How to Reduce Travel Stress

If you’re anything like us, chances are you’ve been dreaming about the day when you can freely and safely move about the world again post coronavirus. Maybe you’ve even been making use of all this stay-at-home time by improving your van and your van life skills. The thing is, travel as we know it may never be the same. There’s all kinds of things to contend with. Everything from wearing a mask to washing your hands regularly (rather than being a somewhat dirty drifter who hasn’t bathed in a week) to keeping away from crowds has us re-thinking the nature of travel. And it has us wracking our brains for ways to reduce travel stress. Because travel should be fun, not anxiety inducing. Keep reading to see some of our top tips on how to reduce travel stress.

Be as self-contained as possible

With the coronavirus at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s no surprise that there’s been an uptick in RV and camper van rentals. Why? They’re self-contained. Well, most of ’em anyway. There’s far less risk of exposure to the virus and it’s much easier to maintain social distancing protocols if you are living, sleeping and eating in or near your van. To that end, make sure you have cleaning wipes, masks, hand sanitizer and soap on board.


We’ve said it before, and not to sound like a broken record, but planning ahead of time can help you smooth out some of the unknown. It doesn’t necessarily mean plotting out every second of every day. For us, that’s overkill. Some people, however, might really thrive on that kind of schedule. We like a mixture of planned time and unplanned time that allows for spontaneity. In the post-covid-19 world, it may look like having campsites with showers and hot water booked ahead of time. It may mean domestic travel only. Heck, it may even mean that more people are forsaking overseas trips for those at home. (We’ve got you covered on that end. Check out our 7 Best Camper Van Rental Companies if you’re considering a van life road trip.)

Be early

How To Reduce Travel Stress
Envision the destination instead of constantly worrying about missing your flight.

There is nothing worse in my mind than running late for a flight. Or a campsite with a check-in. Consequently, I’ve been known to get to an airport upwards of four hours early. Caroline is different. She is more comfortable with about an hour and a half. The compromise for us is somewhere in the middle. No matter what though, we like to be early so that we’re not adding unnecessary travel stress. Same goes for traveling in a van. If check-in to the campsite ends at 4pm, try not to roll in at 11pm. You’ll probably be fine but you’ll be looking for your name on a board in the dark and then trying to find your site in the dark as well. Yeah, we’ve been there before but we

Automate, automate, automate

One of the things you can do to ease your travel stress is to automatically check in for your flight. Southwest offers EarlyBird CheckIn for an additional $15 and Lufthansa does it for free. You can also automate your life by making sure that your bills are paperless and that you can check them online no matter where you are (provided you have internet access.) You can also take that one step further and make sure that those online bills are paid each month without you having to do a thing. It’ll take a little time to set your accounts up but once you do, the only thing you should have to do is look for the confirmation e-mail each month that you bill has posted and been paid. It’s as easy as that.

Get TSA Precheck or Global Entry

For those of us who want to ditch the van for a little bit of time elsewhere AND you feel ready to fly, consider getting TSA Precheck or Global Entry. Both are ways to save travel time and reduce travel stress. Over 200 airports and 54 airlines use it. It’s a three step process but going through it means you don’t have to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. It also means that you when you go to the airport, you can access the faster lanes to security. The cost is $85 for five years.

1. Apply Online

Submit an online application in 5 minutes & schedule an appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers.

2. Background Check

This is done in person. It’s supposed to take about 10 minutes and includes a background check and fingerprinting.

3. Enjoy TSA Pre®

When you fly, add your new Known Traveler Number to your ticket.

Get a good night’s rest

Getting great sleep leading up to your trip is one of the best ways to reduce travel stress. That said, if you’re like me, it can be difficult because you’ve got a lot on your mind and you’re excited. In addition, once you’ve arrived at your destination, try to stick to your nighttime routine. Pack an eye mask and earplugs if you think it will help you acclimate to a different sleeping environment.

Also, when you’re on the road, think about doing some of the smaller things that can help you achieve better quality shut-eye. Some of those things for us are:

  1. Using our DIY camper van window screens (they keep bugs out and air flow, well, flowing.)
  2. Parking in a level spot! Sometimes this isn’t always possible. You can remedy this any number of ways including using some wood you’ve found nearby or even putting these levelers to use.

Have a little extra spending money on hand

Nothing is more stressful than realizing a credit card won’t work or that you don’t have enough cash for a cup of coffee. Though not as bad, we also don’t like it when we get slapped with ATM fees. Head to your bank before leaving and take out a little extra money so that you can move about (and spend) with ease. It’s also nice to have on hand when tipping servers and others who provide a service for you. Plus, I don’t know about you but having a little bit of cash on hand always seems to psychologically reduce my travel stress just in knowing that it’s there.

In the same vein, be prepared to spend a little more than you had planned for. Budgeting one’s travel expenses is always a great idea but pad the number a little bit so that if unexpected purchases start to add up, you aren’t stressing out. Just how much that amount is will vary from individual to individual and trip to trip but at the low end of things, we’d say plan for an extra $20 a day.

Update your cell phone plan ahead of time

We recently went to the Bahamas and knew we would want to be able to use our cell phones for work. We use Verizon and were able to figure out how to add International Data to our plan. They have a couple of different options to choose from. We found that jumping on their chat service was helpful. In the end, we picked a plan that only lasted for a month and then automatically ended once the time was up. If we did it again we would do the same thing but buy more data. Doing all of this ahead of time and not on the island and not while en route really helped to reduce our travel stress. We already knew what our data plan was and we weren’t worried about running over (and racking up additional costs.)

Pack ahead of time

Caroline Whatley at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
Hat? Check. Vest? Check. Camera? Check!

I am known for packing last minute but I have tried hard to break myself of this habit. Why? Because packing last minute means that I inevitably forget something. When I’ve packed early (and made a list) it means that I have time to go through the things I need and catch myself before I forget something important. It can be a slippery slope though for those of you who love to overpack! To see 9 of our van life essentials, head on over HERE. To see some things we never bring with us, head on over HERE.

Have snacks available

Being hungry while traveling only leads to stress. And impulsivity. And sometimes food guilt. None of which are conducive to having a fun time on the road. We almost always bring bananas and peanut butter, pretzels and mandarins with us everywhere we go. Stave off the hangry feelings that lead to stress on the road and keep your blood sugar where it needs to be so that everyone has a great time.

Build in down time

We love fitting in as much as we can while traveling but it’s also a surefire way to lead to travel stress. Depending on the length of the trip, it’s always a good thing to build in a little down time. If you’re going away for a weekend, it might just mean a twenty minute power nap before going out late-night. If you’re traveling for a week or two, it could mean building in one full day of just reading on the beach in the sun. Remember it ain’t about the quantity of things you’re seeing, it’s about the quality of the experience.

Take time to transition

Coming home from a vacation can be exhausting. Red eye flights, time zone differences, unpacking, restocking your fridge, picking up your pet from the kennel … all of these things can lead to a stressful re-entry into your life. If you’re able, consider taking off an extra day before heading back to work. If that isn’t possible, consider returning on a weekend so that you have time to do all the things you need to do before Monday arrives. No one wants to be exhausted from their vacation since resting up is probably one of the reasons you took one.

How to Reduce Travel Stress and Anxiety Recap

With a little bit of planning, anyone can reduce travel stress and anxiety. Doing so is one of the easiest ways to make the most of your trip! Do you have any other tips you’d recommend? If so, we’d love to hear about them. Please leave your comments below!

Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are travel writers, photographers and the authors of Authentic Asheville.

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Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

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