or delayed, it is crucial that you areflightdelay.jpg one of the first people in line to rebook your itinerary. Available seats on later flights go quickly. If you are one of the unconscious folks at the end of the line, you may end up waiting for several flights, maybe even several days, before finding open seats.

Being at the front of the line, however, does not necessarily mean physically standing in front of an agent. It could also mean being one of the first folks to contact a reservation agent by phone, preferably your cell phone. I’ve learned to do both. Call the airlines reservation line while you get into the ticket line. Your goal is to get to an agent, usually any agent, as fast as possible.

Another tip is to get a heads-up on the announcement that the flight has been cancelled. This can be tricky, but it can help to hang close to a gate agent who will inform you of a cancellation or delay prior to the official notice being posted or announced. Pay attention, as well, to what’s going on around you. On a recent flight, my first clue that something was wrong was seeing the ground crew drive all the waiting baggage carts back into the terminal.

So far, the necessity of traveling in “full alert” mode hasn’t quenched my desire to see the world or outweighed my enjoyment of visiting new places. I will continue on my quest for stress-free travel nirvana. Until I find it, I will accept the reality that traveling requires flexibility, attention, patience, and more than a little luck.

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