How To Have A (Nearly) Stress-free Trip

Sooo many good tips to help make travel less stressful! Particularly useful if you're traveling international or in developing countries

Something that a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that travel can be stressful.
Wicked stressful. Navigating an unknown city, often in a different language and culture, while carrying a 25 pound bag on your back? And all while trying to have The Best Time Possible? Because this is what you’ve been planning and saving for over the past six months and you are going to have a great time if it kills you.
Annnnd cue the meltdown in line to the Louvre.
Because most of us have a very limited number of vacation days, we put pressure on ourselves to squeeze joy out of every minute that we’re in another country.
When I did my six month trip, I remember being haunted by the feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’ because I was having an awesome time, yes, but I also got lost a lot, got hit by a scooter, overslept on the train and missed my stop, and got a rash from the overnight bus in Vietnam. Seriously.
So please allow me to share some of the tricks I’ve learned to help one chill the eff out and enjoy the ride. Reducing travel stress is more of an art more of a science and it requires you to change your perspective a bit.

How to Make Travel Stress-Free*

Realize that everything is going to take longer and cost more than you thought

One of the biggest stresses when traveling is money. When reading about the prices of food and lodging in a country, it’s easy to add those two numbers together and assume that’s how much money you’ll spend in a given day.
But then you get lost have to take a taxi back to your friend’s house. And you lose your return bus ticket. And the only restaurant that’s open has $17 entrees. It’s also possible (especially if you’re traveling outside of the western world) that your bus will break down, your captain will run on island time, or the roads have washed out now that it’s rainy season.
Of course these things are all hugely frustrating, but often unavoidable. You’ll be a lot happier and more relaxed during your travels if you leave some wiggle room in your schedule and budget.

Everything is just a matter of time and money

Oooh, that sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t everything in life just a matter of time and money? But especially when traveling, I think it’s worth remembering this.
Snags in your plan are not a matter of life and death, nor do they have to ruin your trip. Your flight is delayed and you’re going to get in to Edinburgh two hours late? Just message your friend, tell her you’ll get in at 11 pm, and take a taxi to her house.
Whenever I encountered these problems I would repeat this mantra in my head “Everything is just a matter or time and money. I have all the time in the world and a credit card with a high limit.”

That $3 means a lot more to them than it does to you

Bartering is par for the course in many cultures and it’s something that turns many of us westerners inside out with embarrassment. Negotiation + confrontation = nightmare scenario for most women I know, myself included. I have two settings: “Please, overcharge me! I implore you!” or “You want $99? How about $3? No? You are dead to me.”
Of course, as foreigners we are surely being offered extremely inflated prices and shouldn’t accept the first number offered. However, I have seen westerners joyfully embrace the bartering system and spend 20 minutes haggling over a difference of 20 American cents. It’s worth remembering that the four dollars that you’re saving means a lot more to these vendors than it does to you.
The average yearly income in Bolivia is nine hundred American dollars. Just sayin.

It's easier to make money than it is to make memories. Click To Tweet

For most people, money is a constant stressor while traveling. But remember the reasons why you’re traveling in the first place!
Now that you’re three weeks into your trip, funds might be getting a bit low. You find yourself eating a lot of bread and cheese and sleeping in the dorm room at the hostel instead of the double. When your friend suggests the $80 rappelling/black-water rafting/rock climbing trip you balk. That’s, like, four nights of hostel!
Dude, do it. Put that shit on your credit card. If you were at home, you would not think twice about buying a cute sweater from Target and then getting dinner with your friends – and that would probably run you the same amount.
If you’re getting too wound up about money while your traveling, just think about what this money would translate to in your life back at home. New pair of Frye boots or sky diving? Swim with dolphins or one new tire for your car? Not such a difficult choice.

When in doubt, cry

When things just get to be too much, sometimes you just need to let your emotions speak for you. Just as a smile is universal, so is crying. There are few people in the world who can look into the crumpled, messy face of a overwhelmed lady and not feel inclined to help. Or to let you off with a warning.
I really believe that everyone, the world over, is good at heart. You will be amazed at the things that people will do to help you when they can see that you need it.

Are you dead? Are you hurt? No? Then it’s not the end of the world

Travel stress can mount if you let it. It totally sucks to lose your passport or have your wallet stolen or for your luggage to get lost in transit. No arguments there. But all these things are temporary and repairable.
They will make for excellent stories later on in which you will be featured as The Intrepid Traveler Who Went Through So Much But Still Had a Good Time.
How do you stay zen when you’re traveling? Share your tips in the comments so we can learn from you!
* jk it’s 100% not possible to make any sort of trip completely stress-free
Photo by Ruben Gutierrez on Unsplash

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  1. Bridey

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading this and needed a reminder about a few of these things!

    I totally agree about money vs memories. You can always make more money, but some of the opportunities that come along when you’re travelling are not going to come around again!

  2. Sisa

    This post is so true!especially the $3 means a lot more to them. I went to the Dominican Republic and gave a kid a 5 dollar bill and he just started crying, it was a very tender moment, for me those 5 dollars might just mean, Mc nuggets and a coke for him it was food for his family.

    I really wish I could just get my fears out and travel the world. It has being my dream since I have reason.

  3. Enna

    Honestly? Xanax. But that is only traveling in the United States, otherwise I would be the lady who needs to be strapped down in the plane.

  4. Dollface

    Great post. Reading your blog reminds me how much I love traveling. It’s been a few years since I left the country…but I’m planning to backpack through Europe after college. Just..1.5 years left…

  5. Miss_Corrine

    This is SUCH a good article, I loved every word of it! 😀

  6. pinkapplecore

    I agree with when in doubt cry, I get really aggravated when someone says “you have no reason to cry”. Crying is a release and sometimes letting out the pressure makes you feel better.

  7. Brooke

    I’m mentally filing away all this advice for when I leave in June or July…

  8. Freya

    This is a perfect post and such a good reminder.

    I would also say to slow down. If you have three days, don’t pretend like you can see an entire country, or even city. Pick two or three things a day, and don’t drive yourself crazy if you don’t see it all.

  9. ana b.

    I stay zen when travelling by taking it out on other people. Joking! Well – kind of. Maybe stopping by every single bakery I see and eating myself into a coma?

  10. tee

    This was a great article! When I travel, I tend to over plan. In my backpack are pre-printed maps of all public transportation routes with phone numbers attached. I know where I want to go and how to get there.

    This is all good and well until you realize you’ve missed some great memories from spontaneity.

    Then again, when my husband found himself in an airport in San Jose for over an hour trying to figure out how to get to the hotel, he turned to his coworkers and said, “If my wife were here, we’d already be at the hotel, unpacked, and on our way to dinner.”

  11. Erin

    Hey Sarah! If I was the mental patient roommate on your world ticket trip…well, fair enough.

    You know what way more places have than you’d think? Radio stations that play American oldies. If you have a little portable radio or can tune in on your MP3 player, it’s strange how much more at home you’ll feel in a strange place when you can hear their foreign banter between comforting, familiar songs. Saved my brain in Copenhagen.

  12. Sarah Von Bargen

    Erin: that is a great idea!

    Tee: Wow. I admire your dedication to the map! That never even occurred to me!

    Freya: Yes. I think this is the classic American travel mistake. 10 countries in 10 days! No. That doesn’t count as travel. That counts as a death wish.

  13. Young Werther

    Fab advice!

    I’m one of the weirdos who loves to ‘get lost’ in a large strange city, and walk till I find my way to something familiar…. be it Tokyo… Paris… Rome 🙂

  14. The Clothes Horse

    I love your tips. They’re really refreshing and good. I grew up moving all over every 3 years so I’m used to accepting things are VERY different depending on where you go, but it still amazes me when I travel with friends and they get so upset about not being able to buy things like PB or thinking different habits are “strange.” What do people expect, if it was all the same, why leave the States?

  15. Mishka

    This is great and so true! I’m planning to travel to Italy this summer and am trying to absorb every travel tip I can find. I’ll definitely add your blog to my daily reads!

  16. MrsFreethinker

    These are so great.
    I’m trying very hard to make this upcoming trip one of relaxation, and my compulsive planning tendencies keep creeping up on me…

    I had a great cry yesterday that made everything so much better! You hit that point, you’re bawling, and then you realize, this is as bad as it gets! Sometimes it just melts that stress right away…

  17. valerie

    this post really brings me back to earth about traveling. i always get so freaked out about giving beggers money, but you make some amazing points. great post!!

  18. deep_in_vogue

    wow great post. I agree with every single point you made.

  19. Shannon (A beautiful Dream)

    This is an amazing post – If I ever actually get to travel (maybe in a million years, lol) I’m certainly printing it out for my wallet!

  20. Cara

    Such a well-written, thoughtful post Sarah! I especially liked the “cry” pary 🙂

  21. Eyeliah @

    Dude, (I feel I can call you dude since you called me dude). Yours is fast becoming a favorite blog. I am not this witty in my dreams. Such thoughtful posts, I really appreciate them. 🙂

  22. Sarah Von Bargen

    Eyeliah: You flatterer! 😉 Thanks so much, lady. The feeling is mutual.

  23. NoviceWorldTraveler

    I'm new to your blog and I've enjoyed reading your posts. I had a moment while traveling in India. I went with a tour group that included my favorite yoga teacher and everything was as well organized as India is capable of, but one morning was hard for me. We went on a sunrise boat trip down the Ganges in Varanasi and passed the cremation ghats, lit flower votives and sent them down the river with prayers. But that wasn't the hard part. One the way back to the air conditioned bus, we were accosted by vendors. The one who latched on to me had nothing I wanted to buy so I didn't. But I offered him some money to take a picture with me. He did and when I gave him the bill, he asked for me. When I didn't give him more, he returned the money and asked me to delete the picture. After I got on the bus, I went to back, popped my iPod buds in and cried quietly. Who did I think I was? My yoga teacher passed by, saw me, and just hugged me. Crying was certainly necessary that day.

  24. Amanda

    So glad you tweeted about this post today! I moved to China in August and am doing some traveling to other countries while I'm here. I've already realized a few of the things on this list (like bartering, for example), but need to try harder to keep other things in mind. I'm leaving for Thailand in one week (!!!) and really want to try to remember a lot of these. Especially "It's easier to make money than it is to make memories" and "Are you dead? Are you hurt? No? Then it's not the end of the world." Thanks!

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