On the process of planning for a trip to eliminate anxiety

I dread trip planning. There is too much to figure out in the planning process without a good context. You have to contact many people to make bookings, or get clarity. And if it is international travel, there is the visa application process. That is a lot of effort that has to be spread over a long period of time. This eliminates the possibility of attaining mental state flow in the planning phase. That is, the planning process doesn’t bring you happiness. So, I just avoid the planning for a long time until the last few weeks, and then I have to scramble to get everything set up. While I’m scrambling, my productivity hits rock bottom. I cannot focus on work since I feel an urgent need to finish the planning and I can’t do much planning because I have to wait long periods between actions to make progress. Also, I feel like I’m neglecting work too much (which I am!) due to the amount of time spent planning.

How does one manage a situation like mine? One possible solution is extended effort and discipline. The planning and research phase must begin as soon as the possibility of a trip becomes more than just a probability. After that threshold is reached – granted that is a subjective threshold – one must regiment 4 hours a week or more to the process and keep adjusting the effort at the end of each week. Preferably, the effort is spread over 4 or fewer days since anything less than 30 minutes a day is insincere and unproductive.

A rough outline of the planning process might be as follows.

  • Identify duration of visit and potential dates based on the duration
  • Research flight options and costs for at least one set of dates
  • Based on flights, identify departure (from home soil), entry (to destination region/state/country), exit (from destination) and arrival (to home soil) cities. If going camping, entry and exit points could be nearest town/city reachable by mass transport.
  • Identify whether there need to be gaps (layovers) in the entry/exit schedule. If there are layovers, identify most optimal layover options (friends, couch surfing, hostel, hotel)
  • Research documentation needs (permits, visas, etc)
  • Read travel guides for the destination. There is a fine line between under preparedness and wasted time, so start with weekly targets for amount of time to be spent reading travel material, and only adjust it at the end of the week.
  • Draw up 2 detailed itineraries based on the reading
  • Revisit the documentation needs based on detailed itineraries. Draw up schedule for obtaining documents, and STICK TO IT! Getting documents is one of the biggest bottlenecks in travel planning.
  • Book the major transport connections (flights, trains, car rentals)
  • Start booking accommodation and transport for each destination and connection in the itinerary. This can be done in parallel with document gathering, and in fact, can affect documentation needs.
  • Start communicating with friends/couchsurfers about the itinerary to see if you might be able to share part of it with them.
  • Create a packing list. Order/buy items you need that you don’t have.
  • Pack a day before departure.
  • Depart with a peaceful mind and enjoy your travels.

As you can see, this is a significant effort and one major factor that deters potential travelers. But if you follow this checklist a few times, you will develop your own shortcuts and the effort will shrink significantly. The ideal traveler is one who doesn’t or needn’t do any planning, but I am yet to meet one (although, I certainly am jealous of you holders of western passports. Try traveling the world with a Chinese or Indian passport, and you will know how lucky you are).