Podcast 102: Tame the “Travel Beast,” Find the Missing Puzzle Piece, and a Clever Solution to Dirty Mugs in the Office Sink.

It’s time for the next installment of  Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

It’s hard to believe — we’re coming up on our second anniversary of the show! To celebrate, just as we did for our first anniversary show, we want to do an episode of highlights from the previous year. So if you have a favorite try-this-at-home, a great before-and-after story of something you tried, a favorite funny moment, let us know. Email us at podcast@gretchenrubin.com or call 77-HAPPY-336.

Try This at Home: Find the missing puzzle piece from your life — the missing tool, item, or activity that’s missing.

Happiness Hack: In episode 95, we talked about how shared spaces can tend to get messy. Our listener Hannah recounted how her boss gave everyone in the office a personalized mug, so it was obvious who was (or wasn’t) taking care of their mugs.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Both of us turn into the “travel beast” — we get cranky, we panic that we’ve lost something, we hurry everyone along. If you have solutions to offer, please let us know.

Listener Question: Heather asks, “How do you stop Obliger-rebellion?” If you don’t know whether you’re an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger, or a Rebel, take the quiz here. My book The Four Tendencies comes out in September — don’t worry, that’s not the real cover.

Demerit: Elizabeth is procrastinating about moving her clothes back into her newly renovated closet.

Gold Star: While in Havana, I stayed out late! Probably, most people wouldn’t give themselves a gold star for staying out until 2:00 a.m. at a bar, but for me, that’s gold-star territory.

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  • Kristin Wellsand

    As an underbuyer, I also have a hard time finding the missing puzzle piece when it involves buying something. The best one I can think of is scissors. I put a small pair of scissors in my bathroom drawer and I use them all the time to cut tags, open packaging and trim loose threads. Makes me happy every time I use them! Something similar is buying duplicates of items you use in multiple places. Like chapstick and hair ties in all my purses (so I don’t have to transfer from one to the other) and a complete separate set of toiletries in my travel/gym bag so I don’t have to think about it when I’m packing. This is something I really have to force myself to do as the initial cost is high, but I tell myself that I would be buying the items eventually and the individual items will be used more slowly. I love this idea of the missing puzzle piece and will definitely be looking around my life for more!

    • gretchenrubin

      I so agree! My mother-in-law gave me several sets of scissors and it has proved so great.

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

    • LoriM

      When my gramma died, I took her several pair of scissors so I could have a pair in every room. It is a really nice convenience. I guess i’m an underbuyer too, as it would have killed me to buy a pair for every room. Ha! I also keep Scotch tape all around the house (kitchen, living room/gift wrapping drawer and desk) and I even have a couple sewing kits stashed around.

      Oh – and Chapstick definitely. Living in the midwest, it gets so dry in the winter. So I keep one in my car middle console, and I’ve figured out a system – in the winter, I keep a twist type lip moistener (not necessarily Chapstick – they’re too waxy for me) there. In the summer, those completely melt in the heat, so I transfer a tube type to my car. Don’t use it as often in the summer, though. Besides my car, I keep it in my warmup jacket (for workouts), work desk, bedside and probably a couple other places I’ve forgotten – oh yeah, husband’s car and purse. 🙂 Same with the good hand cream.

      • Kristin Wellsand

        I live in the Midwest too! And also keep chapstick in all the places you mentioned. All of my coats have one! I struggle in summer cause no pockets and everything melts, but I like your idea of the tube kind. I’m going to look for it. Though in my current stage of life, I keep a few things in our diaper bag which goes EVERYWHERE with us, so this hasn’t been as much of a problem as of late. But someday I will leave the house again with nothing but my keys, wallet and phone!

  • claire kurdelak

    Great episode! Here is a tip for Liz re jewelry and closet organizing: https://youtu.be/3bPXryTxljw
    The Clutter diet on youtube, with Lori Marrero, has lots of practical, helpful videos that might be helpful when Gretchen can’t fly out to LA .

  • Nancy Young

    Great job on the podcast. Here is a tip for travel. I’ve put together a checklist that is printed and posted in a common area every time. My husband and I jokingly call it ‘the marriage saving checklist.’ My husband and I used to snap at each other for days before travel but the checklist helped tremendously because it makes clear what needs to be done, what has been done, and provides a place to write down
    ‘extras’ specific to that trip. You can find online versions, but I created mine so I could capture everything I worry about before travel. It is organized by how many days out for travel (so two days I get the oil changed, the night before I put everyone’s water bottle in the dishwasher for example). Since I pack for myself and often my young children – I also created a toiletry/luggage list for myself and for them so as I put things in the bag I check them off. If I am interrupted (as Gretchen mentioned) I can look at the list to see what I’ve dealt with. Now my kids are just old enough I can give them basic checklist and they can pack most of their stuff themselves. To properly attribute, I think the idea came from Bruce Feiler’s Secrets of Happy Families and it has indeed made our family travel happier!

  • Amanda Relyea

    One possibility for Liz re: getting to the airport earlier could be to schedule it around a meal/ask her husband out on a date. Arrive an hour and a half earlier than he might want to do otherwise so they have time to enjoy a seated meal together. I’ve done this before, and it makes air travel a lot less stressful. If you get there when you plan to, you have time to sit down for a meal and decompress. If traffic is bad or the security line is unusually long, you’re still there in plenty of time to grab a sandwich to go and board your flight. Let us know if you try it, Liz!

  • Ann Mazzoli

    I bought myself a dashboard phone holder/stand for my car, and once I used it I couldn’t believe how much easier it was than trying to look up and down from the cupholder (where’d I’d kept it before) to the road while driving w/GPS. A great Christmas gift that the office manager where I work gave was a knife, fork, and spoon to everyone. Our work kitchen is very sparse, so we had to either bring our own from home or hunt for the 1 knife. Now everyone has their own and it’s so much easier!

  • Kaitlin

    I too needed to tame the travel beast. My husband and I have different opinions about how long things take. He’s overly optimistic and always cuts it close, and I always think of the worst case scenario. We also have a four month old. But I love to travel, so I needed to reduce the anxiety.

    One solution for timing is to split the difference – I ask him what time he thinks we need to leave, then I say what time I had in mind, and we meet in the middle. Doesn’t feel like last minute but we also don’t end up sitting in the airport forever (my husband’s least favorite thing).

    The other thing that has helped is TSA precheck. Security lines go quickly, and it’s much easier to travel with an infant when you don’t have to take your shoes off or anything. Night and day difference in anxiety for me.

    • santaclams

      I was going to suggest “split the difference” solution as well. In a case like this I don’t think you can say either person is “right”, thus compromise is the strategy. I would also suggest muzzling one’s unconstructive comments since they are probably not doing your relationship or the vibe in the car any good (is that what you want to model for your kids). My ex-husband and I felt each other were bad drivers and the backseat driving got so bad that we agreed the passenger would listen to their own device with earbuds and read something so they wouldn’t notice the “bad” driving.

    • gretchenrubin

      How I love TSA Pre-check. It’s the greatest.

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

  • Mandy Oliverio

    I have a great idea for Elizabeth’s jewelry. I keep all my favorite everyday jewelry on a pretty china tray on my nightstand. It’s very easy to grab when I’m trying to get ready in a hurry. However, I have lots of special occasion jewelry that I organize into fishing tackle boxes (one for silver and one for gold). It’s easy to quickly find just the right piece when I’m dressing up for a luncheon, gala, or other special occasion. I use small pill ziplocks to keep delicate chains from slipping under the individual compartments. Hope this helps!

  • Meg Wood

    I lived overseas for 10 years and subsequently traveled often andI always found it so stressful until I did as Nancy (comment below) also recommends- I created a couple of check lists ( long trips, hiking trips, short weekend trips, hand luggage ) and each time I traveled I”d tweak them a little till they were perfect. Now it’s very easy to pack, just print out the form and start- and my husband and I can do it together because with the list he can see clearly the things he can organize and I don’t run around wailing or getting worked up. We also have six or seven of those small packing pouches so that we can keep things together, like all the electrical goods (phone chargers, camera, adaptor plugs etc). Now we neither over-pack nor underpack and don’t forget important items.

  • Laura Jolna

    I too suffer from major travel anxiety and it was so comforting to hear that it’s actually a “thing” 🙂 Living in LA and the unpredictability of traffic definitely makes it difficulty to be anxiety free. Another source of my anxiety is that I always put off packing and then run late leaving for the airport and feel like I’ve forgotten something.
    I have lessened my anxiety on recent trips by employing the strategy of “be kind to your future self”. After I returned from my last few trips, I refilled all my toiletries and bought doubles so I didn’t have to pack them every time and ultimately forget something. This was a big help. I also created a “Travel” board in Trello and have a packing checklist to reference. In addition, I started using pretty cloth bags to put my clothes in and these all fit nicely in my luggage and keeps it organized and easy to pack and unpack. I will pack each outfit in a different bag. Helps me think about what I need and I don’t forget anything. Becomes systematic.
    Thanks for another great podcast!

  • Cathy Rose

    Surely you could produce a “Happier” umbrella in bright yellow with the blue dot logo on it? Search for “promotional umbrella”. There are 8 sides to an umbrella. You can repeat the pattern on four sides onto the other four sides. On one of the four sides you could have your logo and then on two other of those four you could use the hashtags Jessica uses in her umbrella photos (#buybrightumbrellas and #nomoreblackumbrellas), and on the fourth you could print your website address.
    You’d want it to be a big umbrella, preferably vented. They’re not as expensive as you might think. Or, you could have them matching your mugs, with the four tendencies on each side.
    Anyway, I love the idea of brightly coloured umbrellas, too.
    Regarding Elizabeth’s jewellery, I recommend the coathanger plastic pocket solution shown in the video below posted by claire kurdelak. I have hundreds of earrings, I change them every day. I store them in five of those double-sided hanging pockets. I think they’re great and they’re cheap! Cheaper than at the Container Store in Texas if you buy them online. (Sorry, Container Store.)
    Cheers from Australia!

  • Rachel Stansberry

    a few seconds ago
    Listening to this episode, I smiled to remember a day in 2005 when I stood with my sister in the Paris metro. She turned to me and said “you need some vacation Valium!” Since then I’ve worked on taming the travel beast. I now recognize it as a trigger for my anxiety and remind myself that I will need to use all those mindfulness calming techniques that I practice in my regular meditation practice. I also have pictures of what i usually pack on my iPad to use for reference when I pack

  • My surprising missing puzzle piece was painting a room white. My big studio was painted dark red by the previous occupant and I found it really oppressive and avoided spending much time in there so it turned into a junk room. When I finally got around to painting it white my life changed in so many ways. for example it felt safe to finally start co-habiting with my boyfriend; I started a business making videos for online- using the white walls as my backdrop. I moved my computer and current craft projects out of the living room and now that is a very tidy space purely for socialising and relaxing. I was going to write: all that from a coat of paint, but actually it took 8 coats of paint to cover up the red!

    • gretchenrubin

      So satisfying!

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

  • Joyce Dall’Acqua Peterson

    Travel beast tamer: Use the airport shuttle instead of a cab. You make the reservation online based on your flight time. Yes, they build in an absurd amount of extra time, but THEY are the bad guys getting you out the door, not you or your spouse. You will then have time to “treat yo’self” to an indulgent coffee drink on the other side of security.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great idea!

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

    • LindaS

      My idea for travel times is similar. I was going to suggest a reliable airport car service. THEY allot the pick up time so neither of you choose when you leave. Even though more expensive than a shuttle I find the anxiety of a bazillion stops on the way to the airport too much. (Depends on where you live I guess). The other thing could be waiting until the travel day then check Google maps or equivalent. In my city (Sydney) it is always updated with traffic congestion and hiccups. So start checking around the time you want to leave Liz, then you have a case to make if traffic is really bad or you’ll feel secure that you’ll make it on time.

  • Ana

    Loved this one! I’m totally a travel beast! Its good to have a name for it…it’ll hopefully remind me to work on it. Listening to your podcast yesterday, I realized what my missing puzzle piece was—headphones. I can’t use the earbuds that go in your ears for…reasons…so I rarely listen to podcasts, since I just have to play it out loud on the phone speakers. I need to find some over the ear headphones that aren’t humongous or uncomfortable and I can listen away without bothering my family!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific puzzle piece!

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

    • LoriM

      I love my Bluetooth SB220 headphones I got on Amazon for about $20. I may upgrade next time but these have worked great.

  • Suzanne Wyatt

    Here’s a Happiness Hack regarding the office mug issue. I too used to contribute to this problem. It was so much easier to get a clean mug than to scrub and scrub the tea/coffee residue rings encircling the inside of used mug.

    One day I saw my mom putting a denture cleaning tablet (Polident) in her home mug. Three minutes later with no “elbow grease” her mug was clean, stain free and minty fresh. Although their slogan is not “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it is” …. perhaps it should be! It was a great stress reliever in my office and home.

  • Teks

    Travel hack: I have a detailed packing list for each family member on the computer. Every trip I print it out, and if I think of something new (child has a new retainer to remember) I add it to the list on paper, and update the list when I get home. I cleverly made a work trip list for my husband (business cards, chargers), sadly the rebel refuses to use it. Whenever he forgets something and has to buy say an 8th bathing suit, we just laugh and say “If only you had a packing list!” Here are some of my lists I have one for beaches, camping, skiing, xmas etc. http://www.mamaloveslists.com/packing-list.html

  • Sue Z

    Airports annoy me. I keep my personal Happiness playlist in one ear at all times. I use earbuds so it works for me and my husband can talk to me if he needs to. On packing – again turn on the music. I tried the list thing but it just didn’t work for me. I have a nice big bed so I layout all my clothes by the day, down to accessories if it’s a business trip before I even pull out the suitcase. Then I fold (or bag as other people have suggested) and place – it’s sort of a double check. I do the same in the bathroom – everything lined up on the counter then into the bag.

  • Ruth Carter

    Could Liz and Adam travel to the airport separately?

    • Gretchen S.

      Second this idea. When you travel alone, do you have the same travel stress about getting to the airport as you do when you travel with Adam? If not, then get to the airport on your own and just meet him there! And instead of splitting the difference on the time to leave for the airport (which leaves neither of you happy), take turns on selecting the departure time. Then, you can relax. If you leave at Adam’s time and miss the flight, well, that is his problem to fix, not yours! And half the time you’ll get to the airport at a time that makes you comfortable. If you split the difference, you’ll always be tense.

  • Kristine

    Listening to you discuss the concept of the “Missing Puzzle Piece” reminded me of the 80/20 Rule. Have you heard of this? You can apply it to almost anything and when you do, it can help you analyze ways to be more effective. For example, when I looked at my classroom, I realized that I completed 80% of my work in only 20% of the room: my desk. So I asked myself how I could utilize this revelation to make me more productive. I, too, decided to move my trash can next to my desk, helping me to keep every precious second of my planning periods rather than getting up to throw my trash away. I rearranged a few other objects so I wouldn’t need to get up from my desk as frequently, making my days much more efficient!

  • Kieran J Lindsey

    Jewelry box? I could never find anything in one. Besides, jewelry is art. When you can see it you are inspired to wear it. Here’s my hack: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d5f52435fd1e62f61bb47ca243ac57ada0de81cd3e3ede0d09359937206d629b.jpg

    • Kieran J Lindsey

      I used a frame from Michaels, an air vent cover from Home Depot for wire earrings, and a coat hook rack from Target for necklaces

    • LoriM

      How do you get the necklaces to hang sideways like that? This is a great idea – I have something similar with my necklaces but it’s not very pretty (just a bulletin board propped on a dresser). I have seen them with a door on them, too, which I kinda like.

      • clear-eyed

        Hahaha… I guess I forgot to mention that I’ve also figured out how to hack gravity. I’ll share that trick when an appropriately themed show airs LOL (yes, this is KJL… logged in from an old Discus account because I couldn’t remember my sign-in info for the newer one.)

  • Jessica Feldmann

    Tame the travel beast: I used to be a travel beast until a panic attack traveling in Europe with my two younger sisters made me re-evaluate my attitude. My mother calmed me on the phone by reassuring me that my sisters were both adults and that knowing our back-up plans at all times meant if it didn’t work out the first attempt we would try another approach. Since then, I have made it my mission on all travel trips and even when in large crowds at the store (especially when holiday shopping) to be the calm in the storm and the person that brightens someone else’s experience. It makes me happy to know I didn’t add to someone else’s chaos and may have helped make their stressful situation a little better than before!

  • Alexandra Ogilvie

    I feel really lucky. Like Elizabeth and Adam, my partner and I disagreed about when to leave for the airport (actually, leave for anywhere). My anxiety about being late or missing flights was intense and made me a beastly travel companion. Finally, we had a serious discussion about it & decided that resolving my anxiety was more important than the potential time “lost” at the gate. So I am now the one to determine when we leave with no discussion. It has changed everything. Sometimes we have a lot of time to kill at the airport and we laugh, but sometimes we end up needing the time and I am so thankful that we have it.

  • Denise Bell

    One of the biggest stress relievers that I thank myself for on the way to the airport is TSA precheck. I love it! Keep my shoes on, my laptop in its case and speed through the lines. It is one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself and makes me smile on the way to the airport each time!

    I also see great restaurants and massage stops in airport now, come way early and spend some time there distressing! Kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

  • LoriM

    Couple more “Travel” ideas:

    I keep a “don’t forget” list in my suitcase. Just for stuff I tend to forget, that is extra handy when traveling. Like: flashlight and extension cord, my own soap, etc.

    My travel extension cord makes me SO HAPPY when I want to charge my phone and the only outlets are really inconvenient to reach. I reach the difficult outlet ONCE to plug in the extension cord and then arrange the extension cord somewhere handy where I can charge my phone the whole time I’m there.

    Actually, I use the extension cord tip at home, too. The fire department may not like this, but I keep one handy to my tv-watching chair in the living room, and another one by my bed. So I can always charge my phone WHILE I’m using it.

  • Debbie

    I loved this discussion about the travel beast. I definitely have travel anxiety too. I’ve been married to my fantastic husband for 20 years. I have a couple different solutions for this: delegate and identify the stressors in my control. I have two teen daughters and a capable husband. They are responsible for themselves. I’ve realized, that after 20 years of marriage, we have NEVER missed a plane. I need to work on my trust issues and realize, I’m not the only one in control of the situation. We can all deal with any adverse consequences that may happen. On smaller, local trips, I tell my husband I’ll meet him at our destination. He likes to arrive just on time, I like to arrive early. So….I go early, he meets me there later. It has totally relieved my stress. I hope this helps. I think Elizabeth can leave early for the airport and meet Adam there. He will be happier, she will be happier and have less stress. Jack can go with whichever parent will cause Elizabeth the least amount of stress!

  • Love this episode. For me it is the packing that turns me into a travel beast.

  • Mardee

    My favorite method for taming the travel beast when packing is to remember this: There is a Target [or insert your favorite store] in virtually every city. If I forget something, I can probably live without it, and if not, it’s likely that I can replace it quickly and inexpensively anyway. I traveled for business for years, but also applied this to trips with my family / kids and it helped me to travel lighter and with less anxiety.