Nobody really enjoys traveling during the holidays, do they? OK, you might if you’re going on vacation, or you’re visiting family in Hawaii or something. But for everyone else, it’s a slog—whether you’re battling airport crowds the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or fighting through highway traffic on Christmas Eve, getting anywhere can be a massive hassle.
And while this might not make us any friends, we have to say it: Part of the blame falls on you. Not because you’re a bad person, or a bad driver, or a bad airline passenger, but because everyone (including you—and us, for that matter) makes unintentional mistakes that add to the stress of holiday travel.
Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid that this year? This list of what to do, and what not to do, can help make your trip a lot more pleasant.
DON’T wait too long to buy your airfare. Some people think that waiting to buy tickets until just before the holidays will save them money—but according to Skyscanner.com, it’s the opposite. The site’s data indicates that the best time to buy a Christmas flight is early October through mid-November. Waiting until the week before Christmas will cost about 9% more on average.
DO travel on non-peak days. Everybody travels on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and comes home the Sunday after the holiday. What if you left on Tuesday and came home on Saturday? The airport is likely to be more relaxed, and traffic should be a lot lighter. If your schedule is flexible, take advantage of it. You could even save money on flights, depending on when you book.
DON’T fly with a ton of gifts. The lighter you can travel, the less stress you’ll have. Do you really want to worry about finding space in the overhead bins for all your stuff, or leave your gifts in the hands of the airline’s baggage handlers? Try shipping gifts ahead of time, buying them once you arrive at your destination, or even buying them online and having them sent directly to the recipient. Remember, if you do have to travel with gifts, security might want to check them out—so don’t wrap them.
DO make sure your car is ready for winter travel. This is a good idea even if you’re not taking a road trip. Give your car a thorough check-up, from wipers to fluids to tires. And make sure you’ve got an emergency kit in the car, with safety gear, jumper cables, flares, food and water, a flashlight and blankets. (For more tips, see our post on safe winter driving here.)
DON’T forget to reserve airport parking. Even private lots around airports fill up at busy times, so make a reservation as soon as you know your flight dates. Better yet, have someone give you a ride to and from the airport, take a taxi or use a ride-share company (although those last two options might have limited availability during heavy travel times).
DO consider travel insurance. Holiday travel can be costly, especially if the whole family is going—that could mean several airline tickets and a couple of hotel rooms for multiple nights. It also could mean you’d lose that money if something were to happen that prevents you from going, such as a sudden illness or an accident. Travel insurance typically isn’t that expensive, especially compared to the cost of a big trip.
DON’T be caught off guard when things go wrong, because odds are, something will. What would you do if your flight got cancelled unexpectedly? “Wait in line at the airport counter with everyone else” doesn’t sound so great. What if you got stuck in the snow on the side of the road? (“I’d pull out my emergency kit,” is the right answer there.) Think ahead about your options and be prepared—for bad weather, road closures and more.
If you do the things you should do, and avoid the things you shouldn’t, you’ll be in great shape this season. You’ll feel calm and confident. People will look at you and think, “Why can’t I be so relaxed when I travel?” And most important, you’ll be able to focus on what the holidays are all about—enjoying time with friends and family.
Top image by Flickr user Marco Nürnberger used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.