Long lines. Short tempers. Cramped planes. Backed-up highways. This may be billed as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but the stress of traveling over the holidays can turn anyone into a Grinch.
Reduce your holiday hassles by avoiding eight common mistakes that many travelers make.
Don’t Travel at the Same Time as Everybody Else
Planning on flying or driving home the Sunday after Thanksgiving? So’s the rest of America—and you can expect the security lines and traffic jams to prove it. Being flexible about your travel dates and times can help you avoid the worst of the holiday crowds. This might mean shortening your weekend by a day or starting your drive bright and early—even before most people have had their morning coffee.
Not sure when the peak travel days are for a particular holiday? See The Best and Worst Days to Travel This Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Don’t Fly with Wrapped Gifts
Your ultra-organized plan to wrap all your presents before you leave could backfire if a TSA agent sees something suspicious on the X-ray and rips into your pristine wrapping job to take a closer look.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to prevent this problem. You can put your items in gift bags that are easy for TSA officers to peek into, or stick to gift cards that don’t need to be wrapped. A third option is to simply buy everything online and have it shipped to your final destination to be wrapped there.
Don’t Allow the Same Amount of Time You Usually Do
Showing up at the airport 90 minutes before a flight might work just fine on a random Wednesday morning in February, but it’s not the best strategy when traveling over the holidays. Potential problems include holiday traffic jams, packed economy parking lots, and snaking security lines full of infrequent flyers who aren’t familiar with the latest screening procedures.
Consider adding at least 30 to 60 minutes to your normal pre-flight routine and taking steps to expedite your way through the airport. A few tactics: Reserve a spot at an off-airport parking lot, sign up for TSA PreCheck, check in online in advance, and restrict yourself to only a carry-on so you can avoid the checked-bag line.
Don’t Fly Without Knowing Your Rights
If you haven’t flown since last year’s holiday season, it’s worth brushing up on your passenger rights. Do you know what you’re entitled to if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight or your airline loses your checked bag? Find out by reading SmarterTravel’s Air Passenger Rights Guide, which includes a handy PDF that you can save to your phone or print out and place in your wallet.
Don’t Over-Indulge Right Before You Fly
The holidays are all about eating, drinking, and making merry—but it’s best not to do these too excessively in the hours before your flight. A hangover is unpleasant enough on its own; suffering through it while crammed into an economy-class seat on a bumpy flight surrounded by strangers is a true misery. Bloating and indigestion after a rich holiday meal can be similarly uncomfortable.
Nor do you want to show up for your flight still inebriated; there are few easier ways to get booted off a plane. And while it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway: Never drink before driving—to the airport or anywhere else.
Don’t Fail to Make a Plan for Winter Weather
A white Christmas may sound romantic, but a blizzard is the last thing you want when traveling over the holidays. If there’s any chance of snow or ice along your itinerary, you’ll want to have a backup plan in place.
Research alternative flights in case your original itinerary is affected somewhere along the line. Save your airline’s phone number in your contacts so you can call immediately for rebooking if your flight gets canceled. If you’re driving, check the weather in advance and consider traveling on a different day if your original departure date looks dicey. For more ideas, see 18 Winter Travel Tips for Flights and Road Trips.
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome with Family or Friends
Staying with loved ones can be a great way to spend some quality time together and save money on lodging, but as anyone with in-laws knows, family togetherness can get old—fast. Be realistic about whether you (and/or your hosts) might appreciate some privacy and space, and consider checking into a hotel or vacation rental for at least part of your stay.
Don’t Expect a Stress-Free Experience
If you go into your holiday trip expecting a few hiccups, you’ll be less frustrated if they happen—and pleasantly surprised if they don’t. Arm yourself with as much patience as you can muster as well as stress busters like a meditation app on your phone or simply a bag of your favorite snacks.
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