IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Seven secrets to keep smiling this summer

This summer will very likely trump last year's horrid travel season, but not in the good way. There will certainly be discontent — frustration over high gas prices, new and questionable fees, declining service — but we’re not dealing with it very well.
Image: Passengers line up for customer assistance
Traveling during the summer is sure to bring extra headaches, and this summer is no different. Columnist Christopher Elliott says travelers need to focus on the positives.Jeff Hutchens / Getty Images file

Taking a deep breath just doesn’t work anymore. Not this summer.

No, this summer calls for voodoo planes.

Alan Fiermonte owns a collection of them — “one for each airline,” he says — against which he unleashes his frustrations about silly fees and nonexistent customer service.

“I recommend a well-stocked pin cushion,” adds Fiermonte, a Conshohocken, Pa.-based travel agent.

If that sounds a little extreme — and I’ll be the first to admit that it does — then let me acquaint you with a few facts about traveling during the summer of 2008. Gas costs an astounding $4+ per gallon. Several airlines are charging $15 for the first checked bag — the most outrageous in a deluge of outrageous new surcharges. Customer service, meanwhile, is circling the drain.

If last summer was the Summer of our Discontent, then this summer’s sequel will be better than the original.

There’s more discontent. Lots more.

We’re not dealing with it very well, either. Among our coping methods of choice:

That’s what a Pittsburgh-area woman is accused of resorting to when a motorist in front of her drove too slowly. She reportedly loaded up her pellet gun and fired away. Among the plea bargain offerings made by prosecutors were anger management classes. With gas prices going through the roof, isn’t that something we could all use?

Smoking may be strictly forbidden on airline flights, but try telling that to a JetBlue passenger who lit up on a recent flight. In the ensuing dispute, she is said to have socked a flight attendant and kicked and screamed when crewmembers tried to restrain her. Talk about being stressed out.

Booze and pills
A hard-charging general manager of a Boston TV station recently admitted in court that she went on an alcohol- and prescription drug-fueled tirade at Logan International Airport. When troopers tried to restrain her, she threatened to call a news crew and “ruin [his] life.” The executive resigned.

There’s got to be a better way to handle all this negativity than voodoo dolls, recreational drugs and firearms. So I asked a few experts to tell me how they’d cope with this summer’s travelin’ blues.

Take care of yourself
The unspoken rule of summer travel is that the moment you leave the house, you’ve agreed to be hungry, tired, lost, dirty and disappointed, says psychologist LeslieBeth Wish. “Negativity stems from not being prepared and not being willing to face that travel just ain’t the way it used to be,” she says. But by taking some simple steps like packing a lunch, getting plenty of rest and printing directions, you can eliminate lots of the negativity. “It’s the best cure for negativity and the blues of travel,” she adds.

Lower your expectations
Not so long ago, you could depend on certain things when you traveled. Like, that the room rate you were quoted would be the one you paid, plus maybe taxes. In an era or unfair resort fees and hidden charges for having a safe in your room — whether you use it or not — that’s probably not gonna happen. And this summer, you can be sure they’ll come up with a few new extras. “Be realistic about what to expect,” advises Marion Ross, the co-author of “Shift:12 Keys To Shift Your Life”. “Then let everything else go.” In other words, expect to be taken advantage of. That way, you won’t be disappointed.

Think of travel as an adventure
That’s the advice of Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist. “If you view travel as an adventure and a challenge — including the long lines and delays — then it can be fun,” he says. His advice is to build in enough time to experience this adventure — a cushion of time, “just in case there are delays.” Avoid tight schedules and deadlines. After all, you’re on vacation.

Pack your sense of humor
Because travel is so absurdly difficult this summer, it’s actually funny. What, you don’t think the idea of charging airfares by the pound isn’t just a little silly? Carol White, a recreational vehicle expert, says bringing a sense of humor is critical to having a good trip this summer. “It will reduce your own negativity — if not that of those around you,” she says.

Role playing, anyone? “Pretend you're a spy in a totalitarian country,” advises author and travel expert Kelly Monaghan. (No, really. Stay with me on this one.) “The last thing a good spy wants to do is draw attention to himself. So relax, do exactly as you are told, never ask why, don’t be chatty, and make mental notes about what the procedure is, just as you would do if you had to report back to your case officer when your mission is completed,” he says. When Monaghan first shared this unconventional advice with me, I thought it was amusing. But you know, I have three young kids, and I’m willing to give it a try. Besides, when it comes to the airport, he’s right about this being a totalitarian country.

Condition yourself to think positively
It isn’t enough to treat the negative emotions when they bubble up, say experts. You have to inoculate yourself against badness before you travel. “Watch for the tendency to focus on the negative,” says human behavior expert and blogger Pam Ragland. “Then replace it with a positive.” How do you do that? Ragland says you have to condition yourself to look for the positive things that the travel industry does, like an on-time takeoff or returning your checked luggage after you land.

Look inward for a solution
Maybe the problem isn’t travel. Maybe you’re the problem. That’s what Mick Quinn, author of the book “The Uncommon Path” suggests. When problems arise on the road, he says you’re normally with what he calls “buried aspects” of yourself. “So when this, that or they tick me off, it is likely that I am being shown a window into my sub-conscious mind,” he says. Quinn believes people bury these feelings and project them on to others, from a ticket agent to a motorist sharing the highway with us. His advice? Be aware that essentially you may be annoying yourself.

I know what you’re thinking. What’s with the pop psychology, dude? Look inward? Come on.

Well, folks, it’s that kind of summer.

The only alternative is to not travel at all. That’s what Burnett Moody, a retiree from Hilton Head, S.C., has decided to do. “My wife and I have been making three to four air trips per year for the past 40 years,” he says. “Starting this summer, we will only go by car.”

Every Monday, my column takes a close look at what makes the travel business tick. are always welcome, and if you can’t get enough of my column, for daily insights into the world of travel.