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Hit the Road with Less Travel Stress

Tips for staying calm while staying on course.

By Deborah Wilburn

theguide01.jpgWould you ever plan to spend nine hours straight in car? No one does, but a major accident last summer on a heavily traveled bridge in the suburbs of New York City made that nightmare scenario a reality for scores of trapped travelers. And when it comes to the friendly skies, who can forget the JetBlue debacle last winter that left travelers stranded for days? These are extreme travel traumas, but we all know that missed connections, canceled flights, and traffic jams can give anyone a pain in the neck—literally. Here are some steps you can take on the road to tame the tension when things don't go exactly as planned.

Before Departure

Get enough rest the night before your trip. Lack of sleep can make anybody moody and amplify angst from travel snafus.

HOW I…Protect My Luggage

Safeguard your valuables

Stricter rules about carry-ons mean passengers are packing more than ever into their checked luggage. Oregon high school teacher Doug Winn says: "Mark cameras and laptops (if you must pack them) with your driver's license number. Make sure that all luggage has your contact info inside and out. Keep your valuables (driver's license, credit cards, passport, and cash) with you. Keep copies of important info in a separate place among your luggage along with a copy left at home or somewhere that you can contact if need be." Also, lock luggage with a Transportation Security Administration-approved lock from Travel Sentry or Safe Skies; others might get broken off by screeners. Even with a locked bag, TSA tells travelers not to pack jewelry, cash, laptops, electronic items, and undeveloped film.

Next, if you're flying to your destination, be sure to leave enough time to comfortably get to the airport (allowing extra minutes for the unexpected, such as highway construction). There's nothing worse than arriving for take-off with your tension level already at cruising altitude. Check the Transportation Security Administration Web site to see your airport's estimated security line wait time ( And don't forget to put your liquid and gel toiletries in a one-quart clear bag.

Hurry Up and Wait

Let's say you get to the airport in plenty of time, but the mile-long security line is moving slowly. Very slowly. If you feel stress building, certified yoga instructor Susan Rubin, owner of Sage Yoga in Armonk, New York, suggests that you pay attention to your posture before your body gets tied up in knots. Don't slouch to one side, but stand very straight and become aware of all four corners of each foot pressing into the floor. Next, pay attention to your breath. Inhale and exhale through your nose slowly and deeply. Count your breaths from one to 10, then start over. "Deep breathing calms the nervous system," says Rubin.

On the Plane

Sitting crammed into an uncomfortable seat can produce lower back tension. To counter it, Rubin recommends doing a gentle, easy twist. Sit up straight, leaning forward slightly. If you're twisting to the right, put your right hand on the right armrest and your left hand on your left knee. Inhale, and as you exhale turn your body to the right from the waist up and look over your right shoulder. Repeat on the other side.

Calming the Kids

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults over 18 have used some type of alternative health treatment, reports the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

It goes without saying that books, portable games, and healthy snacks are a necessity. But Janice Davis, mother of two and author of A Kid, A Grownup & A Travel Bug recommends talking to your children in advance about what might be in store and how they should behave.

Also, keep a sense of humor, says Penny Donnenfeld, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. "Say things like, 'I wish I could make this car grow wings and fly over all these cars,' or 'This makes me feel like making a funny face'—then make a face and encourage children to do the same."

And if you don't want your kids to gripe and moan, don't start whining yourself. If you set a positive tone, the delay may not be enjoyable, but it should be tolerable.

World Wide Travel Web

Three sites to help stretch your vacation funds further and make getting there easier.


Find Cheap Gas

With the average cost per gallon hovering around $3 at press time, fueling up can put a serious dent in your vacation budget. But if you log onto Gas Buddy, you can locate an area's cheapest source of gas, wherever your travels may take you.


Have a Seat

Check out Seat Guru while booking your next flight, and you'll never get stuck in a bad seat again. This award-winning site has maps of 275 planes from more than 40 airlines, and offers specific information about each seat, such as proximity to restrooms, whether the seat back has a limited recline or leg room, and much more.


Drive for Less

NEA members enjoy up to 25 percent off rentals from Alamo and $20 off weekly rentals from Hertz when a car is booked through Member Benefits at NEA has also partnered with Collette Vacations to give members a special discount on land costs of trips here and abroad, including education-based tours planned in conjunction with Smithsonian Travel Adventures and A&E Television. Go to Member Discounts to take advantage of the offer.

Eating on the Run

What do you do at an airport or highway rest stop when the food choices are high in calories and fat? Margie Greenberg, a registered dietician in Mount Kisco, New York, says to avoid fast food altogether by packing a cooler. But if that's impractical, here are her picks for times when you're stuck chowing down in the fast food lane.

Note: Nutrition calculators can be found on the Web sites of most fast food restaurants.


best meal choice: Fit ‘n Delicious Veggie Pizza (1 slice from 12" pie)
150 cal., 4 g. fat, 420 mg. sodium

best snack choice: Side salad with 2 Tbs. Lite Ranch dressing
60 cal., 6 g. fat, 260 mg. sodium

back-up choice: Thin ‘n Crispy Cheese Pizza (1 slice from 14" pie)
280 cal., 12 g. fat, 810 mg. sodium

our panel says, "The pizza is thin and tasty, but wouldn't fill me up for a whole meal. But it would be perfect if you're getting on a flight—not too heavy or greasy."  —Staff tester


best meal choice: Asian Salad with grilled chicken & Newman's Own Low-Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing
Salad: 300 cal., 10 g. fat, 890 mg. sodium; dressing: 90 cal., 2.5 g. fat

best snack choice: Apple Dippers with Low-Fat Caramel Dip
70 cal., 5 g. fat, 35 mg. sodium

back-up choice: Hamburger
250 cal., 9 g. fat

our panel says, "Prevent an upset stomach by avoiding the hamburger. Instead, opt to eat a delicious Asian Salad." —Adrianne Svitak, Student Member, Nebraska


best meal choice: Original Recipe Chicken Breast (1 piece, no skin, breading) and corn on the cob
210 cal., 3.5 g. fat, 530 mg. sodium

best snack choice: Caesar side salad with fat-free ranch dressing
90 cal., 3 g. fat, 550 mg. sodium

back-up choice: Roasted Caesar Salad
(with chicken) and fat-free ranch dressing (no croutons)
250 cal., 8 g. fat, 1,240 mg. sodium

our panel says, "Not the best Caesar salad I've ever had, but it's not bad for fast food. As a vegetarian, it's nice to know that I have at least one option at KFC." —Staff tester


best meal choice: Raspberry DeLITE Smoothie without yogurt (20 oz.)
240 cal., 0 g. fat,
15 mg. sodium

best snack choice: Chocolate Chocolate Hand-Scooped Yogurt (1/2 cup)
120 cal., 3.5 g. fat, 50 mg. sodium

back-up choice: 96 Percent Fat-Free Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt (1/2 cup)
140 cal., 3 g. fat, 20 g. sugar, 23 g. carbs, 60 mg. sodium

our panel says, "I tried the Raspberry DeLITE when I had a layover and it was great. Didn't weigh me down like a cinnamon roll would have." —Judy Smith, paraprofessional, Oregon


best meal choice: Reduced-fat Turkey Bacon, Cholesterol-free Egg and Reduced-Fat White Cheddar Sandwich
350 calories, 11 g. fat, 20 g. protein, 820 mg. sodium

best snack choice: Reduced-fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake
300 cal., 8 g. fat, 350 mg. sodium

back-up choice: Tall Caffé Misto (called Café Au Lait in some regions) and one Almond Biscotti
200 cal., 6 g. fat, 175 mg. sodium

our panel says, "If ever I'm stressed and rushing, I love to visit Starbucks, even for five minutes. The smell of coffee alone is wonderful." —Millie Soroe, physical education teacher, Louisiana

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