Maintaining Sanity While Preparing for a Trip

March 14, 2011
If you often feel stressed when getting ready for a trip, try this eight-part plan to be calm and collected when you walk out the door.

Suitcase with words stress-free travel preparations on the sideAfter three days of non-stop news from Japan, whatever I might write on the topic is incredibly inconsequential when paired with images of huge waves throwing boats where cars should be and cars where boats should be. While I have some idea of what I want to eventually write on the topic, I need time for the events to settle into my soul and give me perspective.

Instead, for today’s post I’ll tell you what is going on in my life that might give you ideas for how to get ready for a trip if you tend to be a little overwhelmed when you leave, as I have often been.

You see, a week from tomorrow I leave for eight days in the Washington, DC, area and am determined that getting ready for it will be different this time.

Usually, as I am about to leave, I realize that something has been left undone that should have been done. I stay up late the night before to finish packing and run off the last of the handouts. Then I forget to bring some essential piece of information and need to call my husband to search for it.

Even though I enjoy my trips (business and otherwise), it’s the craziness of preparing for them that really gets to me.

I am determined that THIS time it will be different. Really. I swear to it.

So what is different this time? What makes me think that a week from today I will have the packing all done before nightfall and can get a good night’s rest before rising early to catch a plane?

What makes me think that I won’t discover at the last minute that I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, or that what is clean may need mending?

What makes me think I will have all the handouts printed, a book formatted for my publisher, posts finished so visitors will find new comments three times a week, two videos completed, and another video begun?

I have a new plan.

New Plan Part One: Make a shorter to-do list.

I had a good talk with myself and decided the best way to have a calm and pressure-free flight was to simply not attempt to do the things that didn’t have to be done. In other words, I decided not to include on the list more than was absolutely essential.

This is a different approach than my usual attempt to complete six projects in the last week — when a person needing only five hours sleep at night couldn’t get more than three done.

Fortunately, as a recovering perfectionist, I am learning that I can refuse to put all the weight of the world on my shoulders and expect to have the problems solved by the end of the month.

New Plan Part Two: Use old articles, with a new introduction, for blog posts.

I have a list of more than 500 Support4Change articles lying on the desk to my left. When I finish this post, I will choose articles that you may have missed, unless you are a voracious reader of the website. I will give them a short introduction and a link to the article that I (and others)  may have written several years ago, because they are still good. That way I know you will have two posts a week and I don’t have to worry about you coming here and finding nothing new.

New Plan Part Three: Pack early.

I am going to be all packed (except for minor items like the phone charger) on Wednesday. Six days ahead of time! I already have some clothes on the guest bed and this alone is a major plan-shifter.

Usually I do the things that are needed for the business part of the trip first. Since I attempt to do more of those than absolutely necessary, I put off the packing and I’m dead tired when I fall in bed the night before the trip.

New Plan Part Four: Before I go, finish projects with target dates right after I return.

Ordinarily I might decide that I would finish formatting Healing Relationships is an Inside Job after I get back on March 29 because it isn’t due to the publisher until March 31. That would be a bad idea. Having it hang over my head while I am away would only add to the pressure and less sleep when I return. With less on the to-do list, I know I will have time to finish the formatting, which is 90% done, before I leave.

New Plan Part Five: Include time for appointments.

When I try to operate from ambitious tightly-scheduled plans, I tend to disregard time-eaters, like a doctor’s appointment and a hair cut, in the week before a trip. I will go to them, of course, but tend not to consider the time it takes to do them; a half-hour ride here and a half-hour ride home, plus a stop at the store somewhere along the line, and before I know it, the hours are whittled down.

This time I have those kinds of appointments written with dark ink and an explanation point.

New Plan Part Six: Don’t forget exercise and down time.

One of the easiest “jobs” to cut when I have too much on the schedule is exercise and relaxation. With less on the to-do list, I can continue these activities that are essential for balance and that actually help me get more done.

New Plan Part Seven: Watch out for attention grabbers that turn into time grabbers.

An example of this problem happened this morning before I began writing this post. Wanting to get through the email, I read one from a man who wanted to tell me about How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. It was so effusive that I wondered if he was a friend who hoped I would mention it.

When I checked it on Amazon, I was impressed with the author and wanted to read more by this young former Rhodes Scholar who writes for Wired Magazine. Before I knew it, I had not only read a couple of his posts, but also comments from readers who were obviously also intelligent.

Then I told myself to Stop! I reasoned, that unless the Internet was overtaken by a monstrous bug, his writings will be there for me when I return.

Unfortunately, the danger of the Internet and all this fast-moving technology is that we can get caught in a whirlpool of reading more and more (the image comes to mind of the boats caught in tsunami whirlpools) unable to stop and go where we need to go.

New Plan Part Eight: Expect the unexpected.

I am getting smarter about creating holes in my schedule. In the past, I would put too many unnecessary activities at the beginning of the week or so before a trip. Then when something happened — which it always did! — I would be left with important projects breathing down my neck. This time I have the more important things, like writing the blog and formatting the book, scheduled well before the last days. For example, I don’t plan to work on the videos, which are important but not essential to be done before I leave, before this weekend. So if something comes up, I will have the more important jobs finished.

What is your plan? How do you get ready for a trip with ease and comfort? How do you remember all the things you have to bring? What do you do to leave in serenity and return renewed?

Illustration credit: Wikimedia Commons, words added to graphic
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