8 essential tips to avoiding travel madness and making your next trip a success

I’m a planner. A week before most trips I start laying out the basics, making checklists, and doing last minute shopping to fill in the gaps. With four kids and a husband to pack for, it’s my way of always being prepared. 

We were headed on a trip down under—flying from Hong Kong to Sydney, with a domestic connection to Hamilton Island and two connecting ferries to our final destination on one of the surrounding islands. 

It all started with a few last-minute emergencies. My husband suddenly announced he couldn’t make the flight because of an urgent work project (yes, in my life, that’s typical). He stayed behind with my two-year- old son and promised to book the next flight over. So, there I was—three hours before takeoff, solo rushing out the door, weighing the bags, making the kids gluten-free sandwiches, cutting up veggies, and packing some emergency snacks in case of delays. 

Our journey’s challenges began as soon as we arrived at the Hong Kong airport. Our flight was delayed and we finally took off two hours late. That type of delay is normally not the biggest deal in the world, but with kids in tow and flights and ferries to catch, it was enough to set my radar on alert.

During the nine-hour flight, I started calculating our game plan. At best, we would have 60 minutes to get off the plane, clear immigration, wait for our bags, find the shuttle, drive to a different terminal, and check in for our connecting flight. For those of you who haven’t traveled recently, that’s a crazy tight connection.

The stewardess made contact with ground personnel mid-flight and suggested we immediately re-book our domestic flight for the following day because she said there was no chance we’d ever make our connection. None? How often in our lives are we told that we ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ be able to do something? Have we lost all faith in doing the impossible so much so that we give up before we even try? All we had to do was get from row 67 off the plane and start running. Sounded doable to me. 

In an attempt to be prepared on arrival, I reached out to an Australian woman sitting beside me and asked her for advice on what to expect once we touched down in Sydney. She said the only way we’d make our next flight is if we had Aussie dollars to take a taxi — absolutely no waiting for a shuttle — to the domestic terminal. She reached into her pocket and handed me a 50. Pay it forward, she offered generously. Little did I know that her generosity would be what saved us. 

We landed at 11:00 a.m. to catch a 12:05 p.m. domestic flight. As luck would have it, the pilot announced that another plane was at our gate and we would be waiting on the runway for a while. A whopping 20 minutes later, we deplaned. We frantically asked the ground staff to help us dash through lines and customs, but they dismissed us as crazy. They claimed, even with their help, we’d never make our next flight. 

That made us run faster — more determined than ever to beat the odds. We sprinted to immigration and tried to make friends with an officer in the hopes of cutting the long line, but he said the same thing. “Nobody with this short connection ever makes it.” So, we smiled (flushed and sweaty) and asked the people in front of us to let us through. Strangers are more willing to help than you think.

We had to make a flash judgement call and decided to leave our bags on the carousel in Sydney-certain that they would delay us. In an instant, all of our stuff that I’d spent a week packing no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was getting my kids to our destination. 

We dashed through to a taxi and, thanks to the Australian woman’s kindness, we were able to pay the driver to take us to terminal two. At this point, it was 11:35 and our flight was closing. Tick tock.

Throughout the day’s journey, I was super focused on making sure my kids learned something from the experience. I wanted to show them that giving up should be a last resort, a choice made only when all options are truly exhausted. I needed them to stay determined and run as fast as their legs could move, and I needed them to think we were making the flight. Believing is the most important part of achieving. Truth is, deep down, I wasn’t convinced of anything. But as a mom, my role that day shifted from travel planner to teacher, modeling a lesson about grit and perseverance. 

We finally arrived at the check-in counter, exhausted but hopeful. ‘Sorry ma’am. Flight’s closed’; the woman said. Our hearts sank. Luckily, we had no bags and after a few minutes of smiles and pleads (hard to resist a cute two-year- old), we were hesitantly let through and bid good luck trying to get to the gate before it closed. We sprinted as fast

as our legs and lungs could bear. I can still feel the crazy-mad burn in my legs and lungs. We managed to arrive as the last people on board just before they closed the gates — exhilarated and shocked that we made it.

And so, we were off. Against all odds. We were left traveling to a remote island with a few snacks in our packs and faith in the unimaginable. It actually hit me right as we were taking off that we didn’t even have a clean pair of underwear!

I could have written the day off as a great travel story, but everything we do in life offers us lessons, reflections, and an opportunity to be better the next time around. Below are my lessons for surviving and thriving travel madness—or in general, when things don’t go as planned—and self-reflections along the way: 

Always pack emergency items inside your carry on

I was never one of those moms who had wipes, Band-Aids, or a snack stored in her purse, but over time I’ve become one. At least when I travel, anyway. I’ve learned that it’s always best to be prepared with basic items you'll need for a day or two without your luggage. Roll your clothing to maximize space and pack travel size cosmetics — and always make room for a few spare pairs of underwear.

Book connecting flights on the same itinerary

If you’re traveling and connecting it's always best—when possible—to book your flights on the same itinerary or with the same travel agent. This way if your bags get lost (or in our case, left) in transit then your first airline is responsible for getting you your bags. In our case, we abandoned our bags so no airline took responsibility for delivering them quickly. That meant five days with no clothing!

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst 

Stay optimistic, but always have a plan B. We had hotel rooms in Sydney on hold and already did some research about other flight connections in case we were stuck. Having a plan B doesn't mean giving up the hope that plan A works out. It just means being smart about a backup plan. 

When everyone says you can’t, you say ‘I will’

Remember — if you don’t try then you will most certainly fail. All the greats succeeded despite the obstacles—don’t ever let other people’s projections of your success in life discard your path. Think about how many times people you’ve looked up to have succeeded in spite of hardships. Never been done before doesn’t mean you’ll be the first to break in.

In a pinch, ask people for help

Connect with people around you and you may be surprised by their kindness and generosity. If I hadn’t struck up a conversation with the kind woman on the plane, we wouldn’t have had money to pay for a taxi and would have likely missed the flight waiting to take out cash. But this lesson really applies to any situation. Don’t let your pride stop you from asking for help when you need it. Also, in return, offer your help and kindness to strangers—especially when the stress of travel heats up. 

Stay in shape so you can sprint when you need to

As I was huffing and sweating through the airport this thought occurred to me: I should run more often. Get in shape to be prepared to run when life begs you to step up. Hours at the gym do more than sculpt lean bodies. Exercising helps you build stamina and gets you both physically and mentally prepared for any kind of sprint that life demands of you.

Learn to live on less

Three days into our trip, we still didn’t have luggage. My daughter wore her airline PJs to dinner. She rocked them with confidence. I wore the same outfit for three days and rinsed it out with hotel shampoo. There’s a liberation in simplicity. We need less than we think we need. How much of the stuff you pack or own do you really need every day? 

“It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.” ~ William of Occam

Shift your mindset 

When you find yourself in an unfortunate situation, choose to look on the bright side. Throughout our few days living on less, we enjoyed profound acts of kindness. Hotel staff lent me sneakers and sunglasses. They even offered to wash my kids' only outfits in their own homes. We chose to rock out a great few days despite our less than ideal circumstances. Life is like a mirror—smile at it and it will smile back at you.

“Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.” ~ Charles Warner

Comments (9)

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  1. Hi Nealy,

    Excellent advice here.

    I have learned that asking for help and doing the mindset work – aka, working on your inner world to clear out fears – does wonders for enjoying your time on the road.

    Whenever my wife and I are at the airport and need to get information I do not hesitate to ask anyone. Staff, travelers, whomever. Only because I got over the fear of reaching out and looking stupid. Who cares? I’d rather get from Point A to Point B quickly and easily by getting directions or figuring out how some process works, or whatever.

    As for mindset, everything in life is energy. Traveling around the world is a really good way to get the energies moving in your meat suit, so you can allow fears to arise, to embrace the fears, to feel the fears and to release them. This is because traveling forces us outside of our comfort zone regularly.

    I recall living in a small Balinese village for 6 months a few years ago. We were on a house sit. At times I felt like a complete outsider. Especially when the locals said something in Bahasa Indonesian and all laughed at whatever I was doing. I learned to get over myself – and to learn some Bahasa – and also to simply be more present through meditation and yoga, because in the moment, you see the grace and calm amid the appearances of madness, whether sprinting to your flight or finding out your apartment for the month is between 2 brothels (as had happened in Istanbul) or as tends to happen when you live in a remote place without any connection to civilization, as we did too.

    Fabulous post Nealy.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Ryan

    • nealy says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments Ryan!

      Sounds like you live a full and hectic and welcome life.

      Asking for help is huge-and as they say-what goes around comes around!

      xx nealy

  2. Chrissy says:

    As quite an anxious traveler this was helpful to me. The tips are very useful, and I’m glad you made your flight in the end. I always say that I love destinations but I don’t enjoy the travel to get there but as much planning as possible has always helped me cut down on that. That being said, you never know when there are going to be delays or problems, so the fact you were able to ask for help and receive it is wonderful.

    • nealy says:

      Thanks for your note Chrissy…travel is a hard thing even for so many of us frequent jet setters. As the big travel season approaches I hope you stay organized, safe and happy! xx Nealy

  3. Kerima Anima says:

    Hi Nealy,

    Such a wonderful read and truly a remarkable experience for you and your children. Thank you for sharing! I learned so much and will surely pass on the learning to the advocacy program for the poor mommies in the Philippines that we have created and have been running for over a decade.

    Looking forward to more sharing and insights on this blog.

    Appreciatively,

    KIM

    • nealy says:

      Thanks for your lovely message Kim! Good luck with your advocacy program-sounds interesting. And have fun on your future travels!

  4. Anna says:

    I’m a list maker, and rigorous planner too… but I’ve just never been able to do it properly for going abroad! I think the unfamiliarity confuses me and puts me off ahha. I definitely needed this post. Booking connecting flights is such a stressful thing, oh and I hate having to run through the airport!

    • nealy says:

      Oh I love it! I always say that we must plan for the worst but expect the best. Always be prepared and then when things don’t go according to plan (as they do!) you have the tools to cope. Best of luck on your future travels and thanks for taking the time to chat!

  5. Samantha says:

    Very good advice here, its important to plan in advance or you forget to pack things. I also think its important to try and live on less, there has been so many times I take loads of items I never use. I’ll remember to keep emergency items in my carry on, I always forget to bring band aids but they are so useful.

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