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Matt Rourke  /  AP
Make a plan for when you arrive someplace unfamiliar. Go for a walk, find a great restaurant, or settle in for the view at a rooftop lounge.
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updated 6/28/2011 8:15:10 AM ET 2011-06-28T12:15:10

Countdown to departure: three days. Before I board a flight to Vancouver, I have to finish packing, call my credit card company, do laundry, print boarding passes, clean out the fridge, confirm my reservations ... so many details, so little time!

Am I curled up, knees to chest, in a stress-induced stupor? Not exactly. I've adopted a few strategies for handling the pre-trip panic phase:

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1. Make a list or several
This weekend, I jotted down a clothing inventory for each day of my trip, a more general packing list (medications, umbrella, etc.) and a list of everything I had to do before I left. Having everything laid out in writing helped me get organized ... and gave me the satisfaction of whittling down my mountain of tasks one by one. (Our handy interactive packing list can help with this step.)

2. Start early
Dumping drawers on the floor in search of your passport hours before your departure is, to put it mildly, poor planning. I headed off last-minute panic attacks by starting the packing process several days before my flight. As it happened, I discovered that my passport was indeed where I left it — score! — but that I was missing a few other odds and ends. Luckily, I still have a couple of days to run to the store. Crisis averted.

3. Have a plan
As Ed Hewitt points out in 10 things to do before you travel, the first day of a trip is often the most nerve-wracking as you figure out how to get around an unfamiliar new place. He suggests making a plan before you leave: "Sketch out a walk near your digs, which can help you get oriented as well as shake off travel fatigue and jet lag. Also, check out any nearby amenities — like a rooftop lounge nearby, a balcony with a choice view or a heated pool for maximum chill-out at the end of a harried travel day."

As for me, I looked up public transportation options from the airport to where I'm staying, so I know exactly where to go once my plane touches down. And I've scribbled down a few yummy-sounding neighborhood restaurants for that first night's dinner.

4. Let go
Once you've taken care of all the important stuff (the passport is packed now, right? RIGHT?), try not to waste too much energy on the rest. Slow down, take a deep breath and focus your fevered brain on how much fun you'll have on your trip, rather than all the tiny little details you might have forgotten.

If you're looking for me, I'll be in one of those airport massage chairs — having my last few twinges of travel tension gently rubbed away.

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