Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Book Flights Early to Get the Best Fares
One of the best ways to score a deal on airfare is to book your flights well in advance. While last-minute flights can sometimes be cheap, more often than not, the earliest bookers get the worm when it comes to snagging the lowest fares.
Airlines typically open up bookings 330 days before departure, and experts recommend booking international flights at least 3-4 months out and domestic flights 1-2 months out if you want the widest selection of cheap seats.
That’s because airlines use complex algorithms to set fares based on predicted demand. As a flight starts filling up, remaining seats become more scarce, causing fares to incrementally rise through various “booking classes.” The ultra-cheap promotional fares airlines use to stimulate early bookings are almost always the first to sell out.
Jump on those deals as soon as you can. Sign up for fare alerts from your favorite airlines and sites like The Flight Deal so you’re notified as soon as a good price pops up. Check back frequently too, as fluctuations in booking cause fares to constantly shift.
Be flexible with your dates if possible. Flying a day earlier or later can make a huge difference, as can traveling during shoulder seasons when demand is lower. Use the calendar view on sites like Google Flights and Kayak to visualize prices across dates.
When paying cash, book directly through the airline’s website. Third-party online travel agencies often can’t access the lowest fares. And avoid opaque booking sites like Priceline where you can’t select flight times/numbers in advance.
If using miles, watch award charts carefully, as availability at the lowest redemption levels is restricted. Book those flights as far out as possible. Setting up flexible search alerts can help you pounce when award space opens up.
Monitor your fare after booking too. If the price drops, you can usually get reimbursed the difference (just be aware of the airline’s policy). Set a Google Flights tracker or use Yapta and Airfarewatchdog to get alerts if your fare drops.
What else is in this post?
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Book Flights Early to Get the Best Fares
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Pack Light to Avoid Baggage Fees and Delays
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Use Airport Apps for Real-Time Security Wait Times
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Ship Gifts Ahead to Avoid Carrying Bulky Items
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Research Public Transit Options to Avoid Traffic
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Bookmark Airline Social Media for Travel Alerts
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Bring Snacks and Empty Water Bottles to Avoid Airport Prices
- Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Have Backup chargers and Portable WiFi to Stay Connected
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Pack Light to Avoid Baggage Fees and Delays
Heavy baggage doesn’t just cost you at the check-in counter, it can seriously slow you down throughout your journey. Ever miss a flight because you got stuck waiting at the bag drop or arrived just as the gate closed after slowly schlepping your 50-pound roller through a crowded terminal? Not ideal for tight holiday connections.
Packing light ensures you can breeze through security, dash easily between gates, fit your carry-on in those pesky full overhead bins, and avoid the dreaded gate check. Saving time and money.
First, know your airline’s baggage fees and policies. Restrictions vary widely. Spirit may charge you up to $100 roundtrip to check a bag, while Southwest allows two free checked bags. Similarly, basic economy fares on American, Delta and United don’t include free carry-ons.
Next, only bring essentials. Start with items you’ll need onboard the plane, like medications, documents, entertainment, and layers for chilly cabins. Then pack versatile mix-and-match clothing you can repeatedly wear. Limit bulky shoes and jackets. And don’t haul gifts - ship them separately.
Use compression packing cubes, sacks and folders to maximize space and minimize wrinkling. Roll rather than fold clothes. Wear your heaviest clothing and shoes to avoid using luggage space. And place last-minute items like coats into your personal item.
Finally, weigh and measure your bags before leaving home to avoid surprises. Some airlines like Delta offer bag sizers at airports to double check. And consider paying checked bag fees in advance for a discount.
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Use Airport Apps for Real-Time Security Wait Times
Dodging interminable airport security lines is one of the ultimate travel hacks. But how can you know ahead where queues will be quick versus crawling at a snail's pace? Airport apps unlock the magic.
Free apps like iFly, Airport – FLIO and MyTSA provide real-time TSA wait info and queue times at most major airports. Data is crowd-sourced from other travelers. The more people using the app, the more accurate the readings.
This intel lets you breeze through security by picking the right checkpoint and time. See a 25-minute wait at Delta? Hop in the 15-minute Southwest line instead if you have access. Or grab coffee if queues are low until evening rush. Some apps even notify you when waits decrease.
Of course, waits fluctuate unpredictably as crowds swell and security staffing varies. Treat crowd-sourced times as helpful guidance rather than guaranteed fixes. Have backup options and extra buffer time in case things go awry.
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Ship Gifts Ahead to Avoid Carrying Bulky Items
Lugging armfuls of perfectly wrapped presents through crowded terminals hardly screams “joy to the world.” But you can save your back and sanity by shipping gifts ahead of your trip.
Trying to cram mounds of gifts into your luggage is a recipe for disaster. Fragile objects get crushed. Wrapping paper gets shredded. And you blow through weight limits facing steep overweight fees. Not to mention wresting those brick-laden bags into the overhead bin.
Instead, send gifts a week or two early via postal service, courier or shipping company. USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes are inexpensive for domestic shipping. USPS also offers seasonal holiday rate discounts.
Protect items with bubble wrap and consider insuring high-value gifts. Signature confirmation ensures deliveries don’t get dumped on doorsteps. Send tracking numbers to recipients so deliveries can be monitored.
If mailing deadline dates sneak up on you (we’ve all been there), premium 2-3 day couriers like UPS Express Critical will still get gifts there in time, for a hefty fee.
Even Santa knows it’s smart to ship gifts separately from your personal luggage. Just like the bearded wonder, you’ll fly through security and customs with ease. No questioning glances at bulging bag seams from TSA. And absolutely no stressschlepping a bazillion holiday purchases around foreign streets and public transit.
Lightening your load also reduces chances of high checked bag fees, delays, damage and lost bags. Leaving you more time and money to soak up some holiday cheer at your destination. Plus you’ll have extra room to bring special finds back home.
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Research Public Transit Options to Avoid Traffic
Dodging gridlocked highways and jam-packed airport parking lots is every traveler’s holiday wish. But trying to navigate unfamiliar roads and transit systems during peak congestion periods can quickly turn into a nightmare. The solution? Come armed and ready with detailed public transportation plans tailored to your specific routes. Leave the car at home and let trains, buses, subways and other shared mobility whisk you away from the motorized masses.
The savviest travelers scope out all ground transportation well before takeoff. Meticulously map out directions from your home to the airport, between train stations and hotels, and again on return. Calculate total travel times accounting for connections, wait times, walking distances and potential delays.
Use sites like Rome2Rio and Google Maps to compare side-by-side transit options like price, duration, number of transfers and walking distances. Local transportation apps provide real-time schedules and service alerts. And route planning apps like CityMapper can pinpoint multi-modal itineraries mixing trains, buses, Ubers and even bikes or scooters.
Once you’ve mapped the optimal route, purchase tickets and passes in advance when possible. Reserve airport shuttle beds. Download offline maps and schedules in case cell service fails. And allow ample buffer time for navigating stations and delays. Arrive early to busy hubs when traffic snarls spike.
During your journey, take advantage of airport train station check-in counters to avoid terminal chaos. Use GPS navigation so you don’t miss stops. And if plans go haywire, don’t panic. Recheck transit apps for alternatives like express bus lines and be prepared to grab a taxi or rideshare vehicle as a last resort. Adding backup funds to transit cards provides insurance too.
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Bookmark Airline Social Media for Travel Alerts
Among all the holiday travel stress, few things ratchet up panic faster than being blindsided by last-minute flight cancellations, delays or booking changes. But you can preempt travel disruptions and stay continually looped in by bookmarking airline social media accounts and signing up for real-time travel alert services.
Getting advance alerts allows you to rapidly make contingency plans before the rest of the crowds scramble in reactionary mode. Finding out first means you have the widest range of rebooking options, standby seats and assistance resources before others swoop in. Early birds improve their chances of still making that connecting cruise or spending Christmas morning with grandma versus alone in a random airport.
Start by following your airline’s official social media pages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Turn on notifications so urgent flight updates and gate changes ping your phone immediately. Sparse tweets get right to the point fast, while Facebook posts have more details. Photos of massive tarmac lines show the real-time turmoil.
Reply to airline posts with questions and concerns to get helpful assistance. Direct message customer service accounts for private conversations. Tagging the airline publicly applies pressure for prompt replies. Though take care to be polite, or risk getting yourself banned.
Sign up for airlines’ email and text alerts too for flight-specific notices. Third party services like FlightStats offer similar free gate delay alerts when signing up with your confirmation code. And paid live air traffic apps like FlightAware let you track your aircraft’s every movement to anticipate early and late arrivals.
Bookmark airport social media pages as well for alerts on local weather, parking crunches, terminal conditions and security lines. Like Houston Airport frequently warning travelers, “Security checkpoint wait times have exceeded 30 minutes in Terminals A, B, C and E this morning.”
And before heading to the airport, search airport hashtags on Twitter like #LGA for unfolding situations on the ground. Travelers report queue lengths, cancelled flights, amenities and more in real time. The collective hive mind acts like a massive weather radar system for travel disruptions.
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Bring Snacks and Empty Water Bottles to Avoid Airport Prices
Strolling through an airport terminal, you’re bombarded with the sights, sounds, and smells of restaurants, cafes, and shops touting marked-up meals, snacks, and drinks. We’re talking $8 bottles of water, $12 sandwiches, $5 bags of trail mix. Airport concessions jack up prices on captive travelers racing to chow down between flights without wandering too far from their gate.
Bringing your own food and beverage provisions allows you to steer clear of the airport price gouging traps. You’ll save a bundle of cash and strategically fuel up for lengthy journeys.
Start with an empty reusable water bottle at the TSA checkpoint. Once through security, immediately fill it up at a drinking fountain. Not only does this mean no forking over five bucks for every Dasani, you also stay properly hydrated in the sky’s arid altitudes. Win-win. For extra refreshment, bring powdered drink mixes or flavor enhancers to liven up that free water.
Then load up a lunch bag or backpack with nutritious, non-perishable snacks that pack a protein punch to keep you satisfied for hours. Trail mix, protein or granola bars, jerky, and peanut butter filled pretzels offer lightweight, wholesome sustenance. Toss in washed fruit like apples too.
For hot snacks, seek out lounges offering complimentary soup and noodles. Or bring instant oatmeal or Cup Noodles packets you can “cook” with that free hot water from airport cafes. Mix in instant coffee for an impromptu mocha.
On longer layovers, unpack a sandwich, leftovers, or a health-conscious frozen meal you can heat up at a lounge microwave. Never assume you can buy reasonably priced, healthy food once past security. Provisioning your own ensures you don’t get stuck paying double digits for a wilted, soggy airport salad. Nor will hunger drive you to binge on deep fried fast food and sugary snacks that leave you crashing mid-flight.
Lastly, keep an energy bar stash in your bag for when you need a quick boost racing to catch a connection. Caffeinated snacks like chocolate covered coffee beans also come in handy during mid-afternoon energy lulls. No need to waste time and money detouring to overpriced airport Starbucks.
Avoiding food purchased inside terminals keeps traveling costs down. And not having to continually stop to hunt down overpriced snacks enables you to maximize layover time more efficiently. You focus on getting to your gate versus having one eye constantly peeled for the nearest overpriced deli. No brain space wasted calculating if you have time for a sit-down restaurant meal.
Avoid the Crowds: 10 Savvy Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Season - Have Backup chargers and Portable WiFi to Stay Connected
Staying continually connected while traveling isn’t just about aimlessly scrolling social media or bingeing shows to pass time. Maintaining a steady flow of digital access empowers travelers to stay up-to-date on critical travel developments in real time, coordinate on the fly with family and friends, and access essential services on the go. But keeping devices powered up and online gets challenging on lengthy trips spanning multiple airports, train stations, hotels and transit modes. You need mobile backup power and connectivity options in your carry-on arsenal for holiday trips.
Be sure all your devices are fully charged before departing home. But battery life rapidly drains at airports with heavy app usage for ticket scanning, navigation, entertainment, and endless waits. Clustered crowds competing for limited power outlets inevitably leads to pushing and shoving conflicts. Far better to pack one or more portable power banks to privately juice up your phone, tablet, headphones and other gadgets multiple times. Compact 10,000 mAh power banks from Anker and RAVPower slide effortlessly into any bag. Higher capacity 20,000+ mAh models offer 3-5 full phone recharges. Some even have built-in prongs for wall outlet recharging anywhere. Newer power banks optimized for laptops can extend MacBook use up to 15 extra hours.
WiFi hotspots or wireless routers also enable you to get online anywhere, without relying on unpredictable airport and hotel networks that get bogged down with overloaded users. Portable hotspots from SkyRoam Solis, GlocalMe, and other companies essentially create your own personal WiFi bubble, connecting up to 5 devices via cellular 4G LTE networks for steady speeds ideal for streaming, large downloads and video calls. Some hotspot services offer unlimited worldwide data, while others require pre-purchasing country or day passes. But the flexibility to get online anywhere anytime to research new flight options when stranded, complete that last minute work task in transit, or video chat family from apark bench cannot be overestimated for the frequent traveler.