Holiday how-to: take the stress out of your trip

Susan Grossman

Travel writer and work-life coach

Ever found yourself needing a holiday to recover from your holiday? Waited all year for that hard-earned seven days in the sun, only to find you’re so wired from work/everyday life that the stress travels with you – or, more common still, the planning, the travelling, the on-location surprises, and even the company, creates a whole new host of headaches? We ask a work-life coach for advice on getting yourself in the right mind-set to make the most of that precious holiday time

Psychologists would say that how you respond to the unpredictability of a holiday depends on your early experiences in childhood. Even seasoned travellers can, deep down, feel anxious about being far away from home, while others are always excited. Either way, there are things that everyone can keep front of mind to enhance the experience and smooth out those potential kinks. It is meant to be a holiday, after all.


I always use my government’s advice page to check on what’s happening in a place before I make any decisions. These cover political unrest, accidents and health issues in each country, and are updated on a daily basis. I find reading around the culture and people of a place helps, too. The more you know, the better you will be able to cope with change. I also search the travel pages of each national newspaper for the latest articles.

Focus on enjoyment

Focus on enjoyment

It sounds simple, but it’s important to work out what makes you happy in a holiday. Enjoyment is the ultimate antidote to stress, so make your plans carefully. If you can’t decide what sort of holiday you want, one way of thinking about it is to look back and remember the last time you had a brilliant one. What was it that made it so great? The chances are it was experiencing something new or exciting: a person, an encounter, an activity. Whatever it was, your mindset was probably the key to your sense of enjoyment.


Setting realistic goals and expectations has to be top of my holiday to-do list. As a travel writer, I well know that you can’t anticipate what could happen once you leave the comfort and familiarity of home, but it’s how you react to the unexpected that makes all the difference. Stress is something we either take with us, or leave behind. It’s your decision.

The Association of British Travel Agents is regularly bombarded with complaints from holidaymakers. Many travellers believe that what they see in a brochure is what they’ll get, so the reality is predictably disappointing. Trying to let go of things beyond your control is key. It takes a certain type of person to make an adventure out of getting lost, for example. Often, it’s not actually the trip that can make us anxious; it’s what we take with us, from worries about money to health anxieties.



We’ve all cringed at bickering couples on holiday. But the triggers for stress are enhanced when you spend more time than usual with a friend or partner. Try to find out as much as possible about your holiday buddy beforehand. They might want to spend time doing a sport you hate, or prefer lying in the sun to exploring. There’s a lot of time to fill when you’re not at work; you might have to agree to give each other space to do your own thing. I once invited a neighbour to travel with me to Greece, for example. My plan was to island hop; his to go clubbing and stay in bed ’til noon. We parted company on the second day…


Children can make relaxing difficult: parenting never stops, and they can get bored, irritable, and tired on holiday. Travelling with babies or teenagers, especially, needs a lot of planning and thought. Whatever you have lined up – from play centres to exciting adventure sports ­– may not be received with as much enthusiasm as you expected, but don’t let that make you downhearted. When I wrote my first book, Have Kids will Travel, and dragged my youngsters around the world, I found that the most enjoyment came from seeing new places from their perspective, not from over-organising them.

Wise advice. But if you’re still struggling to take a chill pill, why not try one of our favourite city spas?

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