Holiday Travel Survival Tips

The holiday travel season is upon us, and as always, the nation’s roads and airports are expected to be busier than usual. According to the Orbitz.com® 2016 Holiday Travel Survey, 72 percent of Americans are planning to travel at least once between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Whether you’re driving or flying, here is some sage advice from expert travelers on how to stay happy and healthy on the road this holiday season.

Be strategic when you fly or drive

Earlier is better when it comes to booking holiday flights and hotels, while there is still availability and reasonable prices. Use websites such as Orbitz.com, Kayak.com, WhichBudget.com, LastMinute.com, FareCompare.com, Priceline.com and Yapta.com to search and compare the best airfares and times.

Book as early as possible in the morning, so if a flight is delayed or cancelled, you’ll have a better chance of getting on another flight. If you’re traveling out of country, make sure you understand the country’s passport requirements and have paperwork in order ahead of time.

Avoid the busiest business commuter times: Monday mornings, Friday evenings and Sundays. Instead, fly on the least crowded days: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Also avoid flying or driving on peak holiday travel days. During the peak season, the day before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are usually the busiest days to travel.

One way to avoid peak travel times is to fly on the day of a holiday. Most people want to get where they are going and arrive before the festivities begin, which is why Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are both better times to fly. Another bonus: By arriving on the day of, you may avoid some of the stress and rush leading up to the holiday event.

If you have to travel on a high-traffic day, drive or fly early in the morning for fewer delays—afternoon flights tend to incur more delays and cancellations. Or, consider the red eye and fly overnight, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Another tip: avoid connecting flights if possible. The lower fare you may receive isn’t worth the extra work and stress. If you can afford, book a flight with zero connections. If not, book them with plenty of time between flights as  weather, air traffic, crew connections and other factors affect airline schedules.

Pack light and ship gifts ahead.

If possible, pack with a carry-on roller bag only — it will save you the hefty baggage fee and get you on the plane and out of the airport faster. If you’re going to have to check luggage, pay your baggage fee ahead of time online, it’s usually a bit cheaper. Also weigh your baggage ahead of time and make sure it is under 50 pounds to avoid having to pay an additional fee.

Pack a carry-on bag with your favorite snacks, so if you get hungry, you’re not at the mercy of the airline’s snack schedule. Bring wet naps and hand sanitizer, as airplanes and airports are full of germs. If you wear contacts, bring a spare pair, along with your glasses. Also pack some books and magazines and a portable music player—they help make the time pass quicker.

Once your flight is booked, head to the post office and mail gifts to your destination ahead of time. You’ll have to pay shipping, of course, but you’ll save on extra baggage fees and negotiating that giant dinosaur through security check. Want an easier option? Shop online for gifts and have them delivered to your destination. Gift-wrapping is available through many websites.

Print your boarding pass ahead of time.

The night before or day of the flight, print out your boarding pass online ahead of time. Make sure you’re seat assignment is indicated on the airline’s check-in page.

Get to the airport early.

Get to the airport as early as possible—at least two hours ahead of your boarding time (not flight time), if not more. If you don’t plan on printing out your boarding pass ahead of time, take advantage of the boarding pass kiosks at most check in gates. They will save you time online standing on line, and most gate employees are happy to help you get your pass. Have a credit card on hand with a name that matches your name on the reservation.

Know what to expect at the gate.

To get through the gate as efficiently as possible, have your driver’s license and boarding pass in hand, remove metal jewelry, loose change, shoes, belt, jacket, cell phone and PDA and place them in the plastic bins, and open and remove your laptop. Remember to remain patient and polite—you don’t want to upset a TSA agent. Also, bottled water is not allowed through security, so wait to get to the gate to buy water, coffee and other snacks.

If you’re driving …

Nothing can add stress to a road trip like an unexpected mechanical problem. If you do plan on driving long-distance this holiday, make sure your vehicle is in safe working order. Have the car battery, fluid levels, lights, windshield wipers, brakes and belts and hoses checked by a certified mechanic. Regardless of age, have the tires balanced and alignment checked. Also have the oil changed and fluids topped off, including coolant, antifreeze, radiator, transmission and wiper fluid, and replace the air filter.

Also pack smart for winter driving. A roadside emergency kit should include a spare set of keys, hidden in a magnetic spare key hider somewhere on the vehicle. It should also include a blanket, flashlight with fresh batteries, and tire gauge to check tire pressure throughout the trip. Keep extra food and water in case of an emergency in the trunk, and check your spare tire and jack.

If you aren’t already a member, sign up for AAA or other roadside assistance policy. Consider buying a GPS system (if your car isn’t equipped with one). They not only make finding your destination a lot easier, a good GPS can help you find restaurants and points of interest along the way.

You can’t control the weather.

Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, Mother Nature reminds us how all-powerful she is. If you and your loved ones are stuck, try and make the most of it. Most major airports have several (pricey) restaurants and snack bars, so relax, have a good meal and enjoy the “captive” family time. But don’t stray too far from the gate: Flight times and even gate changes can happen in an instant, so keep your eyes and ears open.

Eat well and stay rested

One of the keys to reducing stress and staying healthy on the road is to take good care of yourself. The holidays are a minefield of sugary junk foods and alcohol, so try and balance it out with lots of fruits, vegetables and water.

Be prepared and pack healthy snacks to bring on your drive or flight. Bananas, apples and healthy snack bars are good travel options. Also drink plenty of water and get enough sleep—two key factors in keeping your immune system strong and staying healthy. Turn off your phone and computer close to bed time, and start “powering down” from your long days.