Survive Travel during the Holidays
Ready to travel for the holidays? Christmas is one of the busiest times for travelers, the second holiday only to Thanksgiving in terms of air traffic. Let’s face it—having to deal with all those fellow travelers, overloaded bags and stacks of coats can be stressful. We don’t exactly have the luxury of a private reindeer-drawn carriage! Here are our tips to survive the winter season on the road.
1. Book early.
If you haven’t booked your tickets yet, get on that immediately. The week of Christmas is one of the most expensive times to travel, so buy early or risk exorbitant fares. If you’re looking for deals, you may want to try a weekday to go traveling. Shop around on booking sites like Skyscanner for the best fares, and be flexible on your dates. Be on the lookout for nearby airports that may cost less to fly into; Newark is generally cheaper than New York, Orange County more so than Los Angeles.
2. Pack wisely.
You’ll probably have a fair share of gifts to wrap and pack into your luggage. Wrap bottles and other breakables carefully in bubble wrap, and place them in plastic bags to prevent leakage. Don’t pack perishables like fruit—they’ll just be thrown out at security. Don’t wrap your presents yet, because if you get stopped by security you’ll just have unwrap them, which is time-consuming. Stick them instead in gift bags with wrapping paper—or at least wait until you arrive to do some last-minute wrapping. Or, best bet: if you have your gifts bought well beforehand, save yourself the worry and simply ship them so they arrive roughly when you do.
3. Stay in Touch.
Keep your phone or tablet in hand while you stay up to date with any possible flight changes or weather updates that may affect your trip. The more you book in advance, the more likely a change will be imminent. Check in as soon as your flight allows online (usually 24 hours prior to flight departure). If you show up at the airport early (as you should), scan the flight status boards. Don’t assume the first information on times, gates, seats, are always accurate minute to minute. Download GateGuru, a useful app that keeps you informed on TSA wait times, gate changes, flight delays, and more.
4. Fly Nonstop.
A flight connection can be more headache than it’s worth. Just picture the stress of overweight fees, lost baggage, and the hassle of navigating through three or more airports instead of simply two. Save yourself the headache and book a nonstop flight if you can. Sometimes the cost of getting from point A to point B in the fastest way possible is a worthwhile investment. Take care that you don’t settle for a “direct flight”—“direct” is airline code for flights that make a stop midway, for a number of reasons like refueling.
5. Be Prepared for Delays.
It’s almost a Christmas tradition that flights suffer delays, reroutings or cancellations during the season. Winter weather alone has delayed many a traveler, what with rainstorms, blizzards, hailstorms, icy pavement, and so on. There’s not much you can do, except prepare yourself. Depart early in the Christmas week, arrive early at the airport, stock up on water and booster snacks like nuts. Have the numbers to rental cars and family members ready on hand just in case. Keep your devices stocked with entertainment: movies, music, ebooks. If you can’t fix it, make the stress just a little more bearable.
6. Invest in Yourself.
Well, it’s the holidays, so why not indulge yourself a little and give your travel a boost? Go first or business class. Sometimes, during the holiday season, these seats can be even more affordable than their economy counterparts. Shop around a little bit. Investing a little time and you might just land the prime seats. First or business class certainly has its perks: extra checked bags, edible food, expedient boarding, and that golden reward—lounge access. Speaking of lounges, even if you fly economy, look into a one-time fee for VIP lounge access. Lounge rooms can sometimes be lifesavers from the stress of travel during the holidays. Complimentary Wi-Fi, snacks, beverages, couches, maybe even a shower area—these can all boost your holiday travel just a little bit easier.
7. Don’t go Overboard on the Eggnog.
Though you may feel tempted to de-stress at the airport with a glass of chardonnay, you’re better advised to save it for the Christmas party. Drinking can impair your judgement and make you more impatient. You might get a headache, or become dehydrated—a nightmare once you’re up in the air. Worse case, you’ll miss your flight! Avoid all the drama and save the eggnog for later, when you’re sitting beside that brightly lit tree.
8. Stay Fed and Watered.
Keep yourself and your family fed during the trip. A well-nourished traveler is a happy one. Stock up on those high-fiber, energetic foods, like nuts, granola bars, cheese, dried fruit. Staying hydrated is also extremely important. Traveling can dry out your skin and lead to feelings of exhaustion. Carry lotion to moisturize your skin, and fresh water so you stay in a positive mood.
Sleep is one of the most, if not the most, important thing to consider when traveling for the holidays. Not sleeping properly can lead to irritability, stress and sickness. Not exactly the recipe for a fun winter holiday. Keep yourself sane by getting enough hours of sleep the night before a flight. Schedule a departure at a reasonable hour. Try to avoid red-eyes if you can.
10. Select those Seats.
Seat selection can be a hassle sometimes. On cramped airplanes, it can be a downright stress-ball. Many budget airlines charge extra for seats—but opt out of payment and your family can end up sitting far away from each other. Fortunately, most airlines do include the price in the ticket cost. Make sure you select your seats when you book your ticket. Any delay and you may also end up scattered. And every time there is a schedule change, reconfirm your seats. Occasionally, changes might bump all seat reservation off the chart, leaving you without a seat come go-time. Save yourself the headache and confirm your seats repeatedly: when booking your ticket, when there’s a change, and when printing out your boarding pass at the airport.
Traveling for the holidays is often stressful—but it doesn’t have to be. Take a few steps beforehand to save yourself a lot of anxiety.
Wailana Kalama is a travel writer and editor. Fan of nonfiction, dark humor, slow travel and homemade chai tea. Read more of her work at waikalama.com.