Belle Chatter

6 Tips for Near Zen Travel in Stressful Situations

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Because we love to travel, but sometimes travel doesn’t quite love us back…

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… and because air travel and zen travel don’t really go together at all

It began at the train station. Before going home to West Virginia for the holidays, an international trip from Italy that includes three flights and the journeys to and from the airport, I told the signore behind the counter, “I would like a ticket to Torino that lets me arrive before 7 a.m. on Friday.”

He looked at the schedule next to him and rattled off a few options. Then he remembered. “There’s a strike on Friday. The only train will arrive at 8 a.m. in Torino.”

A strike! How would I get to Torino and the airport without being hit with a 100 Euro fee? Strikes in Italy occur once or twice a month in public transportation, whether it’s trains, metros or buses. The union workers kindly inform the public through word of mouth and coordinate days (bus strike Thursday, train strike Friday). The Trenitalia website does not notify you if you’re buying a ticket for a strike day, so it’s always a good idea to buy tickets for a long or important journey at the station, where the personnel knows all the ups, downs and strikes of the week. I have a feeling that strikes in Italy would be more effective if no one was advised beforehand.

1. Leave extra early

The unexpected strike difficulty was remedied with a kind offer to spend the night at my friend’s mother’s apartment in the city, but I still had hurdles to jump. First, the 40-minute bus ride to the airport was suffered through standing up squished between a kind old man and a pushy Italian girl. I was lucky to get a spot, because the first two buses passed by full, stopping only for the bus driver to say, “Non c’è più spazio,” there’s no more room.

Warm, content faces peered out of the bus windows at the growing crowd of desperate travelers needing to catch a flight. I pushed down an alarmingly mounting panic by telling myself this is why I left two hours early. Thank you, signore Bus Driver Number 3, for letting an entire busload of us onto your already completely full bus.

2. Pack light

With the adrenaline of near-panic (I tried to push it down, but it bubbled under the surface), I hoisted my 60-pound bag up to the top layer under the bus compartment. I would be much less sore had it been lighter. The Christmas gifts of wine, beer, olive oil, cookies and other goodies took up most of that weight.

3. When possible, choose a quality airline for international travel

Lufthansa and British Airways are my personal favorites for reasons that include offers of wine, gin and Bailey’s at various points of the flight and the handing out snacks immediately upon boarding. Plus, the smiling! I had forgotten what pleasant customer service was on my budget airlines.

One reason stands out when it comes to using quality, international airlines: luggage allowances. I usually follow weight limits, but all those Christmas gifts tossed that out the airplane hatch. Because Lufthansa does not make its money from charging overweight luggage, or because the lady behind the counter was nice, she let my extra four kilos slide.

Now back to tip 2: pack light, including the carry-on luggage, so that when you’re running to catch your next connection, your arms are not breaking off from the bag of books. Or, if all is on time and a half hour can be spent browsing perfume and book stores, it’s nicer to tote a conveniently light bag than it is to lug a heavy one.

4. Try not to panic

We landed and I had 40 minutes before my next flight took off. I repeatedly pushed through crowds of people saying, “Sorry, excuse me, my flight leaves really soon,” only to be stuck on the same bus as everyone, or in the same line as everyone, and they stared at me with sleepy, annoyed eyes. I felt obnoxious, like a jerk. There are many points in the journey where the bus waits until the last person steps on before it takes off. Twenty of my 40 minutes were taken up going through Customs in Washington, D.C.; the other 20 in line for security. By the time I waited to pick up my bag (it is obligatory to recheck luggage at the D.C. airport) my last plane had already left. I knew the next flight was seven hours later.

But do not panic, I told myself. Do not get angry, but resign yourself. If there is nothing you can do about your situation, then avoid getting stressed out and angry, and certainly do not make a scene as the man in line behind me did.

5. For goodness’ sake, though, run if there is a chance!

Stress gave me power and adrenaline that made my bags float even after 12 hours of travel. Plus, it stretches out those stiff travel legs.

6. Invest (a heavy word for a $5-7 item) in a neck pillow

Finally, when you do hopefully make your flight and settle in for the next two to eight hours, comfort is essential. Whether sleeping, reading or watching in-flight sitcoms, a pillow supports your neck or lower back, or keeps your lap warm and releases the tension from that stressful run.

Traveling can be boring from waiting in endless lines; relaxing as you finally have time to read that book; or stressful (see above). A Travel Belle never knows what the day will bring, and so traveling is also always exciting. The two most important pieces of zen travel advice for any unexpected situation: tell yourself you cannot do anything about it if you can’t, and resign yourself calmly; or figure out what it is you can do and do that. Ask strangers (in their language if you can) if they’ll split a cab fee; ask politely to pass to the front of the line because your plane is leaving in five minutes; run; or calmly wait for your luggage because your plane already left, and shrug your tired shoulders.

By the way, that flight that was scheduled for before I was out of security was delayed an hour and 15 minutes – enough time to smile in relief, stroll to the gate with time to spare, and pat myself on the back for not giving in to panic, stress or anger because it would have been for nothing.

Photo credit: Global X

About the author

An American expat living in Piedmont as journalist and translator, I love Italy’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps. I like learning about local wines and craft beers, and finding the best pizza, panino, and gelato in the city. I’m fascinated with cultural anthropology and in particular how it relates to food culture. My favorite way to explore is on my own two feet, and I can’t get enough of hiking in the vineyards or Alps.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Krista

    I feel that familiar stress just reading your story! Yipes! I had a similar experience this fall, also in Italy. 🙂 Thankfully it’s OK to shed a few tears, take a deep breath, and find the next bus/train/flight. Sigh. I love travel but sometimes… 🙂

  2. judith works

    Well I’m so brain-dead from flying Delta’s so-called premium economy to/from Rome via Amsterdam I’m beginning to wonderr if travel is worth it. (Yes, it is). Your experiences sound all too familiar and your advice is good.
    The food on the outbound leg catered in Seattle was dreadful. I spoke to one of the cabin crew to ask what the substance inside the bread bomb served for breakfast could possibly be. She said, “We’ve been wondering ourselves. We have complained about it repeatedly but nothing has been done.”

  3. Briana Palma

    Sounds terrible! That is exactly why I try to avoid airplane food whenever possible. A sandwich, snacks and fruit usually tide me over, even on longer flights.

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