How to Overcome Feeling Overwhelmed

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 3rd, 2013

feeling overwhelmed by planningPlanning a trip can be pretty stressful. Where do you start? What do you do first? Will everything work out? Taking time off and traveling around the world is a big life change and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

So how do you manage to stop being so overwhelmed? How do you get over that feeling of not knowing where to begin?

It’s easy — and I’ve developed a unique four-step process to doing so (patent pending):

First, buy your plane ticket to where you want to go first.

Second, turn off the computer and stop visiting 93,754,302,948,320 websites about travel (except for mine, you should always read mine!). You’ll suffer from information overload if you don’t.

Third, go out with your friends and celebrate the start date of your trip.

Fourth, smile.

There – that’s it. You bought your plane ticket. You’re going. There’s no turning back. There’s no need to worry anymore. Everything else is secondary.

I recently heard that people will look at up to twenty websites while researching their trip.

TWENTY!!

No wonder I get so many e-mails from people saying “Matt, I feel like I’m in over my head.”

Information is power but in our information-overload society, we can quickly get overwhelmed.

I understand there can be a lot of anxiety planning your trip and you want to make sure it goes right. I remember what it was like when I was planning my trip. I had every guidebook under the sun in my room. I had spreadsheets. I was constantly worried about having “the perfect trip.” Who doesn’t want their trip or vacation of a lifetime to be perfect and life changing, right?

I’ve been there and I understand, but I can tell you from years of experience that the more you plan your trip, the more anxiety you will have. You’re going to overwhelm yourself with so much information that you’re going to do nothing but stress.

It’s one thing to plan your trip; it’s another thing to plan every day of it.

Overplanning will lead to stress and I can tell you from vast experience that your plans will change anyway.

Someone will tell you about a new destination and you’ll race off there instead of going to Amsterdam.

You’ll wander the streets and into unplanned restaurants.

You’ll meet a group of people who will convince you to stay on that tropical island just a little longer.

In short, plans change, so don’t go overboard. Have a general idea of what direction you want to go, plan your first few stops and then just let the wind take you.

Don’t make yourself a lengthy plan.

You won’t follow it anyway.

Just relax.

In 2006, my first itinerary through Europe was supposed to look like this:

Oslo –> Prague –> Milan –> Florence –> Rome –> Naples –> Corfu –> Metorea –> Athens –> Greek Islands –> Athens

But it ended up like this:

Oslo –> Prague –> Milan –> Florence –> Rome –> Venice –> Vienna –> Amsterdam –> Costa del Sol -> Barcelona -> Amsterdam –> Athens

Cooler, more interesting things and people pulled me in a different direction.

Nothing worked out as I had planned. It worked out better.

Buy a book or two to pick up some general knowledge on how to travel and prepare for your trip. Read a guidebook and get a good idea about where you’re going. Develop a general plan and then fill in the details along the way.

Everything will work itself out and you’ll wonder why you stressed so much in the beginning.

comments 51 Comments

Great tips Matt. I’ve been in Mexico for about 7 months now and had planned on being here only for a few before heading to the rest of Central America. Like you said, different plans and people pulled me in directions other than what I had originally planned. I have a Lonely Planet guidebook for Mexico but have looked at it only a couple times. Between talking to people and TripAdvisor, you get a pretty good idea of what things are worth seeing.

LH

Good timing – I sound like such a complainer because I know how lucky I am to be taking a trip to Japan (next week!) but I’ve been overwhelming myself with information. I think because this is my first solo trip out of the US I feel like I need to be “armed” with information and plans so I feel more confident but I will take a chill pill now :)

NomadicMatt

Relax. You’ll be fine.

I love this post. I’m one of tose people who looks at 20 sites to plan ahead. The problem is… When you’re trying to sell your stuff and are just SO ready to go, but can’t because of the apartment you have to sell, you start obsessing over travel destinations and plan everything ahead…

But thank you for this advice! I’ll probably continue to look at pictures of different destinations, but won’t plan everything down to the last detail…

Love your posts! Always so much great inspiration and wise words. :)

Matthew Maggy

I’m having a dilemma here because I could save $400 by buying train tickets ahead of time, rather than buying a hop on hop off rail pass while in Europe. Maybe it will be worth the extra $400 for options.

NomadicMatt

You can book two weeks in advance and still save money.

Great article Matt! Despite having done plenty of short trips all over and knowing how much the trip can deviate from your plan I STILL went into crazy planning mode when I first committed to my RTW trip (leaving in Sept!). I spent the first several months on spreadsheets, trip research on who knows how many different sites and then….I just stopped. And I feel way better!! I’m still a bit nervous about dumping my career at age 35 and traveling the world for at least a year but the travel anxiety….

You’re absolutely right when you say (more or less) buy your ticket and the rest will sort itself out. Thanks for this article, always nice to have someone so experienced help put things into perspective.

It seems like you are onto something here Matt..maybe the “evolution of a traveler”? I would argue that most of us start out as obsessive planners trying to control every moment of our trips. I’ve been an over-planner and still catch this bug every now and then. We realize four or five major trips later that by over planning you missed out on wonderful opportunities because you were trying to “stay on track”. By being a flexible traveler, we are open to things and get out of the tunnel vision of rushing to the next stop. The evolution of a traveler: from a traveler who focuses on the plan to a traveler who focuses on the experience and journey instead. Don’t let the plan overtake the experiences that come up on the journey.

NomadicMatt

I would agree!

I’m just as guilty as the next person when trying to plan a trip. I find nearly as much enjoyment as doing extensive research before the trip as I do the trip itself. But your four tips on how reduce anxiety, and instead enjoy the ride are extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing!

NomadicMatt

I enjoy spending my Friday nights reading everything possible but in the end, I just let the wind take me.

Wil

I’d been trying to plan an extended trip and I found that anything after the first month changes so much its not worth planning. Unless something big hits you and you buy your tickets, just go with the flow.

Hey Matt! This is excellent advice. I’m the kind of person who feels the need to plan and over plan for everything! I’m trying to let myself loosen up a bit though. This Oct/Nov/Dec I’ll be traveling to southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It’s my first time really traveling alone so my inclination is to over plan and stress! (But I’ll try not to ) :)

Mike

Hi Matt!
Great advice!

What do you think about travel only with lonely planet guide (plus stuff of course) without planing anything else?
Is it enough or maybe is it too much? :)

Best regards,
Mike

NomadicMatt

Go for it.

Tina

Hi Matt,

Great article! Me and my boyfriend are planning for a RTW-trip in 2014.
I’ve always been a planner and he always “goes with the flow” and that’s a good combination. However, we can’t seem to figure out whether to buy a RTW-ticket or buy plane-tickets as we go. I’ve read your blogpost about that, and I’m also likely to buy as we go, but I’m afraid it’d be much more expensive and also that we would miss out on countries that we wanted to see in the first place,because we stayed too long in another we liked. You know what I mean? If we buy a RTW-ticket we are obligated to stick to the plan and we’ll normally get to see everything we are planning for. What’s your advice?

NomadicMatt

You can always change your dates but you’re stuck to that route unless you want to pay a fee to change.

Sam

Sometimes too many options can be a bad thing. And yes, I also find myself way overplanning (and I’m not new to this travel lark), and then changing plans at the last minute because of an opportunity that suddenly crops up!

Excellent tips Matt! I feel like the over planning and information overload is typical of many first time travelers or people used to the business world (especially in America) where everything is overly planned out. I hope this helps people as I know it was helpful to me since I will be beginning my travels soon!

Vee

Great article!!

Ever since I wasted $1000 (skipping language classes in Mexico) I stopped planning for my trips… blogs like yours… hostels… couchsurfing…and Lonely Planets are all I need for an adventurous trip. Sometimes, I don’t even book more than one night at the hostel… anticipating impromptu adventures. :)

I love planning trips, both for myself and other people. I don’t tend to plan an itinerary, I focus more on all of the things that I want to see and do. It is best to leave some room to more in your plans in case an awesome opportunity comes along.

What tool do you use to keep track of the things you want to do in a given city?

Perfect timing! My husband was just talking about feeling this way over our RTW trip the other day. I sent him this link.

Daichovo

I don’t know…I always feel like the more planning I do, the more I can be relaxed on the trip knowing what my options might be (and when that something new I find out about enroute pops up, I know if it’s worth it or not). I think because I have to travel on a budget and with limited time (usually only 1-2 weeks) I have to do this. Anyway, I can’t imagine getting stressed planning- that’s the fun part! Then travelling is chill time. The internet is an amazing thing and I KNOW I visit way more than 20 websites to plan trips, I love it! My last trip I tried to let things be more free (especially upon advice from travel websites) and sometimes I got really frustrated, wish I stuck with original itinerary which was hectic to some and had less downtime. We will see on next trip in 2 weeks :)

Marilynn

Okay you are planning. Is this really any different, I invited 3 girl friends for breakfast at about 10 the night before and I pulled out what I had. I did not fuss about my house being clean enough and I did not worry about the food, it was whatever was in the fridge. We had a ball together. So put that stuff in a bag and get going. Europe is not outer space if you forget something you can buy it. Bottom line is YOU WILL HAVE A BALL.

This article came at a great time for me! I’m planning my first 3 week trip to Europe and I feel like it’s a little daunting, not knowing where to start! I’m currently suffering from information overload myself. Thanks for the great advice

NomadicMatt

I hope this article will keep you from getting overwhelmed. Just relax. It will work out!

arlene

OMG!!! if you are in méxico, then please please try something called cochinita pibil!!! my favourite food ever:) and panuchos
ps: im mexican, you can trust me!

Now that’s 4-step program I understand!

Planning for one of my most enjoyable adventures consistent of buying tickets to AC/DC concert in Hanover and a bunch of extra-cheap flight tickets throughout Europe. We only made reservations for accommodations in Gran Canaria, everything else was improvised on the spot.

Of course, things didn’t well particularly smooth on several occasions, but damn exciting nonetheless! :)

Great article.

Cheers

Im heading to Asia in June Im not worried about anything other than blowing my budget. I never traveled for more than six weeks at a time I just dont want to run out of money on my trip.

I always look forward to an extended trip but really don’t put a lot of planning into it. You’re there to have a good time, and that does not mean you need to run around with a stopwatch in your hand so you get everything you planned done. Slooow down, relax and enjoy yourself.

First-time and novice travellers need to take heed of Matt’s advice here: Travel planning (of the mapping out every day ad nauseum variety) truly sucks and the less you do, the better of your trip will be… really! If you want the best travel experiences, there’s no substitute for letting yourself wander around; you never know what you’ll stumble across. There’s also nothing worse than committing yourself to a complete itinerary only to regret not seeing something amazing within arm’s reach. To reverse Nike’s famous slogan: Just don’t do it!

What was overwhelming for me was actually getting up the courage to buy the ticket. Maybe it helps that I don’t plan, but, the planning to buy the ticket – that was hard.

Great article Matt. Recently back from a long trip around the world and could not agree more with this one!

Craig

Hey,

Been in aus for 2 months and have just aquired a car to live in.
Where to go now? From Melbourne, I could head west to Perth, or I go the other way and hit the east coast. Ive found that friends have made a big difference in which way I go. After all, meeting people and sharing experiences is a massive part of the reason I wanna travel. Just go with your instincts and let it flow, I say.

Happy days

You are so right Brian! I normally love planning but when we began our 18 month trip I did get information overload. Once we actually hit the road, we just went with the flow and it felt amazing. The reason why we travel is to be free and if you stick to such a rigid plan then you will never be truly free.

Cheers,

Paul

Yes! For me, when I was planning the trip I kept getting overwhelmed by all the things I “should” see, and trying to fit all of those places in. Eventually I realized that planning every single day is not only exhausting, but I was missing out on the whole point of the experience by not leaving any room for spontaneity.

Kel Tung

I can’t agree more with this article. It is good to have a general idea of what do to and where to go. But planning too much and sticking to a planned plan just seem no different from a full guided tour! Just go along with the flow and the little pieces will fit in. =) After all, the fun part of travelling is to explore and venture around as when and where we feel like. Free and easy.. =P

Brilliant tips Matt!
Im struggling at the moment trying to plan a trip to the Flinders Range (Australia) which is in my own backyard (basically!), so many options!!

Nice tips, Matt! Actually, I developed a list of my own with time that lists everything I need to have packed, all the useful contact info (friends, embassy, taxies, hotel info), and travel guidelines. It doesn’t really help with feeling overwhelmed that much though :( I *do* tend to be stressed before traveling, especially when going on my own and to places I’ve never been to before.

Matt, I love your four step process. I travel a lot and even though I love it and I am always excited, I definitely get overwhelmed. For me I think it is the fear of the unknown. I find the more I travel and the more I get out and experience new things – especially on my own – the more comfortable I get. I am totally guilty at looking at way too many travel sites when planning a trip. Next time I’ll remember your steps. Cheers.

Hi Matt. I absolutely agree with your post. My 6 month trip to Europe started with a plane ticket to Amsterdam. There were certain places I had to be on certain dates, but otherwise, I was a free spirit to blow where the wind took me. When I first started traveling many years ago, I completely overplanned. Not anymore. I just go with the flow now. It’s much more fun and meaningful that way.

DEK

Excellent advice. I do a lot of reading about where I am going, but almost nothing about accommodations. I make reservations for the first night there and use my first day to find a cheaper place or to arrange getting out of town. Most travel advice you will find on the web is going to be about places thick with other travelers. Abroad, I flee from the sight of my fellow travelers like a vampire confronted by a fragment of the True Cross.

You are there to enjoy yourself. Play it as you find it.

Jake

I’m planning a solo trip to Japan as well – I’d love to hear more about your experience!

hi Nomadic Matt, I’d been trying to plan an extended trip and I found that anything after the first month changes so much its not worth planning. Unless something big hits you and you buy your tickets, just go with the flow.

Excellent article. Sometimes the slightest details can be overwhelming. Right now, I’m planning a trip to Florida. Do a simple search for Hialeah hotels brings up so many options. I appreciate the tips.

Winging it…is the best way to travel.

Heather W.

Do you have any information…not so much on planning a single trip…but on planning to convert to a nomadic travel lifestyle? I have been reading blogs like yours for a handful of years now and trying to convince my husband and he’s FINALLY up for it. Now that it’s a reality, I’m feeling overwhelmed because unfortunately, I’m quite sure most of, if not all, of the planning and organizing will be up to me. We are giving ourselves 8 months to plan. I’m freaking; more in terms of the practicalities of selling all our crap and organizing the trip all in the midst of continuing to homeschool 3 kids with an additional 3 under the age of 5. I am a very organized, persistent person, but I have a perfectionist attitude that often stifles me if I feel overwhelmed. I bought Tim Ferriss’s 4 hour work week yesterday and purchased a program from the Dennings which the hubby and I will be doing daily in the evenings, but I just don’t know how to start getting rid of the volume of stuff, especially when I might need it in the next 8 months. Where to start!?!

Felix

That was a great read, thanks Matt! Can I ask though (a little bit off topic), what are you thoughts on the whole “drop everything and travel” idea?

I had my heart set on doing 2 months in Europe in the middle of this year, but it turns out (of course) I can’t just take 2 months off my job and expect it to be waiting for me when i get back. (I will add: I’m 26 (from Australia), and still in university. Whilst my job is not necessarily a career related job, it is indeed a cushy, safe, reliable source of income).

I’m seriously contemplating quitting my job to do my 2 month trip mid year, and then looking for another job when I get back. As well as this, I daresay someone would most likely want to move into my room (which i only just moved in to about 2 months ago) at the friend’s house where i live, so most likely I would also have to find a new place to live when I get back.

Should I just take the leap and drop everything for 2 months, and then re-assess when i get back?

The other alternative is to wait until mid next year, at which point i would be finished uni, and would definitely be ready to quit this job and most likely find a new place to live.

Thanks!

NomadicMatt

If it makes you happy, do it!

I’d say ‘finish what you started’ first, in terms of university studies; then you can feel better about planning more unstructurally for a trip, etc.
my friend was studying with me in the same program based out of southern california & he was a year ahead, but from taking side trips, etc. he was @ 3 months to finish but got called to work internationally, still without finishing the last requirements. So life caught up with him there & couldn’t finish in the maximum allotted time for him. Now, instead of him having only to fulfill those 3 months-worth of work, he lost the whole program & according to the main rules, have to start all over from scratch everything..at least 2 year’s worth of work.
in my case, though I like traveling as much as the other person, maybe even matt ;-D , I ‘stuck it out’, didn’t go anywhere for over 6 consecutive summers, & now I’m set to start a new life this coming august in korea, with few regrets.
anyways, that’s my take on it..

Leave a comment