Travel—whether it’s for the holidays, vacation, or for business—is a double-edged experience. It can be exciting to see new places, comforting to be with family, or thrilling to pursue professional goals, but travel can also be stressful, and doubly so during the holidays. Aside from the frantic nature of actually getting to your destination, there’s also the anxiety that comes with being in an unfamiliar room.
Hotel rooms can be nice, but also a bit impersonal, with every moment spent in them reminding you that you’re in an unfamiliar place. And your sister-in-law’s guest room might be cozy, but it’s not your room. Nothing is the way you like it, and it’s easy to feel constrained by being in someone else’s space. This contributes to the stress of travel because you can never quite relax and settle in, floating through a rootless existence.
The trick is to find ways to make your hotel room or the musty guest room in your cousin’s house feel more like your own space. Luckily, that’s actually not that hard to do.
Step one: Actually unpack. I used to be one of those grumpy travelers who left everything in his carefully-packed suitcase—I never once even opened a drawer in my hotel rooms. But I recently made the decision to actually unpack, and it makes a world of difference. Keeping your clothes packed away in a suitcas not only makes them wrinkled and sad, it also reminds you constantly that you’re, um, living out of a suitcase. Putting your clothes into drawers and closets and stowing your suitcase away psychologically makes the room feel more like home.
Bring more of your own stuff
A hotel room or a guest room experience normally includes all the basics you need, from bedding to shampoo. And that’s nice! Except it won’t be what you normally use, and that will serve as a constant reminder that you’re not in your own space, but borrowing someone else’s.
Putting aside concerns that hotels may not clean their bedding with the same, er, enthusiasm that you would at home, bringing your own sheets and pillows will instantly make the bed feel more like your own, and thus easier to relax and fall asleep in. Bringing your own toiletries will keep your hygiene and other routines the same, ensuring that you don’t wind up with dry skin or stiff hair—or just smelling like an entirely different person. And bringing along some keepsakes, like photos or the little tchotchkes you keep on your desk, serve as visual anchors that signal a space is your private domain, even when it isn’t.
Keep your routine
One benefit of travel is the opportunity to break out of routines and live a different sort of life for a while. But there are routines worth breaking and routines worth keeping. Travel anxiety is often driven by a sense of losing control over your life. When you’re in an unfamiliar space, sticking with your normal sleep cycle, meal times, and exercise habits go a long way toward maintaining your physical and mental health—and making you feel more at home.
Bring your content
A lot of people have little rituals surrounding the content they consume—couples often watch specific shows at specific times, for example. If you have specific shows you like to watch after dinner or before bedtime, or while you do yoga in your living room, bring that content with you to your hotel or relative’s guest room. You can bring a tablet, laptop, or just your phone with a streaming app installed, and many hotels allow you to log into Netflix or other platforms temporarily on their room TVs (just remember to log out!). If not, bring your own Roku or Chromecast device and plug it into the TV’s HDMI port like a boss, and experience the comforting joy of watching The Office for the 500th time.
Use your nose
Finally, one of the subtlest ways hotels and other people’s houses feel alien to us is their smell. Every house has a smell, although we tend to become “nose blind” to the scent of our own. Stepping into a hotel, it can be a struggle to feel at home because it doesn’t smell like our house. And a guest room will always smell like someone else’s house, obviously. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be subconsciously unsettling. If there are specific aspects to your home’s smell—like air fresheners you use, or scented candles you always light—bring some along. You might want to ask your host’s permission first if you’re going to stink up a guest room, but making a space smell familiar will go a long way toward feeling comfortable in it.