Traveler's Recital

Decision Making Part 1 – Advanced Preparation

Decision making may seem like a strange topic for a travel site, but traveling in today’s world requires a constant stream of rapid, well-reasoned decisions to enjoy your travel and sometimes even to stay out of trouble. For some, it comes easy. For others, not so much. Decision-making is a learned skill and the more we do it, the better we are at doing it. As a learned skill, there are things you can do to improve your decision making ability and increase the chances of making a good decision…even when you are under stress. In this three-part series we will give you some ideas for improving decision making, and help you to confidently take action once your decision is made.
In part one, we will talk about mental preparation. There are ways to get ready to make decisions. In part two, we will talk about a decision making process that you can learn and will eventually become second nature to you. In part three, we will discuss what it takes to act upon your decision once it is made. Failing to act on your decision is no better than not making the decision in the first place.

Be prepared…stay prepared
When you travel, you can never prepare in advance for every possible thing that is going to happen. If you try, you will surely be disappointed when you fail, and you will spend a huge amount of time and effort trying to prepare for all sorts of things that will almost certainly never happen. In fact, dealing with the unknown is a big part of the fun many of us get from traveling. However, it is time well spent preparing yourself for some of the more serious decisions you could be faced with. There are plenty of books on travel that have checklists and ideas of what you should do to prepare for a trip. They will tell you things like carry a list of emergency phone numbers. Have a photocopy of your passport and store it in a bag separate from the actual passport. Don’t put all your money in one place…spread it among your pockets and your bags. All good advice, but I am more concerned with your mental preparation.
People that prepare themselves to make decisions find decision-making to be less stressful and result in better decisions than those that don’t prepare.
One method you can use to prepare yourself is to visualize events that could happen and how you will deal with them when they occur. This is called guided imagery. Studies have shown that visualizing an event or action is similar to having actual experience with that event. This technique is used by athletes and has been shown to improve their performance. Even if the situation you eventually face is not exactly what you visualized, you will be better prepared to deal with it.

The idea is to visualize yourself in situations that require a hard decision. Visualize yourself missing your connection and reacting to it calmly. Imagine the steps you will take if you do. Then, if that event does come to pass, you will have “experience” with that event and it will be somewhat less traumatic. Because of your visualization, you will have the beginnings of a plan already in place. This type of visualization requires very little time. In the 30 seconds it took to read this paragraph you can visualize a problem and your reaction to it. It is up to you to decide what types of event you would find most stressful and visualize those. Missing a connection might not be problem for you, but how about losing your passport, or being robbed in a foreign country.
Try this. You are in a strange city…Lima, Kathmandu, or maybe New York City. You are walking alone when someone comes up and robs you of all your money. Try to feel the emotion of that event while remaining grounded in the realization that it is only pretend. What will you do? What are the next 3 steps that you will take? Some plans might have hundreds of steps, but the first 3 will usually determine the likelihood of your success. Don’t like the 3 steps you identify? Try 3 others. That is the beauty of visualization…you get as many do-overs as you want.
Stress decreases your ability to make good decisions, but mental stress can actually be decreased by physical actions. For these actions to be effective they need to be practiced or you will never remember to do them when the need is greatest. There are three simple actions you can take.

  • Inhale for three seconds, hold for five seconds, and then exhale for three seconds. If you have enough time before a decision must be made, repeat a couple times.
  • Roll or shrug your shoulders a few times back and forward. Try doing this in rhythm with inhaling and exhaling.
  • If time permits, sit or lie down and consciously relax every muscle.

Learning to control your stress greatly increases the quality of your decisions. Just thinking about the physical movements gives you a few seconds to gather yourself and prepares you for the decisions you are about to make.


Preparation on the road

Just because you leave home, does not mean the preparation stops. Before you left you were preparing for the trip. After you leave, each day is preparation for the next.

Stay mentally sharp – Lack of sleep, dehydration, drugs and alcohol all negatively impact your ability to make decisions, but these are things that just happen when we travel. If you are going to sacrifice sleep time for play time, not eat and drink properly, or do drugs and alcohol, give some thought to how you can do all that in a way that does not demand so many decisions on your part. Give some advance thought to how you can get back to your hotel after a night on the town in a city unfamiliar to you. What will you do if you find yourself 10 miles from your hotel and you just spent your last pesos on that foo-foo drink with the umbrella in it? Maybe you should have stuck some money in a sock that was only for a cab or tuck-tuck ride home.

Avoid the need for unnecessary decisions. Sound silly? At times we have all been overloaded by the number of decisions we need to make. And yet, we often put ourselves in a position that requires unnecessary decisions. That is fine when you are safe, and warm, and loved while sitting on your sofa. In a strange city, with tons of new and different experiences, you might want to take some steps to limit your decisions. Wondering around back alleys in a strange city at 2AM is just begging for a situation that requires way too many life or death decisions for most of us to handle.
Plan out your day or night – When you get up in the morning (or the afternoon if your night was late) lay out a general plan for the day. You don’t need to stick with it, but the process of planning the day will help deal with things that might come up.

There is an old saying, and I have no idea where it comes from, but it goes like this, “You never have to get prepared if you stay prepared”. Travel is fun, but a little preparation, mental and physical, makes it even better.

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