The Thanksgiving holiday is undoubtedly the busiest travel time of the year with notorious transportation delays, traffic and travel snags meeting travelers at every turn. But with a bit of foresight and some planning, you may ease some travel headaches whether you're heading home for the holidays or escaping for a drama-free adventure. Regardless of your plans, you'll be thankful for these travel tips.
It's never too early to start your holiday travel planning. In the early fall, you can take advantage of lower rates and seats aplenty. To jump on a bargain, sign up for sale notifications from your preferred airlines or Amtrak and follow your favorites on Twitter and Facebook where special sale notifications may pop up before they are available to the general public.
As more airlines start charging for checked bags, it's a good idea to pack light and carry on your bag. But keep in mind that your fellow travelers will all have the same idea and overhead space may be tight onboard. To lighten your traveling load, consider shipping some of your belongings to your final destination ahead of time, especially presents and bulky items like diapers or extra clothes that you won't need for the journey.
Choose the Best Days
The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year closely followed by the Sunday after the big day when travelers tear themselves away from the leftovers and football to make the journey home. Avoid these days by flying out on Monday or Tuesday or even Thanksgiving morning to avoid the dreaded Wednesday travel rush. When you're ready to head home, take flight on Friday when the masses have moved on from the airports to the shopping centers to score the best holiday deals. The crowds pick up again on Saturday, reaching a critical peak on Sunday, before leveling out on Monday.
It's commonsense to arrive at the airport early -- you'll need the time for parking, security and to wait your turn for that necessary cup of coffee. But you can avoid some airport hassles by taking advantage of useful applications that can be used on your smart phone. iPhone users can get the skinny on the airport, including maps showing the gates and restaurant information, using the GateGuru app. Airlines including Southwest, Delta and American Airlines all have mobile websites where passengers can check in, confirm seats and keep track of their flight status.
While you certainly save money and avoid some headaches traveling by land, navigating the highways presents its own set of holiday challenges during the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Traffic can choke heavily traveled routes, like the I-95 corridor on the East Coast, adding hours to generally speedy trips. Follow the same best practices for road travel, including avoiding the highways on the Wednesday before turkey day and the following Sunday. Plan your route ahead of time and travel with a GPS system, smart phone or old-school maps to offer alternatives if you need a Plan B. And to avoid unnecessary delays, bring along an E-ZPass or change for the tolls, as well as plenty of snacks, and be sure to fill up on gas before you hit the road.