10 Tips for Traveling During the Holidays

Keep your sanity intact during the busy holiday travel season with these simple tips.

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Monitor Flight Deals

There’s no clear consensus among experts on the best time to book flights, with opinions ranging from summer months to a few weeks before the start of the holiday period. That said, booking early will likely net you the greatest options. An Orbitz travel expert also suggests monitoring flash sales. "Not only will that airline be offering special deals on that sale day, but it is likely that other airlines will be matching (or at least lowering) fares at the same time. These flash sales often happen at roughly the same time of the year, so search when your airline last had a flash sale, and keep your eyes open for a repeat."

Travel During Off-Peak Days + Times

Avoid (some of) the crowds and score better deals by either traveling on the holiday, or the day before and after everyone else. Kendal Perez, a savings expert with CouponSherpa.com, says, "Peak travel days for Thanksgiving are the Wednesday before and the Sunday after, with cheaper fares offered on Thanksgiving Day and the day after. In 2017, peak travel days for Christmas are the Friday before and the Monday after." In terms of times, Perez says, "The first and last flights of the day are typically the cheapest since the average traveler would rather not wake up at 3 a.m. to catch a flight, or land at their destination after a red eye. Enduring early or late hours can save you money and time, plus the airport is often less busy during these off hours."

Buy One-Way Tickets

"Before you book a roundtrip airfare for holiday travel, compare one-way ticket prices between airlines," says Perez. "In some cases, flying with one airline on the way to your destination and another airline on the way back can offer money savings and more convenient flight times." Comparing prices at alternate airports can be another money saver.

Pack Gifts Wisely

"Don’t wrap your gifts ahead of time because TSA has the right to unwrap and inspect all packages," advise The Travel Siblings. "Assuming your gifts clear security regulations, devote your carry-on bag to hold all holiday gifts so you don’t risk the airlines losing your luggage."

Ship Gifts

Shipping often makes sense for domestic travel. Orbitz recommends, "If you are buying online, have the gifts shipped directly to your destination — that saves the hassle and expense of checking them on your flight." Conversely, "When coming home, do the math. If the gift haul is big enough to require packing an extra bag, look on your airline’s website for how much that extra bag will cost, then compare that cost to shipping the gifts home."

Stay Safe

It’s impossible to predict natural disasters, illness or terrorist attacks, but you can plan for the worst-case scenario. Buy trip insurance beforehand, such as World Nomads, which covers everything from trip cancellation to emergency evacuation. Many credit cards also provide varying levels of trip insurance. Register overseas trips with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a free U.S. Department of State program that informs the nearest U.S. Embassy of your whereabouts in case of an emergency. Also, check the State Department’s site for any travel warnings and advisories. And if you’re traveling to an area that requires or recommends certain vaccinations or medications, be sure to allow enough time to visit a travel clinic before leaving.

Minimize Airport Stress

Register for TSA PreCheck in order to access expedited domestic screening, as it greatly reduces the amount of time waiting in security lines, and eliminates the bother of removing your shoes, liquids, laptops and more. For foreign travel, registering for Global Entry provides expedited entry back into the U.S. Either way, research the current security rules ahead of time, and arrive at the airport at the recommended time. Apps are another useful way to minimize stress. Isar Meitis, president of Last Minute Travel, says, "Download your airline's app to avoid having to keep track of multiple paper boarding passes, while also getting updated gate information. GateGuru keeps you updated on the current security wait times, so you can make sure to allow yourself sufficient time."

Minimize Driving Stress

In between mapping out routes, performing car maintenance and prepping for weather conditions, it’s easy to forget about incorporating fun activities. "If you’re driving to grandma’s house this year, research fun stop-off points along your route," says Amanda Norcross, features editor of TripAdvisor’s Family Vacation Critic. "This will make the trip feel shorter and give the kids (and you) a chance to blow off some steam." On the more practical side, "If you're hitting the road, GasBuddy provides you with the locations of the cheapest gasoline prices and the cleanest bathrooms," says Meitis of Last Minute Travel.

Be Prepared

Depending on your trip, this includes, but isn’t limited to, the following: pack healthy snacks, bring backup chargers for electronics, download travel apps, know current TSA rules, map out routes, get a car inspection, make copies of travel documents, carry prescriptions in their original bottles, confirm reservations, gather entertainment options, set reminders and pack wisely. The more prepared you are, the better equipped you’ll be to handle unexpected surprises.

Stay Patient

Patience and flexibility are the first rules of traveling, and it’s a given that holiday travel almost never goes smoothly. Practice breathing techniques, and bring entertainment options along with a handy supply of food and other needs. And if and when plans go awry, remaining calm and polite goes a long way for everyone’s sanity.

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