Holiday Travel Tips

It’s that time of year again!

Time to visit Grandma and the in-laws for Christmas or maybe you want to spend New Year’s Eve in Paris? Even if you’re simply planning a few hours drive to see family, traveling over the holidays can be hectic, expensive and stressful.

The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are the the travel industry’s busiest time of year. According to Airlines for America , 27.3 million passengers will travel globally on U.S. airlines during the Thanksgiving travel period. That’s up 2.5 percent from last year. That’s 2.27 million passengers per day from Nov. 18 through Tuesday, Nov. 29.

The news isn’t all bad. There are still deals to be found, and you can avoid some of the pitfalls of holiday travel provided you shop carefully and plan ahead. And it appears the worst is behind us.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you engage in this season’s travel madness

Do your research– Proper planning can make or break any trip. Be sure to check weather forecasts, find alternate routes and modes of transportation in case the weather betrays you or something prohibits you from flying or driving. Check the airline’s restrictions ahead of time on carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags–those can do serious damage to your wallet if you’re not careful.

“Proper planning prevents poor performance.” ~Stephen Keague

Pack as light as possible– This is critical for those that will be flying. Packing light will help you avoid baggage fees and it will make the security checks go some much smoother. Remember, if you are flying you may bring liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers, packed within a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. You’re also allowed to bring any liquids (such as coffee or water) or gels purchased after you go through a security checkpoint onto your plane with you. Be sure you know the restrictions before you arrive at the airport

Leave Early-– Whether flying or driving, plan to leave for your destination–be it the airport or final destination if traveling by car. Leaving early helps eliminate some of the stress delays and travel hiccups can cause.

Try to travel on “off peak” days— Contrary to popular belief, Christmas day is no longer one of the best and cheapest days to fly. That used to be the case but now prices tend to jump a week before the holidays and stay that way for a week after the holidays. And traveling on Christmas or New Year’s day typically brings longer delays, wait times and fewer dining options.  If possible, try to schedule your flights just before or after the holiday rush.

Ship your gifts— Shipping gifts will give you more space in the car and relieve some of the headache of taking them with you. TSA suggests shipping wrapped gifts or waiting until you reach your destination to wrap them, as they might have to be unwrapped for inspection.

Travel early or late in the day— This tip is good for those traveling by land or air. Airports are least congested at times when normal folks would rather be at home or asleep. Delays are far less likely for morning flights, and airports usually unclog as the afternoon and evening peak passes. The roads are generally less congested during these times as well.

“Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. Best time to hit the road? When every one else is asleep — early morning or late at night ” ~TSA

Tips specifically for air travel: 

Be prepared for more than the usual slowdowns at security. Folks who very rarely fly  may not be familiar with all the ins and outs — and the newer full body scanners could catch even frequent travelers off guard.
Gas up and get fully packed the night before you travel.
Choose nonstop flights. The worst, most brutal delays occur in connecting airports, where you have no home, friends or family to assist you during extended delays.
Make sure your phone is fully charged and download your airline’s app so you’ll get alerts if your flight is delayed or your gate changes.
If you’re leaving pets at home make kennel reservations as soon as you know you will be traveling.
Expect the worst. If you brace and prepare for the worst you drastically minimize your stress during your travel and will be able to better maintain your sanity. Work to keep your cool. Understand what frustrates you the most and then plan for it. Airport melt downs are horrible and you don’t want to be “that guy” and end up on the news as the latest travel disaster.

Remember to breathe. And consider this: the super chatty person next to you on the plane, the cancelled flights, the luggage that fell off the car in the middle of the highway–all of it will make for great stories when you do finally reach your destination.

Featured Image by TheeErin on Flickr and available for use under CC 2.0 license.

Consumer Expert Denise Hill

Denise is currently a writer and editor for a federal agency in Washington, DC. She is an open-minded free spirit always ready for new adventures. She enjoys traveling and relishes being exposed to alternate points of view. Faith, family and finances are the core of her value system. She follows her own path and marches to her own beat. She is a dream chaser and with her husband and best friend by her side, she plans to take over the world.