Let’s face it, traveling can suck. Missed flights, lost bags, packed in like a sardine in the middle seat…it’s a long list. Here are three ways mindfulness can help you reduce that travel stress.
1. The Night Before Travel Pep Talk
I used to get really uptight the night before I traveled, especially if I had an early morning flight. Will my alarm clock work? Will I get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport and miss my flight? Will the security line be a mile long also resulting in missing my flight? Will my flight be delayed so I miss my connection? Worry, worry, worry.
I’ve been meditating regularly and practicing mindfulness for seven years so I decided to sink my brain into that well and see what I could come up with on the travel front. The solution I came up with has worked like a charm on my last several trips. As with all things related to mindfulness, it’s exceedingly simple, but effective.
The night before I fly, I close my eyes and have a short chat with myself about what the next day may have in store. I go through everything that can go wrong (oversleep, traffic, security line, etc.) and then ask myself: Okay, what if any of those things dohappen?
If there’s an accident on the 405 Freeway (I live in Southern California) and I miss my flight, is it really the end of the world? No. I’ll get another flight. Same with the security line. Same with any of those things.
Yes, there are times that missing a flight could have major negative ramifications. You may miss an interview for a job you really want. Maybe your kid’s college graduation is the next morning. In those cases, yeah, it would be awful if you had to spend the night at the airport and fly out the next morning.
Well, maybe it’s just me, but I’d say that 90 percent of the time I travel, it won’t kill me if I miss a flight and get in later or, worse, have to spend the night and arrive the next day.
Most of the angst we experience when we miss a flight or have some other travel mishap comes from responding reflexively. In other words, we say to ourselves right in the moment that some awful travel thing happens, “Damn it! I missed my flight. That means I have to be angry and miserable! AAARRGGHHH!!!” No. You don’t have to be angry and miserable.
And most of the time the things we get anxious about the night before or the day of travel don’t come to pass. So have this chat with yourself the night before flying. You’ll feel calmer and less anxious the night before, the day of and during your actual travel.
2. Take Two Breaths Before Exploding
The gate agent taps away on her computer…after what seems like an eternity, she says, “Gosh, I can’t get you on anything until tomorrow morning. Everything is completely full.” Upon hearing this, or any other awful news given by some hapless airline employee, most people roll their eyes, sigh and say something like, “God, I hate this airline. Every time I fly X (American, United, Delta…we all have our least favorite airline), something goes horribly wrong!”
The result of that response is twofold: 1. You feel worse, and 2. The hapless employee feels worse which, importantly, makes them less likely to try and go the extra mile to help you out.
Next time you get the awful news try something new: Immediatelyclose your eyes and take two deep breaths. I guaranteethat you’ll feel better at the end of those ten seconds. And the result of that will be dealing with the agent in such a way that they will be more helpful.
This has worked for me in the past where the agent has found some better solution to my problem. I don’t know if it’s just the universe smiling on me with good karma because I didn’t lose it on some woeful airline employee or what, but good things generally happen when you chill out, stay in the moment and don’t lose your s%*t on people. Taking two deep breaths is usually all it takes.
3. Ask Yourself This Critical Question
You deplane from flight number one, look up at the departures screen and find out that your connecting flight is delayed three hours. You’re mad. You grumble under your breath and start that miserable walk toward your next gate.
Next time you find this happening, stop in mid-walk and ask yourself this question: “Is there anything really wrong with this moment right now?” In most cases, the answer is no. You’re just walking through an airport.
Most of the pain and agony we feel in life doesn’t arise from the original painful incident. In this case, the initial pain is the three-hour delay. No. Most of the pain we feel is what WE add on top of that, in the form of negative, pointless thinking. “Every damn time I fly through Dallas/O’Hare/Minneapolis, etc., my flights get screwed up. Why does this always happen to me? I’m so unlucky!” [I wrote a separate article on the concept of primary and secondary pain that goes deeper into this. Here’s the link.]
So the next time you catch yourself at the airport about to go down the woe-is-me/rumination rabbit hole, just ask yourself, “Is there anything hugely wrong with the moment I’m in right now?” Once you realize the answer is no, your mood will lift.
This is mindfulness at its essence. Doing your best to be present in each moment of your life. The benefits of doing so are mind-bogglingly profound. You’ll be calmer, happier and a better spouse, parent, friend and overall member of humanity.
Now I’m not going to lie to you and say that that’s easy to pull off. It takes a strong commitment and sustained practice. But I can say with confidence that if you practice on a daily basis, you’ll reap deep benefits in a fairly short amount of time, especially on travel days!