I sat with a couple who were feeling frazzled and down about another impending, tension-filled holiday season. When I asked them what the most dreaded part of it was, I expected to hear more about the nosey, pushy in-laws, the competitive holiday parties in their neighborhood, and the gift-giving frenzy. But the one thing they both said (and actually agreed on!) was travel.
“We always have ridiculous fights about when to get on the boarding line. And when exiting the plane.”
Travel stress is not limited to couples, but it is compounded when there are people to deal with. Atypical hostility and tension mount. The rush, the anxiety, fear of flying, and general transition conspire to throw people over the edge, especially when there are children and elderly parents thrown into the mix. In addition, each person has their own ideas and preferences about traveling and dealing with travel stress.
Traveling with others this season? Here are four tips that might help you and your partner get through it with more ease.
1) Share Styles, Patterns and Preferences. Do you feel most carefree when traveling? Does tension arise within you on the way to and from the airport, or at mostly at baggage claim? When and where in your body do the feelings gather? What are the actions that make you feel safest when traveling? These questions can help you get even clearer on your style, pattern and preferences.
If you’ve been with your partner a while, you’ve probably figured out his or her stylistic differences, but it is surprising how many travel companions get thrown off base because they don’t compare styles before they book a trip. I try to let my travel companions know that I like to leave plenty of time leaving for the airport to avoid getting stuck in traffic, I have a pattern of getting edgy when I am anxious about missing a flight, and I prefer to take a shower before doing anything wherever I arrive. It helps so much to manage differences upfront and to have an idea about who your partner might be, what their needs are and how they might behave while traveling.
2) Assign Roles. Have a 15 minute conversation before leaving about who is going to be in charge of what. Many people decide who’s in charge of tickets and passports, and maybe even who is handling the car, luggage and airport pick-up and drop off logistics. I encourage you to get more specific. Perhaps one person can be the timekeeper. Another can be the Chief Child Manager (which doesn’t mean that the other doesn’t help out). If age appropriate, assign the kids roles also, such as electronics manager or security bin tracker. When you sort all this out beforehand, and people understand their roles, there is less room to take the natural anxiety and frustration out on each other.
3) Create a Plan B. And C. When traveling, so many things can go wrong. What will you do if you do miss your 4:30 am flight? What if there is a big storm, traffic or plane delay that keeps you at the airport overnight? What if you and your two year-old twins are forced to sit on the tarmac for three hours? Preparing for these scenarios actually makes dealing with them a lot less jarring when they occur.
4) Playfully Preempt.
Are you one of those couples who, similar to the couple above, always fight on airplane lines, or something similar? You could try to control or stifle your ingrained reactions and play it differently — and while these efforts may be spiritually ambitious — they can also cause more stress. I suggest a more relaxing approach: preempt your stress by assuming it will be there and playfully planning how you would like it to go. For this couple, I suggested that they take bets on which fight will be bigger this year; the one boarding or exiting the plane.
At what time do you expect the travel butterflies to become palpable in your belly? Let those you are traveling with in on your secret fears: “Okay, folks, the travel jitters have hit!” This way, you don’t have to be isolated with them and your peeps can check in (and maybe even lovingly tease you) about it.
Another couple I know decided that this year they would have their annual, really big travel fight at the rental car depot. When they got to the depot, instead of fighting, they pretended to fight and laughed a lot. If you can preempt what usually goes down, you give yourself a little room and choice. If you do get caught up in your pattern, there is more space from and room for laughter about it.
I hope these tips helps you and your partner stay on the same team in cars, airports and train stations around the world as you travel to your holiday destinations this season. If you need some help navigating the dynamics, sign up for a free consultation to discover what skills you need to learn to make traveling through land, life and love a more harmonious process.
I love being with friends and family and absolutely positively HATE holiday travel! It’s the worst part and makes me dread the whole thing. This really hits home for me. Thanks, Blair!
I really loved the idea to preempt the fight because you know it’s coming and want to make another choice. Totally awesome.
Met with someone today that told me that his team documented their needs and shared them. “When I’m frustrated, I need to take a walk even for two minutes.” “When I’m visibly stressed, I don’t want to talk and take it out on you. Silence works for me.” Never thought about doing that before and really liked it.
Thanks, Alli. Preempting has really been such a fun and successful intervention for me. And I love the idea of the “heads up” that your colleague shared. Good luck with the travels this year!
Your advice is so common-sense. And yet so many people (myself included) think we can “make it through” the holiday travel season without planning or discussion about How it can be done or the Roles each person can perform. If our goal is to “make it through” then many of us are on the right path. But if our goal is to march, enjoy, celebrate the travel, then we need to be intentional – which applies to holiday travel and many other events that can stretch a relationship.
Thanks for reading and for your insights, Dave. A little intentionality goes a long way.