Vacations are always a special time. Whether you want to relax and unwind or get your adrenaline pumping, it’s our one opportunity to do anything we want without having to think of work and other obligations. You can do whatever you want: tour museums, go barhopping, even sleep all day.

But vacations can be disconcerting, too. For one, you’re in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar people. I can’t blame you if you make a few mistakes. But if you let the mistakes pile up, it could seriously affect your trip.

Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from planning a long vacation somewhere nice. There’s nothing to be gained from dwelling on hypothetical scenarios. But I’m sure you’d rather not deal with any problems during a time when you’re supposed to relax. If those hypotheticals become a reality, then your entire trip could be ruined.

Travel agencies and travel planners go out of their way to ensure a smooth and painless experience for vacationers, but some things are beyond their control. On the other hand, you can do things to improve or even enhance the overall experience. Here are a few tips for a stress-free vacation.

1. Always be early

I’ve never understood people who arrive at the airport just in time for the boarding call. Vacations can easily run into the low thousands, once you add up the cost of airfare, accommodation, food and drink, and everything else that one is supposed to do during a vacation. A recent survey revealed that 3 in 4 people have gone into debt to pay for a vacation.

The last thing you need is to miss a multi-city flight. Hotel reservations and airfare are often nonrefundable, so that’s at least a thousand dollars down the drain. You need to be early for everything. Do whatever you can to arrive at the airport on time. Set the alarm. Arrange for a wake-up call. Ask your neighbor to knock on your door. Stay the night at a motel near the airport.

Let’s say you have an afternoon flight. You probably think that two hours should give you enough room for travel and everything you need to do at the airport. But a single traffic jam could turn a thirty-minute drive into a three-hour one. It wouldn’t kill you to check-in early and wait a few hours at the boarding area.

This is especially important if you have connecting flights. If you’re traveling abroad, you need to leave enough wiggle room between flights. Book a later flight at the connecting city to remove any worries of missing your second flight just because your first one is delayed.

2. Prepare an emergency carry-on

Upon check-in at the airport, your luggage will be whisked away to places unknown. Of course, we hope that our bags will be there when we arrive at our destination, but it pays to be prepared. Mix-ups happen all the time, and you could find yourself without clothes and essentials in an unfamiliar place. While you can always buy a change of clothes, you still have the next few days to worry about.

Make sure to fill your carry-on with everything you need in the event the airline loses your bags. Money, important documents, and medication should be kept with you at all times. Extra denim wear for ladies is a sensible choice as well. It also helps to have a spare charger for your mobile phone.

3. Get to know your destination

You won’t want for anything once you’ve arrived at your hotel. Tourist spots are one of the most secure and best-equipped places in the world. After all, you’re bringing in dollars that the local economy needs. There’s no shortage of food, shopping, or activities if you’ve chosen a good vacation spot. But that doesn’t mean you should become complacent. Make it a point to do some research about your destination.

A quick search online might reveal some useful information, but don’t be afraid to go on a deep dive. Guidebooks are always a good start, but if you’re looking for something specific, you might have to go on different platforms. For instance, if you’re interested in the local music scene, try seeking out local musicians and ask them about their haunts. You’re bound to discover something interesting or new if you look hard enough.

The bottom line

You shouldn’t have to worry about anything when you’re on vacation, but it pays to do some planning and preparation ahead of time. Keep these three tips in mind if you want to make your vacation as smooth and pain-free as possible.

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