How did I build myself structure during our trip across the world?

Hello, everyone. It’s Natasha, flying solo for today’s post. I want to share with you some thoughts on a subject that’s near and dear to me—finding structure while you travel.

I’m an organized person, and I always have been. As a girl I polished my shoes and straightened my Catholic school uniform every night, packing my bag to make sure I was well-organized for the next day. And if my room was disheveled, I couldn’t study or do any of my homework until I got it cleaned up. Something about clutter and entropy just makes me anxious.

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I’ve carried that with me: Makeup, jewelry, clothes… I keep my things well-organized, and that’s come in handy during our family’s travels.

I’ll admit that I’m not the most flexible person in the world—but I’d like to think my knack for organization makes up for it. And frankly, having at least one organized person in the family makes traveling much smoother. Often, I am the only thing standing between our family and total chaos. (And you can tell AJ I said so.)

But wait, you might be saying. If I like organization so much, how did I possibly make it through an almost nine-month, globetrotting sabbatical with my husband and our son? How could such a trip be anything but chaotic?

Breaking it Down

I’ll tell you my answer in brief: Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I break things down into smaller, easier-to-manage chunks. Because you’re absolutely right: Trying to absorb an entire trip stresses me out. But taking things day by day or even hour by hour? That I can deal with.

Caring Aarav’s essentials in a (stylish, of course) backpack while touring Budapest

It’s also important to note that some days are going to be more chaotic than others. Travel days, in particular, are going to be tough for the organizationally-inclined out there—so just accept that on the front end. Travel days never go quite according to plan, and you’ll likely find your timeline being thrown out the window early on. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a clear schedule in your head; just accept that it’s probably not going to go down smoothly. Somehow, assuming the day will be disastrous can help make it easier to cope.

Once we made it to a particular city—a place where we would be staying for three or four days—that’s when I would always ask AJ what the plan was. I never wanted to deal with the entirety of the trip at one time, so I just asked for the game plan for each individual city. I found that breaking the trip down city-by-city made it much easier for me to wrap my head around things.

Unpacking, Shopping, Planning

After learning the plan, that’s when I would unpack. If you’re someone who craves organization and structure as much as I do, I highly recommend you be in charge of unpacking, as it’s a great way to take control of something and impose some order. Generally, I’ll actually lay out everyone’s outfits for the next few days. Make this unpacking your “me time,” if you need it; while I unpacked, AJ would take our little guy to the park, and that was useful for me to recharge my battery.

Scary things I do when I travel like take long cable car rides!

Something else you can do on the first day is hit the grocery store and make a basic plan for which meals you’ll have at home, when you’ll work out, and so forth. None of this has to be set in stone, but simply having a basic plan in mind can help you feel more structured.

Knowing the outfits and the meals for each day can be helpful as things change. For instance, maybe you plan a particular outfit and meal for Tuesday, because Tuesday is the day you’re going on a boat ride—but then the boat ride is moved to Wednesday. For me, it was always pretty easy to just swap those days in my head, shifting Tuesday’s meals and outfits to Wednesday and vice versa.

You may have days on your trip when you don’t have a lot of time for this level of processing—for instance, maybe you have a destination where you’ll only be there for a day. Those situations can be stressful, but thinking ahead—having a mental note of what you’ll wear that day, for example—can be helpful.

In Lima, Peru in front of the arch fountains!

Get Perspective

Taking things day by day can help you deal with the anxieties of a long trip, but my final piece of advice is to try to get out of your own head; when you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember what a privilege it is to be taking any kind of a trip with the people you love. That’s a helpful perspective to have as you roll with the punches on a long and unpredictable journey.

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4 years ago

Natasha, thanks heaps for writing this as it’s a great perspective in balancing empathy on anxiety and change on longer trips with my wife and 4 kids. Hope we can catch up soon as we’re in the very early stages of planning our 6 months sabbatical.

Take care,