Anyone who has traveled during the holidays knows how taxing it can be. Traffic is slow, airport security lines seem to move even slower, and your fellow travelers aren’t always patient. While we can’t promise that your journey to grandma’s house this November and December will be enjoyable, we know of a few travel tips to make it less stressful.
1. TRY TO TRAVEL ON THE ACTUAL HOLIDAY.
The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for holiday travel by air, and this year is expected to be especially bad. Drivers will face a similar situation if they head out on Wednesday, if Google’s analysis of road conditions last Thanksgiving are anything to go by. For these reasons, it’s always wise to travel several days before the holiday or on the holiday itself when possible. Sure, the latter scenario is less than ideal, but the flights are cheaper and the crowds smaller. And since Thanksgiving is such an unpopular day to start your journey, you might even be upgraded to first class.
If traveling day-of isn’t an option, here are a few more travel tips: Try to book a flight early in the morning or late in the evening. Morning fliers tend to enjoy fewer delays, but you’ll beat the crowds if you wait until the evening to fly out.
2. PACK LIGHT FOR HOLIDAY TRAVEL …
If you’ll only be out of town for a few days, there’s no reason to lug around a 60-pound suitcase. The lighter your suitcase, the better you’ll feel—and you won’t have to worry about excess baggage fees, either. We understand that packing light can be challenging, though. If you’re struggling to zip your suitcase shut, try layering up before you head to the airport. Remove the heaviest and bulkiest clothing items from your bag (think boots, winter coats, and big sweaters) and wear them instead. You can always remove them once you get through airport security and store them in the plane’s overhead bin.
3. … AND PACK YOUR LAPTOP LAST.
One more travel tip for packing: If you’re traveling with a laptop, pack it in your carry-on last, along with your liquids. That way, when you head through the dreaded airport security line, you can remove them quickly without having to rummage around.
4. DON’T CARRY WRAPPED GIFTS.
Wrapping gifts in advance and stowing them in your suitcase might seem like good planning on your part, but you might end up creating more work for yourself. According to the TSA, wrapped presents are permitted, but security officers might need to unwrap them if something requires closer inspection. “We recommend passengers to place presents in gift bags or wrap gifts after arriving to avoid the possibility of having to unwrap them during the screening process,” the TSA wrote on its website. “Another good option is to ship them ahead.”
5. RESERVE AIRPORT PARKING IN ADVANCE.
Airport parking lots can fill up pretty fast around the holidays. To avoid having to loop around the lot for 45 minutes, log onto your local airport’s website to see if you can secure a parking spot in advance. Booking online might even save you some money, and you can also check out ParkRideFly’s website for discounted parking rates.
6. CARRY AN EMPTY WATER BOTTLE.
It’s important to stay hydrated if you have a long flight ahead, since drinking plenty of fluids can help stave off jet lag. But why pay $4 for a bottle of water at the airport when you can bring your own reusable bottle and fill it up for free at a water fountain near your gate? Just make sure it starts out empty until you get through airport security—you wouldn’t want to hold up the line and get side-eye from your fellow passengers.
A few other travel tips for packing your purse or carry-on: Bring a phone charger, toothbrush, other must-have toiletries, glasses and contacts, medications, an extra pair of underwear, headphones or earplugs, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes (after all, those airport security bins are germ-infested cesspools).
7. TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR SUITCASE.
If you need to check a bag, snap a photo of your suitcase before you hand it over to the airline. That way, if it gets lost, you won’t have to rack your brain trying to remember whether it’s black or navy blue while describing its appearance to airline staff. If your suitcase is rather nondescript, consider tying a colorful ribbon around the handle to set it apart. This will come in handy when you go to retrieve your bag from the luggage carousel.
8. SWAP BELONGINGS WITH A COMPANION.
You and another traveler in your group—be it a spouse or a sibling—may want to swap a few belongings while you’re packing. If you put a few essential items in their bag, and let them put a few must-haves in yours, you won’t feel so helpless if one of your bags gets delayed or lost.
9. USE APPS TO FIGURE OUT WHEN TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.
Domestic travelers are generally advised to arrive at the airport two hours before their flight. However, if you’re traveling close to a major holiday, you’ll want to factor traffic and long airport lines into the equation. So when should you leave the house? Google Maps can help you figure it out. After plugging in the airport address, you can select the Traffic feature (on both the desktop version and within the app) to see a color-coded map of the fastest and slowest routes. The app can even remind you to leave at a certain time depending on when you want to arrive. Waze is another useful app for travelers to have on hand. It provides updated traffic information in real-time and relies on user-submitted data about traffic jams and accidents.
10. TRY TO AVOID AIRLINE COUNTERS.
The ability to check into a flight online is one of the greatest gifts given to travelers. Take advantage of that by printing out your boarding pass at home, having it sent to you in an email, or saving it to your smartphone’s Apple Wallet or Google Pay app. If you don’t have to check any luggage, you can head straight to your airport’s security checkpoint and save yourself a lot of time. Plus, you might end up in an earlier boarding group or get better seats, according to Smarter Travel. If you do have to drop off a bag, that’s no problem either. Curbside check-in tends to be faster than the airline counters inside most airports. If that isn’t available, some airlines also have an expedited “bag drop” line you can hop into if you’ve already checked in.