Coping strategies for crazy 2022 travel season: Take a breath and lower your expectations
It's going to be a crazy summer out there for travel. Are you ready?
If the projections are accurate, travel will be off the rails. We're talking soaring prices, seemingly infinite lines, and frayed tempers. Plus, there's a war in Ukraine and a pandemic still raging in parts of the world.
I've traveled in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East since the beginning of this year, interviewing tourism officials about their expectations for this summer. Almost without exception, they describe what's about to happen in the same way: It's like a tsunami that is slowly rising on the horizon and will soon engulf all of us.
Yeah, it's going to be an adventure, all right.
But by making a few expert adjustments, you can cope with the summer of 2022. If you slow down and take a minute to understand what's happening, you're halfway there. And there are internal adjustments that will also help you weather the busy travel season.
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Lower your expectations. After two years of going nowhere, many Americans are ready for a vacation. But experts say you shouldn't look for 2020 service levels and prices – you'll be disappointed if you do. "Lower your expectations," advises Dr. Sandeep Vaishnavi, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. "The brain's reward system gets particularly activated if results exceed expectations. In the case of a busy travel season and all that entails, if you lower your expectations and things actually go right sometimes, the brain will feel rewarded and have a boost of dopamine. This will leave you in a happier state of mind." Got that? Expecting less can make you happier.
Let the world go by. The summer of 2022 will be a circus. Don't become a part of it, say experts. Instead, just observe. "Travel gives you an opportunity to challenge your perspective on the world and yourself," says Patrick Walsh, a psychotherapist from New York. "Consider adopting an observational rather than an engaged stance towards your fellow travelers. There are umpteen million little power struggles we can get caught up in while traveling, none of which truly matter. Instead, take a break and let others jockey for position and argue about propriety."
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Take care of yourself. That's especially true if you're traveling with kids. There's a temptation to ignore your needs and focus on taking care of everyone else, which is not much of a vacation. "Be mindful," says Andrea Anderson Polk, a licensed professional counselor from McLean, Virginia. She says travelers should regularly ask themselves what they need, what they're feeling, and what they want. "This is not a selfish exercise," she adds. "It is necessary for coping with stress."
Watch what you eat and drink. It's tempting to let yourself go on your first big trip, but that would be a mistake, warns Dan Meyer. director of Back & Pack, an experiential travel program. "It's critically important to take care of your physical well-being while traveling," he says. "Focus on what you're putting into your body just as much as what you're not." He says plant-based meals will give you vital nutrients when you travel. He also recommends staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol.
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Repeat an affirmation or mantra. A positive statement that helps you overcome negative thoughts can help you get through a stressful flight. "Pick a positive mantra and repeat it in your head at least 10 to 20 times," says Henry Penix, CEO of Soaak, a wellness app. "I am patient, and I have enough patience to get through this day. Or, I love to travel and welcome new experiences. As you speak these words, your mind yields to what it's being told, as the stress and tensions melt away."
Practice gratitude. This is one of the most-repeated pieces of advice from therapists and wellness experts. "Remind yourself of how lucky and privileged you are for being able to travel at all," says Raffaello Antonino, a counseling psychologist with Therapy Central, a counseling center in London. "Gratitude may be the best way to regain your balance when frustration kicks in – breathing in deeply and slowly and keeping in mind how lucky you are even to be traveling in the first place."
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I agree that setting your expectations and modifying your travel habits can help. But you have other options. A few weeks ago in Turkey, I met with Funda Eratici, the Susona Bodrum hotel's regional director of sales. She told me about Yellow Summer in the Bodrum area – the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October. "It's still warm here," she told me, "but the crowds are gone."
That may be the most practical expert coping strategy of the summer: avoidance. I'll see you on the road – but maybe a little later this summer.
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"Sometimes, we get a bit too ambitious and start feeling stressed out that we won't be able to see all the sights we wanted to," says Tasha Holland Kornegay, a licensed mental health clinician in Sanford, North Carolina. Her advice? Play it by ear. "Give yourself a few things to do every day, but also let the world take you where it may." Planning too much will just stress you out and you might miss some unexpected opportunities.
Forgetting to breathe. It's how you breathe that matters when you're dealing with travel-related stress. "Focus on deep, slow breaths, especially when you are engaging with technology or human beings on your trip," says Ruth C. White, a wellness expert. "Moments like checking your luggage, going to a service counter, going through airport security. Or sitting in traffic to and from airports, train stations, or on road trips." Slow, deep breaths calm your nerves and help you become more focused. They'll get you through the worst of it.
Waiting until the last minute to book your rental car. Remember last summer, when rental cars were almost impossible to find? Experts are looking for a summer sequel. "Be careful of the order in which you make reservations," advises Mike Taylor, who heads up travel research at J.D. Power. "Given the rental car shortage and flight schedule disruptions, it may be best for travelers to reserve the rental car first and then the flight, then the hotel."