What you should never do during holiday travel
While singer Andy Williams might think that the holiday season is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas are in fact the busiest travel time of the year for Americans. This means that whether you’re traveling via plane, train or automobile, the holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year.
While there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to make your holiday travel plans go as smoothly as possible, it’s equally important to avoid certain mistakes and pitfalls that can turn a pleasant drive to grandma’s house into an anxiety-inducing nightmare or a short flight into a delayed debacle.
Traveling on certain days or at popular times, bringing certain items or packing the wrong way can all exasperate your holiday stress, causing strife and arguments rather than allowing you to enjoy quality time with your friends and family. So before you hit the road or fly the friendly skies this holiday season, click through the slideshow above for common mistakes you should avoid.
Whether it’s with your budget, itinerary or packing list, it’s best to have a solid plan heading into your holiday travels. Things like traffic, weather and construction can throw you off your game if you’re not prepared.
Hope for the best, but prepare
While the holidays should be a fun time, it’s also important to prepare for the worst. Bring along a first aid kit and cold weather tools like an ice scraper on your road trip, or stash an extra set of clothes with you in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost.
Wait until the last minute to book
If you wait until the last minute to book, you’ll pay for it. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas are the biggest travel times of the year, so airlines, rental companies and hotels won’t be offering deals or discounts. “During the holiday season, there are no good deals—only ‘bad’ or ‘better’ ones,” Rick Seaney, CEO of airfare search engine FareCompare, told Forbes.
Travel the day before Thanksgiving
The absolute worst time to leave for Thanksgiving vacation from most major metropolitan areas is the day before Thanksgiving. If you’re driving from cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago or LA, the Wednesday before between 3 and 4 p.m will be a traffic nightmare. If you’re flying, airports tend to have the worst lines around 9 a.m. or around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Pass through the busiest airports
If you can, avoid traveling through the country’s biggest and busiest airports, such as LAX, DFW or Hartsfield–Jackson. Research flight costs to smaller nearby airports. While Burbank might be less conveniently located than LAX, flying there could actually end up saving you time and money.
Book back-to-back flights
Allow ample connection time between flights, especially on travel days when the airport will be extra crowded. Just because an airline offers you the option of flights with a 15-minute connection three terminals away doesn’t mean you should take it. Allowing three hours for international and two hours for domestic flights is recommended.
Travel like it’s any other time of year
You might be able to get away with allowing a few minutes for traffic to get out of town or to the airport, but tasks that take moments on any other day could take hours around the holidays. Leave plenty of extra time for things such as parking, security construction and pit stops.
Subsist on in-flight peanuts
Being hungry is a sure-fire way to make you or your travel companions cranky. Relying on in-flight food and beverages won’t keep you full or hydrated. Bring along an empty refillable water bottle that you can fill up once you’re past security. And bring plenty of snacks for your journey. These could come in clutch if you’re faced with delays.
Whether you are on the road or at the airport, make sure and stretch. This relieves stress and muscle fatigue, helps your ability to concentrate and eliminates the risk of health problems such as blood clots in your legs.
While you certainly do need a good night’s sleep before hitting the road, if you want to avoid traffic and stress, it’s better to leave very early or very late in the day. Same goes for flights — booking an option before sunrise or after sunset will ensure smaller airport crowds.
Take it all with you
Balance being prepared and bringing the essentials with packing light. Holiday travel is already stressful enough without having to lug two 50-pound bags behind you. Plus, if you pack compactly, you’ll have room to more easily transport any gifts or leftovers you receive.
Fly with all your gifts
Even if your gift wrapping is gorgeous, it actually can obscure the item inside, meaning TSA might have to rip up your hard work to inspect something. And whether they’re wrapped or not, presents take up precious luggage space. The better option is to ship items to your final destination.
Wear your party clothes en route
You and your travel companions should dress comfortably while in transit. Even if you’re flying Thanksgiving Day and heading straight to a family gathering, bring a change of clothes with you, because the clothes you wear in the car or on a plane will get rumpled and wrinkled.
Fold your clothes
To pack as compactly as possibly, roll rather than fold your clothes. Folding leaves air pockets between layers. Another way to save room is to not bring along any toiletries or items like hair dryers that will be provided by your accommodations.
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