You probably know that Thanksgiving (and the weekend that follows) is the busiest travel time of the year, but with the holidays frequently popping up before we’re ready, many people find themselves forced to pay a high price in more ways than one. When it comes to holiday travel planning, it’s never too early to start. Let these tips help to ensure that this year you’ll travel practically stress-free and arrive at your holiday celebration calm, collected and on time.
If you’ll be flying to your destination, airfares around the holiday tend to be high, but by purchasing your tickets at least a few months in advance, you’ll have a better shot at securing a bargain. Flying on the holiday and timing it so that you’ll arrive on Thanksgiving morning or early afternoon will generally bring significant discounts, but if that’s not an option, consider taking extra time off work and flying out the Monday before the holiday instead of Tuesday or Wednesday. On your return, the best deals are usually found on the Friday after Thanksgiving or the following Monday — the more flexible you are, the better when it comes to savings.
Another insider’s trick: signing up for sale notifications with your preferred airlines as well as following them on Twitter and Facebook can help you snag the best airfare deals before they’re available to the general public.
If you plan on traveling by land, you aren’t completely out of the woods, as navigating roadways around the holiday can also present a number of challenges, particularly along heavily traveled routes. By following similar practices for road travel, such as avoiding the roads on the Wednesday before the holiday and the following Sunday, you can ease some of the stress of driving. Before heading out, be sure to check your tires, brakes, transmission fluid and coolant system, whether you’ll be driving across town or across thousands of miles. A well-maintained vehicle can significantly decrease the chances of a breakdown and subsequently ruined holiday.
Planning your route ahead of time and traveling with a GPS system or smartphone can also help you avoid unnecessary delays. Don’t forget change for tolls as well as plenty of snacks and entertainment for the kids. If you’ll be driving through or to an area subject to inclement weather, you may want to brush up on your driving skills and carry extra water, blankets and a flashlight in case ice or snow seriously impede your progress.
Your smartphone is not only useful on the road, but it can also help at the airport if you take advantage of useful apps like the GateGuru, which provides gates and restaurant information as well as ATM and shopping locations. TripCase is another useful app that allows you to organize and share all of your travel information in one place. Additionally, many airlines also offer mobile apps and websites that allow passengers to check in, confirm seats and keep track of flight statuses.
As you close in on your travel dates, those who are flying should remember that packing light is more important than ever due to both security issues and exorbitant baggage fees. Don’t wait until the last minute to check with your airline to find out its particular regulations. By planning ahead, you can avoid potential headaches and additional fees. No matter which airline you fly, you won’t be able to carry on any liquids that are over three ounces in size, so most cosmetic items will have to be packed in your checked luggage. Liquids of three ounces or less in your carry-on bags must be kept inside a clear plastic bag.
If you can avoid checking baggage, it will save you time at the airport and also ensure that you have everything you need in case of an emergency. It’s not uncommon during the holiday season for flights to be significantly delayed or even canceled. Having the basics with you, including a change of clothes, sample-sized toiletries and your medications, can help make delays a lot more bearable.
Another way to make things easier at the airport as well as to save money is to leave your car at home. If you can’t get a ride, most cities have shuttles available that can take you there for a reasonable price so you don’t have to worry about traffic or parking. Also, with crowded travel weekends such as Thanksgiving, the lots will fill up quickly, so even if you need to take a cab, the expense could be worth not having stress at the airport.
Check your flight no matter where you’re going — while you might think you don’t have to worry about bad weather because you’re flying from one sunny locale to another, remember that the aircraft could be coming from a city that was hit by foul weather — holding up your warm-weather travel plans. The Flightview app is a good one to have for tracking the path of your aircraft.
On travel day, be sure to allow plenty of time by leaving early. It’s better to have a longer wait at the airport than to arrive anxious and stressed or worse — missing your flight altogether. Two hours before domestic flights and three hours before an international flight is standard, but around the Thanksgiving holiday you should add another 45 minutes to be safe. Dressing comfortably and wearing shoes that are easy to remove during security screening can help speed things up and ease stress, too.
Travel rarely comes without any bumps in the road, especially around the holidays, but if you follow these tips and remember not to sweat the small stuff, the rewards are usually far greater than any setbacks. This holiday season, prepare early, prepare well and enjoy smooth travel so you can enjoy your loved ones.