Overhead shot of hundreds of people making their way through airport security
Relax! These holiday travel tips will get you to your holiday destination without the stress and worry.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / MariusLtu

Essential Holiday Travel Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

Make Holiday Travel a Breeze

The stretch of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s involves a flurry of traveling. All around the world, people are planning and embarking on flights, road trips, cruises and the like to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends.

Sure there is a lot for travelers to be thankful for this time of year, but there’s also a lot to get stressed out over. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the busiest times for air travel especially which means crowds are at their peak, delays are unavoidable and mistakes are sometimes made.

Instead of freaking out at the imminent craziness during the winter holidays, do whatever you can to prepare and make your life easier. Plan ahead and follow our essential holiday travel tips for keeping your sanity while embarking on your holiday adventure this year.

Booking Your Trip

Flights

While it’s always recommended to book flights as far in advance as possible for the best savings, that’s not really the case with holiday flights. In general, the lowest prices for travel during Christmas and New Year’s are found during the week of Thanksgiving. According to SkyScanner, you can expect savings of around 6.41% when booking a flight during that time.

Be sure to pick your seat when you book as well, even if it means paying more. Flights are often overbooked by 10% or more during the holidays and those without a pre-picked seat are bumped from a flight first.

If you want to avoid the major crowds during the holidays, book an early morning or late night flight. No one likes flying a red-eye, but if you can tolerate it or sleep on the plane, you’ll have much less airport chaos to deal with.

To limit the potential for multiple delays at the airport, try to book a nonstop flight when possible. Every time you have to make a connection, the probability of a weather delay, mechanical problem, or overbooked flight increases.

Using these Christmas Day travel tips will help you get through in the event that you have to fly right in the thick of things.

Hotels

If you’re planning a family getaway during the holidays and aren’t staying with the in-laws, booking a hotel follows the same trend as booking a flight. November, in particular the week of Thanksgiving, has the best rates offered.

Of course, if you’re traveling with small children or have a particularly large family, it doesn’t hurt to give yourself a little more leeway for booking. After all, most hotel booking sites allow you to book now and pay later, a perk you should definitely take advantage of during the holidays.

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What to Pack

Since time is of the essence during the holidays, saving as much of it as you can should be a priority. One of the best Christmas travel tips is to ship your presents ahead and pack everything you need into a small carry-on bag.

If you’re not headed somewhere warm, use these tips for packing light for winter weather. Traveling light allows you to avoid standing in line at the check-in counter and you won’t have to wait at the baggage carousel once you reach your destination.

Bring a few things to do in case of delays at the airport or to entertain kids in the car if you’re driving. Playing cards, portable electronics, puzzle books, novels and magazines are all great ways to stay entertained.

For kids, a couple of small toys stored in a plastic container or their favorite stuffed animal can easily combat boredom or crankiness. Earplugs are also worth their weight in gold, especially for kids with sensitive ears or family members who get claustrophobia from noisy crowds.

Protein filled snacks such as cheese sticks, hard boiled eggs and nuts will also keep tummies full and hangriness at bay. In fact, packing an entire meal isn’t a bad idea since you’ll avoid long lines and inflated prices at the airport.

Since you can’t bring liquids through security (except for formula and breast milk), bring empty water bottles and sippy cups to fill up at a water fountain.

Be Prepared

Flying

A smart traveler is a prepared traveler, especially during the holidays. Be sure to check your airline’s baggage policy for weight and size guidelines. Budget airlines have some of the strictest guidelines about baggage and not adhering to them could mean extra fees and wasted time.

If you’re bringing electronic devices on board, charge them before you get to the airport. While most airports have available outlets and charging stations now, with the huge crowds during the holidays you’ll be hard pressed to find an available one.

Keep your wallet and boarding pass on hand as soon as you enter the airport. Digging through your bag will delay you, your family and anyone waiting behind you when entering security.

Similarly, make sure your laptop and liquids are easily accessible in your carry-on so you can pull them out quickly when passing through security. However, if you have the extra cash, enrolling yourself and whomever else is traveling with you in the TSA Pre-Check program will save you loads of time waiting at security.

A one time payment of $85 per person and a clean background check will allow you to keep your shoes, belt and jacket on as well as keeping your laptop and liquids in your bag.

In the unfortunate event that your flight is delayed, make sure you bring something to keep you occupied while you wait and keep your mind off the frustrating situation.

Driving

If you’re driving to a destination in your own vehicle, make sure it’s up to date on maintenance to avoid any surprise breakdowns or other problems along the way. It’s also a good idea to map out a destination free from as much traffic as possible.

Take a scenic route and schedule interesting stops along the way. It might take longer, but at least you’ll arrive at your destination less stressed. Downloading useful apps such as GasBuddy and SitOrSquat will also help you find the cheapest gas and cleanest restrooms during your road trip.

Whether flying or driving, leave as early as you can to account for any unforeseen circumstances. This is a good travel habit to get into to ensure you avoid feeling rushed. For flights, three hours ahead should suffice for domestic and four hours for international since at least an hour of that will be spent waiting in line.

For minimal traffic when driving, avoid rush hour and, if possible, set off when most people are asleep.

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