Anna's Secrets for Reduced-Stress Travel

I’ve been flying since I was a little girl. I couldn’t tell you how old exactly, maybe 4 or 5? But thanks to my mother and her desire to travel around (and the places work took her), getting on an airplane and taking off to somewhere else is something that's comfortable for me. I know what it looks like, I have a sense for how much time I’ll need, I know how to relax through security. Now that I’m an “adult”, I’ve started taking trips on my own; I’m buying my own tickets, getting my own accounts and miles, transporting myself to and from the airport. And while I may not be a professional, I’d consider myself a savvy traveler. 

Of course, as with everything, getting to that point was a learning experience. I've had my fair share of sprinting across the airport to barely make my flight because I didn't notice my gate changed. I've been stopped by TSA because I forgot to dump the water out of my water bottle. I've endured the stress of rushing to cram my laptop in my bag, and in my haste, it takes me longer than it should and I rush off wracked with anxiety and stress. I've been the person at my gate annoyed by every single person because by the time I've gotten there, my level of "fed up" is through the roof. Travel, especially air travel, can be incredibly stressful and a deplorable experience--but it doesn't have to be. 

My first piece of advice? Get yourself a good set of luggage. I cannot tell you how many trips I have gone on… using my duffel bag from high school. Don’t get me wrong, it works fine; it’s the correct size, it can hold quite a bit of stuff, it can pretty easily squish into a tight overhead space--but I’ll be damned if it’s not a b*tch to carry around. My shoulders and traps have sufferedstanding in 30+ minute lines waiting for security, the weight of my bag pulling down on my neck. Escalators are a breeze, but it stopped being worth it, and at some point I realized I was going to need some better baggage if I was going to travel as much as my wandering heart intended to. However. I am a cheap, cheap individual with a meager income, and although my lovely parents offered to fund such a purchase, I refuse with my heart and soul to pay what seems to me like an unreasonable amount of money. I went to Macy's (because I don’t know where else you get them). I went directly to a sales associate because I meant business; I wasn’t there to mess around. He took me to the suitcases, and full price for the first carry on he showed me? $200+. Some others I saw went upwards of $700,and no, I’m not kidding. I am not gentle with my things. I need sturdy things in my life, and I would feel all kinds of wrong scuffing and banging around a $200+ bag. So I said, “What do you have on sale?” We discovered some bags in the $150-$200 range. It was better, but still not it. (And to be totally honest, some of them were just ugly bags). Then I spotted it. It was a navy blue with brown leather detailing Tommy Hilfiger suitcase (I don’t really care about brands, but it is fun when you can snag a name brand), barely an inch over “official” carry on size--and it was on sale for $70.I bought that bad boy in a heartbeat, and later discovered that it matched my laptop-compatible brown leather purse that I had gotten on sale for $20 at Target. So far? Traveling has become immensely easier. Having only a purse over my shoulder reduces the strain on my body, the wheels on the suitcase make for faster and easier traveling, and the structure of the suitcase lets me really cram as much as I’d like in there. Invest in your luggage--and remember you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it. (Here are some sites with luggage on sale or at a low price)

Another incredibly useful thing I’ve discovered, and it does seem a little obvious, is to dress efficiently. definitely was the person who wanted to look real cute going to the airport. On my most recent family trip, my older sister rolled up looking all kinds of stylish, saying that I inspired her to do so. While I was absolutely flattered (I mean, hello), I have changed. Nowadays, I have 100% worn slippers or sandals to the airport with a pair of sneakers in my bag. There’s nothing quite like the anxiety of going through security, and then rushing to put all your clothes back on and all your stuff back in your bag before the next person’s stuff gets shoved on top of yours. My go-to outfit for the airport now is an easy pair of shoes, yoga pants, a simple t-shirt, and maybe a jacket if the weather calls for it (I also hate wasting valuable bag space on outer layers, so even if I don’t wear it, I’ll carry it). It’s easy for security, it’s comfortable on the plane, and it’s still an outfit I’d feel comfortable going out to do something in. Dressing efficiently reduces the stress or additional time you might need moving through the airport. 

This next one might not hold true for everyone, but it’s how I like to fly: give yourself enough time. My SO likes to roll up at the airport with 30-45 minutes before his flight departs. When I first learned that, I experienced second-hand anxiety. Barely an hour? What? I’ve flown mostly with my mother (since I only recently started flying solo), and it’s always been at least two hours before departure. I just took that as gospel truth. As my mother likes to put it, “Going to the airport is a lot of hurry up and wait.” My SO doesn’t like waiting around in airports, hence his time frame. I, however, feel much more comfortable with an hour and a half to two hours, and that's simply a style preference (although he did miss the last flight he took out of Washington and had to catch a new one, just saying...). Sometimes TSA thinks my makeup wipes are explosive. Sometimes I get stuck in some unexpected traffic on the way to the airport, and it takes me longer than I planned. Sometimes the entire world decided they wanted to fly out of my airport and lines are 45 minutes long. Sometimes sh*t happens, and you need to account for that when planning your trip. My “golden rule” is to give myself roughly 90 minutes from getting to the airport to my flight’s departure time (note: this is usually 30 minutes after boarding time). I have time to get through security and to my gate, I have time in case my gate changes and is now suddenly on the other side of the airport, and if worst case I experience zero problems and have ample time to spare, I, personally, am happy to sit at my gate reading a book or enjoying a snack. 


Despite his...interesting time schedule for flying, my SO clued me into a great website for buying plane tickets. When I first flew down to California to see him, I paid $270--and that was after using my miles. To be fair, I was flying Alaska and they are on the pricier side of things (but come on, their service is kind of worth it). However, I don’t really care about a luxury flight experience; I just want to getthere already with minimal blow to my bank account. When I mentioned how much my flight cost, he scoffed at me and pulled up Skiplagged. Skiplagged looks at all the prices of all the airlines, shows you the dates in which prices are lower or higher, and when booking round trip, it doesn’t limit you to one airline for all of it (for example, it might suggest you fly down with Delta and fly back with Southwest for the cheapest possible flights). Lo and behold, the next trip I took to California? I paid $180 without miles. (I’m now collecting miles with Delta, and I have enjoyed flying with them almost as much as Alaska.) If you don’t have to blow your cash on a plane ticket, why should you? If you’re willing to sacrifice peak comfort, go ahead and be frugal about it. 

Really, what efficient travel boils down to is thinking things through ahead of time. When you’re packing, make sure your laptop and liquids are easily accessible in your luggage so you don’t hold up security digging around for it. Make sure that your water bottles are empty. Check your flight status and traffic ahead of time so you know when you need to leave. If you’re able, check the congestion at the airport to see if that usually 15 minute line through security is now 45 minutes long. When you’re buying your ticket, give yourself time to find the best prices. I can promise you from my own experience that the accumulation of these little things immensely reduces the stress of travel. And what more could you want than stress-free travel?