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4 Tips for a Less Stressful Vacation

Experts explain ways to leave stress behind when you take off for that much needed holiday.

Smart Air Travel

Get through security lines faster by heeding these Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tips:

  • Leave the lighters at home. TSA confiscates more than 30,000 lighters a day. Other items prohibited in carry-on baggage include knives, sharp objects, firearms, explosives, and flammable liquids. Also forbidden as carry-on: athletic equipment that could be used as weapons such as bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks, and ski poles.
  • Keep valuables with you. Pack jewelry, cash, fragile items, electronics, medications, and undeveloped film in your carry-on luggage.
  • Dress for speediness. To avoid setting off the metal detector, steer clear of clothing, jewelry, or other accessories containing excessive metal. Examples include decorative zippers, buttons, large belt buckles, or underwire bras. Wear easy-to-remove shoes. Suggested footwear includes flip-flops and thin-soled sandals without metal.
  • Know what to take in and out. Laptops and video cameras with cassettes should be taken out of their cases, placed in a bin, and sent through the X-ray machine on their own. Coats, blazers, and jackets should also be placed in a bin and screened. Before entering the screening checkpoint, place cell phones, PDAs, keys, loose change, jewelry, and large metal items in your carry-on luggage.

Vacation Buster No. 2: Sleep Starvation

In the rush to get trip-related errands, packing, and traveling done, many people stay up late and/or get up very early before a vacation, figuring they'll make up the sleep later on. However, it can take one to three days to recover from a sleep deficit and to unwind from stress.

Jet lag can also add to the problem. So can the "first night effect" -- a common phenomenon in which travelers find it difficult to snooze the first few nights in a different place.

To make matters worse, some people hit the sack at odd hours, and forgo good quality sleep to make the most of their vacation. All the activities replacing good shut-eye may well be very valuable, but inadequate slumber can curtail enjoyment of them.

"The reality is that when you don't get enough sleep, it's going to impair all aspects of what you do," says Mark Rosekind, PhD, president and chief scientist of Alertness Solutions, a scientific consulting firm. "You will be irritable, short-tempered, and will be falling asleep in the middle of get-togethers with family and friends."

Then there is the safety concern. Rosekind says a sleep deficit of just two hours can affect performance in the same way a blood alcohol level of 0.05 can.

With such impaired functioning, people obviously put themselves at great risk when they drive, or when they participate in activities such as kayaking, jet skiing, hiking, or biking.

Rosekind has tips for people who'd like to minimize sleep deprivation and its undesired effects:

  • Take the time to prepare for your trip. If you take a personal day off and think of it as part of your vacation, you have a better chance of going into your getaway more relaxed and coming out of it more rejuvenated. If you cannot take the time off, try preparing for your trip at least a week earlier than usual.
  • Manage jet lag. Remember that your internal clock prefers to have a longer day rather than a shorter one. This is why it's generally harder to adjust to time change when you are traveling east as opposed to west. Anticipate the jet lag and schedule your vacation activities accordingly. Also make a special effort to get as much sleep as possible to reduce the effect of jet lag. If time zone changes remain a big problem for you, visit the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) web site for more information on how to beat it.
  • Take naps. Short bouts of sleep during the day can help boost performance.
  • Use caffeine wisely. Caffeinated beverages can help enhance your performance and mood if used in a strategic way. Keep in mind that you will need 100 milligrams to 200 milligrams of caffeine (the equivalent of a big cup of coffee or several soft drinks) to get the desired results. It takes the stimulant 15 to 30 minutes to take effect, and lasts three to four hours. Just make sure you don't drink it close to bedtime as it can ruin sleep.

To ward against the "first night effect," it may help to find lodging in areas with familiar noise levels. The NSF recommends using earplugs and eye masks to help drown out noise and unwanted light. If possible, also bring familiar bedtime items such as a personal pillow or alarm clock.

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