preparing for a trip; advice from a travel maven


In the summer of 2016, I went on a trip with a friend to Spain. I was frantically trying to get ready at the last minute, to make sure I had done everything I intended to do before leaving. This included stuff on my computer at home, cleaning my office room, and so forth — not just packing and the like.

Everyone told me to make it a point to get to the airport early, at least two hours before.

On the afternoon of my flight, I was frantically trying to update some files on my computer which I thought I needed for the trip, which did not have to be done. I left at the last minute, forgetting my passport. I called my wife on the way to the airport in a panic. She was not home. Fortunately, I reached her on her cell phone. She retrieved my passport and brought it to me. We met at the entrance to a subway station in Queens where I was about to take the so-called Train to the Plane to the airport.

I got to the airport perhaps 20 to 25 minutes before departure time. Fortunately — very fortunately — getting through the air traffic control line was quick. I thought I would make the flight.

I had to get to something like Gate Six. I didn’t realize that the distance between gates is very long. I was walking for what seemed like seemed forever before I reached Gate Six, hauling my luggage, sweaty and totally out of breath.

I reached the departure gate about ten minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave. “Welcome,” Mr. Smith,” an attendant said. “Glad you made it. You’re the last passenger to board.” She did have to ask my name. The cabin door was shut and the plane took off just minutes later.



I am now about to leave on a twelve-day trip to Ireland and Denmark.

A word to the wise from a wiser but often clueless traveler.

Don’t start preparing for the trip at the last minute. And, given that traveling begets stress and disorientation, try to slow down and to not get distracted or over-taxed mentally by giving yourself too many things to do.

Do things backward.

Set priorities. Put aside as much as you can for later. After you return. For example, organizing my books and files. An article which I was going to write. They can wait, I told myself.

My wife said yesterday, “You should start packing now.” I thought to myself: I always leave it to the last minute. Then I realized she was right.

If you do not do such things as packing two or three days ahead of time, you will forget things. Like the battery charger for my camera that I might have left without. Or the plug adapter for my iPhone that I will need in European hotels.

More broadly, one needs to slow down and take a deep breath.


— Roger W. Smith

    April 2018




It seems that there is a greater lesson here. When faced with a big undertaking or change, when the adrenalin starts flowing, people often seem to act — instead of trying to be as calm and as focused as possible — almost manic, more than usual. In other words, to meet the demands of expending energy in an anticipated undertaking which is new and exciting, but perhaps can raise one’s blood pressure, one ratchets oneself up a notch or two. Which is not necessarily bad, but then one starts doing all sorts of things that perhaps don’t really need doing or are a distraction. Something like that.

I get very excited about a trip and love to travel, which is as it should be, but there are all sorts of mundane hassles associated with traveling, such as (but not limited to) making sure you don’t lose anything. I have lost my passport once and credit cards several times. And, even if you control for these factors, you never know quite what to expect. No trip can be planned that carefully, and I like to be spontaneous. So, at least in my case, what seems to happen is that I get too energized or frenzied as the event approaches, when it would behoove me to stay focused and not do additional things to distract and occupy myself. But I get overly busy trying to do everything before I leave, including things I don’t really have to do at that moment, and sometimes neglect to do the things that are required. I suspect that this kind of analysis could be applied to many other situations where demands are made upon oneself that are not quite the same as the routine ones of daily living — it could be something as seemingly (but not really) routine as an examination or job interview or a death requiring one’s presence at funeral observances.

It seems that life sometimes works at cross purposes on people’s energies and on their psyches. It excites us, but also confuses us. We need change and excitement. We also need time to relax and reflect. Both are necessary to psychic wellbeing. Keeping the two in balance can sometimes be difficult.

6 thoughts on “preparing for a trip; advice from a travel maven

  1. elisabethm

    Enjoy this wonderful trip, Roger, and smooth travels!
    As you may know I have worked at the airport for almost 19 years. Of course you can see the names of the last missing passengers in the computer and once when the last passenger turned up, we said something similar, like welcome Mister Jansen. He said “Am I the last passenger?” and I said “Nooo, we know all the names of our passengers!”

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