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5 Tips for Preparing for an Epic Vacation

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A vacation is supposed to be a getaway, but getting out of your comfort zone can be stressful, too. Missed flights, lost luggage, busted budgets—there’s a lot that can go wrong when you travel. In fact, it’s more or less inevitable, says Lee Huffman, a travel blogger at BaldThoughts.com.

“You're not alone. It happens to even the most seasoned travelers. Something unexpected will inevitably happen,” Huffman tells Mental Floss. “A missed or delayed flight; not getting the exact rental car or room that you reserved. Murphy's Law at its finest.”

There are, however, a few ways to hedge against Murphy’s Law and minimize the stress of preparing for a big trip. We asked Huffman how he manages travel with his family and how the rest of us can plan for an epic, stress-lite vacation.

1. ANTICIPATE MISHAPS.

Cars driving on the Furka Pass in Switzerland

When it comes to safeguarding against setbacks, research is everything. You don’t want to be caught off guard when, for example, you try to rent a car overseas and discover you need an International Driving Permit. Here are a few other common scenarios you might want to look into before you head out:

- If you plan on using the car rental insurance that comes with your credit card, research what’s actually covered. Most have limitations.

- Don’t assume English is spoken everywhere you go. Research local customs before you leave and download a translation app just to be on the safe side.

- Make sure you know your airline’s rules for traveling with children or pets. Many airlines charge extra for everything from picking a seat to printing your ticket at the airport.

Of course, no matter how much you prepare in advance, something can still go awry. That’s just part of the travel experience, says Huffman. “Trust me, I've been puked on by my baby during a redeye flight without a change of clothes, stranded in the airport overnight with my young son, and so many other wild stories," he says. "They were horrible experiences at the time, but now I can laugh at myself and the situation.”

If nothing else, you’ll have a story to tell when you get back from your trip.

2. GET YOUR MONEY IN ORDER.

People jumping off a boat into the ocean on vacation

There’s often stress over whether you can (or should) afford the vacation in the first place. Maybe I should wait until prices drop, you think, or maybe I should just skip traveling altogether.

“People question whether or not to buy tickets to that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Huffman says. “As long as your other bills are being paid, you're saving for your future, and making a little dent in your debt, then yes, you should spend a little money to ensure you create memories that will last a lifetime.”

Of course, having your money in order is easier said than done—but once again, it all goes back to proper planning. Start saving for your trip early so you’ll have a vacation fund to draw from when the time comes. “Even if the savings is just a fraction of your overall vacation expense, that money will help reduce the sting of paying for airfare, hotel, and everything else you've planned,” Huffman advises.

There are ways to “travel hack” your vacation, too, which essentially involves using credit card sign-up bonuses to earn frequent flier points with partnering airlines. In fact, this is how Huffman says he affords to travel with his family so often. (If you have issues with credit card debt and paying your balance off on time every month, this method is not for you.)

“Sign up for every loyalty program you come across,” Huffman suggests. “Yes, your email inbox may become a little fuller. But it is worth it because airlines and hotels often send deals to subscribers that are never seen by everyone else. These savings may help you go on your next vacation a little quicker.”

3. LIMIT YOUR ITINERARY.

Man in woman with bicycles read a map in an Asian city

It’s tempting to squeeze in as much as possible when you travel, but don’t set yourself up for a headache. Make a list of “musts” and “maybes”: things you just have to do and things you’d like to do if you have time. When you prioritize your sightseeing this way, you can relieve yourself of the pressure to see everything. You’ll actually have time to enjoy yourself.

It can be helpful to plan your lodging accordingly, too. The closer your proximity to the activities on your list, the more you can fit in (and still easily bop back to the hotel for an afternoon nap). At the very least, you can book a hotel or Airbnb that’s close to public transportation so you can get where you need to go with ease.

4. GIVE YOURSELF SOME BUFFER TIME.

Exhausted couple lying on a bed with luggage by their feet

The worst thing about a vacation is coming back from it. Especially if you have to jump right back into work, the return can be jarring. If possible, you can ease back into work mode by giving yourself some extra time to relax when you get home.

“If you're going on a vacation of a week or more, try to arrive home two days before you go back to work,” Huffman suggests. “Having a day to decompress, sleep in, unpack the suitcase, and do a little grocery shopping before returning to the office does wonders for your mental health.”

As an added bonus, he says, it’s typically cheaper and less crowded to fly on Saturdays than Sundays, anyway. And if your return flight is delayed, you don’t have to worry about making an awkward phone call to your employer explaining why you need to extend your vacation.

5. PREP FOR YOUR RETURN.

Young man holding a folded pile of clean laundry

There’s nothing worse than walking in the door after a long journey and being greeted by a filthy, smelly home. Set yourself up for a nice homecoming by doing some pre-trip cleaning and go grocery shopping for snacks that won’t go bad while you’re away.

“I try to wash and fold all of my laundry before going on vacation as well,” Huffman says. “This provides an abundant supply of clothes to choose from to have the perfect outfit while traveling and it ensures that I have enough clean underwear for my first day back. I mean, really, who wants to do laundry first thing after returning from an epic journey around the world?”

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Make Spreadsheets a Whole Lot Easier With This Excel Trick
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While data nerds may love a good spreadsheet, many office workers open Microsoft Excel with a certain amount of resistance. Inputting data can be a monotonous task. But a few tricks can make it a whole lot easier. Business Insider has a new video highlighting one of those shortcuts—a way to create a range that changes with the data you input.

Dynamic named ranges change and grow with your data, so, for instance, if one column is time and another is, say, dollar value, the value can change automatically as time goes on. If you do this, it's relatively easy to create a chart using this data, by simply inserting your named ranges as your X and Y values. The chart will automatically update as your range expands.

It's easier to see in the program itself, so watch the full video on Business Insider. Microsoft also has its own instructions here, or you can check out this video from the YouTube channel Excel Tip, which also has dozens of other useful tutorials for making Microsoft Excel your hardworking assistant.

[h/t Business Insider]

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5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
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You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.

1. EASE INTO THE HABIT.

If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.

2. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING.

Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.

3. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM IDEAL FOR SLEEP.

Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO PROPERLY WIND DOWN.

Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.

5. GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF LIGHT.

Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

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