Travel: Worth the Trouble?

Does the arrival of spring leave you itching to travel? You are not alone in scrolling booking sites and dreaming of a change of scenery.  Whether exploring local backroads or jetting off across the sea, travel need not break the bank.  Going outside your routines always comes at some cost; if nothing else, you are investing your time. Is the reward worth the risk?  It depends on whether these adventures recharge you or ramp up your stress. Perhaps you lack a wanderlust for seeing new places and prefer exploring the world vicariously through others from the convenience of home. There is safety and a calm predictability, after all, in staying in your own domain. Travel, however, offers many rewards that can make the gain worth the pain. There are mindsets to adapt to lessen the pain should your best intentions go awry.

Decide on Risk vs Reward

People who travel often display courage and resilience, as things will inevitably go wrong with travel. Only you can decide if you will let them ruin your whole trip. Trips are like weddings:  you must expect some glitches misplacing your veil on the big day or losing your boarding pass. Most lapses can be salvaged: it helps to focus on the ultimate destination. A certain satisfaction and confidence come with having the courage to take that first step, leaving your comfort zone, and completing your goals. The traits that you acquire in travel are good lessons for tackling life, like adaptability and problem-solving. These themes are echoed in my book, What Could Go Wrong Lessons from Living on the Edge. Expect the unexpected. Pick the right partner. Prepare to change the plan.  Know when to go to Plan B.

Expect the Unexpected

Whether venturing in a car or a plane, we all take some level or risk, or else no one would dare walk out the front door. Fear of what could go wrong need not prevent us from taking the plunge. As in life, we can learn to take the bad with the good. Covid has brought new hassles and distinguishes the determined adventurer from the armchair traveler. Though travel is more complex today, it has never been easier to book trips with all the online travel sites available.

Protect Your Trip

Just know that trip cancellations offer various levels of protection, should the unforeseen occur. The “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage is the most flexible. Illnesses or injuries typically require doctor letters or appointments to confirm that you are unfit for travel. Make copies of all travel documents, insurance policies, and log-on information for ID authentication, including Microsoft, Apple, Google or other email passwords to access the Cloud, should we need to access another device.  Back-up prescription glasses can come in handy too, or insurance on items that would be costly to replace in the event of loss or damage. (A ticket agent once told me a passenger forgot his prosthetic leg on a flight!)

 With every purchase these days, we are prompted to protect our investment, and travel companies capitalize on customer fears of a potential disaster.  Airlines, Airbnb’s and VRBOs each have their own trip insurance policies as well. But none of these insurance policies are trivial to implement. Vacation rental insurance will cover, for instance, cancelations for wildfires, but only if the road to your rental is closed. I discovered this while heading into an area hit by wildfires the day before my trip. If you are flying and opt not to insure, you will inevitably face the rare situation where it IS covered, like a snowstorm blanketing the freeway on the way to the airport, or a car breakdown. Yes, I’ve experienced it all. Note that insurance need not be obtained at the time of the original booking, just before the trip commences.

Choose Flexible Flights

Decide what would stop you from completing or canceling your trip, or from eating the cost. And be ready to accept the outcome. Economy tickets will cost incrementally more to permit changes. You will be charged a change fee for each way. It is sometimes more flexible and cost-effective to buy two one-way tickets, or tickets on separate airlines. By booking directly with the airline, it is easier to adjust your ticket. And the fare can be the same or less as booking with a third party like Expedia. Carry-on luggage is the best option, should you miss a flight, or it is cancelled, as bags must travel with their owners. Should you need to surrender your carry-on, don’t forget to add an address label, and remove breakables first! I once saw an agent toss my bag from the jetway to the tarmac, shattering my camera and a wedding gift.

Pick the Right Travel Partner

With precautions and planning, you can enjoy any trip. The key is to not expect perfection. And to pick the right travel partner. Or, if you are traveling solo, become your own best companion! (When considering marriage partners, it is helpful to experience a trip with them first, to see what endearing qualities appear during stress) Either way, the important thing is to give yourself or others grace and patience for occasional mishaps. Like dropping prescription glasses into the ocean or leaving a new iPhone in the airport charging station (the latter was not me!) Be open to making new friends along the way, even if only a friend for a day. And show kindness to airport staff too, as they are more inclined to grant you favors like scoring a seat assignment or changing your flight. Make them your friend: show empathy and don’t take frustrations out on them.

People are surprised sometimes when I travel alone, but that can be easier than adjusting to others’ schedules and preferences. This is true for couples too- one partner might enjoy lounging at the luxury Hilton, while the other prefers dashing out the local hostel at the crack of dawn. Unexpected new friendships can arise with shared lodgings. However short the trip, social interactions in travel need not be seen as intrusions. “Why talk to strangers?” a friend once asked me: “It just delays things.” But all these little connections add to the experience and unite us as a community. When you are so tied to an agenda or an itinerary, there is less room for spontaneous encounters with locals and fellow travelers.  But I recommend spending the money on an international travel calling plan, in case of emergencies, or to help stay connected to new friends!  

Know When to Go to Plan B

The bigger the expectation, the greater the disappointment should the trip fail to measure up. One hates to find bedbugs in a $500 per night lakefront cabin, as my friend experienced! Any trip can be salvaged but may require emergency measures. Finding sewage flooding the bathtub every time I used the kitchen sink of my lake front rental one summer was not ideal. But I loved the views, so it was worth staying.  Less acceptable was a double-booking in Hawaii. Rather than fight it, we moved to a new rental. It had no indoor shower and cockroaches so big they required a flight plan. But I’ll take anything for a water view!  Good can be gleaned from any situation if one keeps an open mind and shows grace and resilience. Or else, one could find fault in every experience.  In worst case scenarios, you can pivot to a new plan.

Keep Itineraries Flexible

Sometimes you may think you are going to Amsterdam but end up in Istanbul! This happened to friends recently. They were meant to embark on a lengthy cruise departing from Amsterdam, but the harbor was changed to Istanbul for a larger ship. Eventually the cruise was cancelled altogether. They regrouped and toured through Turkey and then Australia, eventually working their way back to the US. Rather than showing bitterness, they bounced back from disappointment and made the most of it.

My twin learned this valuable lesson as well, after being pickpocketed during a multi-city layover enroute to Kenya. Sadly, more misfortunes followed, when she did not receive her new visa on time. After attempting to salvage the trip, she decided to bail on the African adventure all together. And she reconnected with her husband, who was visiting relatives in England and Wales. Gate changes are more common than port changes. You can be conversing or napping and fail to notice that your gate or terminal has been altered.  And somehow end up in a different city or country all together. My twin’s change of country was her own choice, but I always wonder about those stories where people slip past airline agents and board the wrong aircraft. It makes me feel better about my travel mishaps!

Take Time to Recover

Wherever you end up, take time to linger. Cramming multiple countries in your itinerary may leave your head spinning and give little time to recover and re-group should problems occur. Don’t forget to leave time to adjust from jet lag and acclimate to local time zones. And always keep your guard up as your brain adapts to new spaces and time zones. My twin left ample time to recover and acclimate in Paris halfway, before completing her journey from Vancouver to Africa. But when her best laid plans began to unravel, she set a boundary about how much additional stress she was willing to handle. And found joy in Plan B, thus sparing her another 9-hour flight and potential new pitfalls. She made sacrifices, altered her itinerary and removed the Africa portion altogether. Always remember what is most important and prioritize accordingly.

Boost Your Brain

Travel can boost your brain and make you more creative. According to neurologist Dr. Paul Nussbaum, new experiences in travel can spur new connections in cerebral matter and fire up more brain neurons. Travel may be tough on the pocketbook, but good for the brain, provided you do not stress over every decision, setback, or expense. Another benefit is that overcoming obstacles boosts your problem-solving skills, when plans unravel, and you must improvise!  Familiar locales are comforting, but new locations stretch your brain more, as it adjusts to new stimuli. According to a Cornell University Study, even thinking about travel can make us happy, without even making the trip! It provides even more of a rush than buying things. Positive endorphins are always good for the brain. So, if you don’t have money to travel, imagine it in your mind!

Traveling is good for the heart too. Beyond dashing to your gate, travel usually involves more exercise than your day job. Even walking is good for the brain, unless your main vacation goal is to sip Mai tais at the beach. Relaxation is heart-healthy as well, provided you learn how to turn your brain off! My friend once worked on a cruise ship, and some Type A passengers would become so uptight over their forced down time, they would have a heart attack. Unexpected downtown can also drive people over the edge before even arriving. I complimented a seatmate once on his chill attitude after a lengthy flight delay, and he shared how his boss became so uptight during travel for a work trip, that his nose started to bleed into his coffee cup. He died of an aneurysm. There is something to be said for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction!

Think Outside the Box

Speaking of mindfulness, there are many options today that can combine wellness and fitness, as you choose destinations to engage in yoga with like-minded enthusiasts. Or join thousands of people on a quest to swim, bike and run through an Ironman competition. I know most of you would not consider that a vacation! Whatever your passion, there is likely an escape you can focus your trip around. Ecotravel is a growing area too, Some travel companies cater to environmentally-conscious types by crafting tour packages that help wildlife and support the local economy. These may offset destructive environmental practices of the past. Provided that we do not create too much of a carbon footprint on the way there! And the country is not in the midst of political upheaval that compromises your safety.

Many might think the benefits and rewards of travels are short-lasting, so why not save the money and trouble, but studies have shown that even a four-day break can have benefits that last up to four to six weeks. And immersing yourself in other cultures, whether locally or abroad, can be life changing. Regardless of what unwelcome surprises may occur during travel, the pain is usually worth the gain. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate home! Like the late Erma Bombeck, beloved humor columnist, would say, “When you start looking, like your passport, it’s time to go home!”

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One thought on “Travel: Worth the Trouble?

  1. Great article! Uplifting!! I’m traveling in 2 days and now will do so more mindfully, striving to pivot easily when needed to Plan B and cup half full perspective!

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