Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Plan Ahead to Avoid the Holiday Rush
The winter holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, reconnecting with loved ones, and creating lifelong memories. Yet for many, the stress of holiday travel turns this special season into one of frustration and anxiety. By planning ahead, you can avoid the pitfalls of holiday travel and keep your sanity intact.
First and foremost, book your flights early. Trying to buy airline tickets a week or two before Christmas and New Year's is a recipe for disaster. Not only will last-minute tickets be exorbitantly expensive, but you also risk not being able to find any seats at all on your preferred flights.
Ideally you should purchase your holiday travel tickets at least two months in advance. That gives you the best chance at finding affordable fares and your pick of flight times. Sign up for fare alerts from Google Flights or your preferred airline so you'll be notified immediately when holiday deals are released.
It's not just flights you should book early - the same logic applies for rental cars and hotels. Hotels in particular fill up fast over the holidays, so lock in your reservations as far in advance as possible. Waiting until mid-December to start planning will leave you with few options besides dingy motels off the highway.
Once you've booked flights and hotels, take time to think through the rest of your holiday travel logistics. How will you get from the airport to your hotel? Is public transportation a viable option or should you rent a car? Do you need an Airbnb or VRBO near family to supplement hotel rooms? Answering these questions ahead of time will prevent massive headaches once you're enroute.
Finally, have backup plans in place in case something goes awry. Identify alternate flights you can switch to if yours gets cancelled. Locate additional hotel options in case your reservation gets lost. Download offline maps on your phone so you can navigate unfamiliar areas without cell service. Building in redundancies will allow you to cope with unforeseen mishaps.
What else is in this post?
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Plan Ahead to Avoid the Holiday Rush
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Pack Light to Prevent Baggage Fees and Headaches
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Arrive Early to Beat Security Lines
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Download Entertainment Ahead of Time
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Bring Snacks to Avoid Airport Food Prices
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Get Plenty of Rest Before Your Trip
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Stay Hydrated on the Plane
- Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Keep Your Cool When Delays Happen
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Pack Light to Prevent Baggage Fees and Headaches
Overstuffed luggage is the enemy of stress-free holiday travel. Not only does lugging around bulky bags become a literal and figurative burden, but airlines are increasingly punitive towards passengers with overweight baggage. Follow these tips to pack lightly and prevent baggage fees from derailing your holiday plans.
First, take advantage of your airline's carry-on allowance. Most domestic flights permit a roller bag plus personal item like a purse or backpack. As long as you adhere to carry-on size and weight limits, these bags fly free. Ruthlessly prune your packing list to fit in carry-ons only. Starting with larger items like coats and shoes, restrict yourself to what is essential.
Next, leverage technology to travel light. Download books, magazines, games, and movies ahead of time so you don't need hardcopies. Similarly, travel-sized toiletries have made major strides. TSA approved 3-1-1 bags can hold a week's worth of mini shampoos, toothpaste, etc. Multipurpose garments like dresses work for both day and evening. Quick-dry athletic wear can be worn multiple times between washes. The right gear lets you pack less.
When checking a bag is unavoidable, choose soft-sided luggage with expandable capacity. Unlike hard-shell suitcases, soft bags can flex to hold souvenirs acquired on your trip. Just don't overstuff on your outbound. Regardless of capacity, most airlines hit you with overage fees once bags exceed 50 pounds. Scale your luggage at home to avoid surprise charges at check-in.
Should overweight baggage fees prove unavoidable, don't let it put a damper on your holiday cheer. View the fees as a worthwhile splurge to bring meaningful mementos home to share with loved ones. Traveller Meghan Mills recounts, "I ended up going over the weight limit on the flight home from Italy last Christmas. The bike I bought my husband caused me to get socked with a $150 overweight baggage fee. But seeing his face light up Christmas morning made it money well spent."
However, exercise caution with items like wine and spirits which airlines may refuse to check altogether. Unless you enjoy chugging multiple litres of Chianti in the airport bathroom pre-flight, ship high-risk cargo separately. Services like UPS and FedEx take the headaches out of transporting fragile, heavy or prohibited items.
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Arrive Early to Beat Security Lines
The airport screening process is one of the biggest pain points for travelers during the holidays. Long security lines can tack an hour or more onto your pre-flight routine if you fail to plan ahead. While the TSA and airports are taking steps to manage holiday crowds, travelers also need to do their part by budgeting ample time for security.
Aim to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before domestic flights and 3 hours prior to international departures during Thanksgiving and Christmas travel weeks. Even if that seems excessive, remember that you can always grab a coffee or browse airport shops after clearing security. Far better to end up with time to kill at the gate than to miss your flight altogether.
If possible, enroll in TSA PreCheck or your airline's equivalent to circumvent the longest lines. For an $85 five-year membership, PreCheck lets you use dedicated screening lanes where you won't need to remove shoes and jackets or take laptops out of bags. Airlines like Delta and United have their own versions like CLEAR and Premier Access that offer similar fast-track privileges to elite status flyers and for a fee. Taking advantage of expedited security is money well spent to reduce holiday stress.
Keep abreast of the latest rules to avoid Rs that stall the screening process. For example, the TSA recently imposed restrictions on powder-based substances over 12 ounces carried-on after an increase in spillage delays. Prescreening medication and food to avoid such issues will help everything move smoothly once you reach the X-ray machines.
If you somehow still end up stuck in an epic TSA line, stay cool and make friends with those around you. Flying Solo blogger Magan Stauffer recounts, "The security line in Phoenix stretched nearly out of the terminal on my way home for Christmas last year. Rather than fuming and complaining, I struck up a conversation with others nearby. Not only did the line seem to move faster sharing travel stories, but I arrived at my gate less frazzled."
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Download Entertainment Ahead of Time
With airport downtime and hours spent aloft inevitable over the holidays, downloading entertainment before your trip is a must. There's no reason to let unreliable inflight WiFi stop you from enjoying music, videos and more during holiday travel. A little planning ensures you always have shows to binge watch, games to play, and books to read no matter how many delays or layovers get thrown your way.
Start by taking stock of your airplane entertainment options. Most domestic and international carriers today offer seatback monitors or tablets loaded with movies, TV, music and games for free or a nominal fee. Peruse the selection in advance online so you know what's available onboard. Then use offline downloads to plug any gaps - your favorite new album that hasn't been licensed by the airline, the latest bestseller not in their e-library, or video content unavailable on short hops.
For music, download playlists from your streaming app of choice beforehand. Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and others let you easily save albums and curated mixes for offline listening. Sync your phone or tablet so you have access even when airplane mode kills internet access at cruising altitude. The same concept applies for podcasts and audiobooks - stock up on fresh episodes and engrossing titles before wheels up.
E-readers deserve special mention for their ability to hold thousands of book titles with minimal weight and space. A single e-reader can contain whole libraries of page-turning fiction, nonfiction and magazines at a fraction of what printed copies would weigh. Their non-glare e-ink screens are easier on the eyes than tablets during marathon reading sessions. Just be sure to top up your e-reader before departure day.
For parents of antsy youngsters especially, having a slate of kids' movies, games, e-books and activities ready to deploy can be a holiday sanity saver at 30,000 feet. Enlist their help curating the entertainment they're most excited about and then take time to download everything before departure. They'll be thrilled when new-to-them games appear mid-air as if by magic.
Don't overlook the travels essentials of documents, itineraries, maps and helpful apps. Download confirmation emails for flights, hotels, rental cars and events so you can access schedules and reservation numbers offline if needed. Save maps of your destinations to get around WiFi-less. Install useful apps like translation tools in advance as well.
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Bring Snacks to Avoid Airport Food Prices
Stomach rumbling, you drag your luggage through yet another airport terminal trying to find reasonably-priced sustenance. But the appetizing aromas wafting from restaurants mock you with their exorbitant prices. A sad cheese sandwich from a kiosk it is, again.
Refueling while in transit doesn't have to mean bankruptcy or starvation though. The solution? Bring your own snacks. With a little advance planning, you can avoid getting price-gouged on airport food this holiday season.
First, take advantage of TSA rules allowing solid foods through security. As long as your snacks aren't liquids over 3 ounces, they can accompany you right to the gate. Energy bars, protein cookies, trail mix, and other sturdy nibbles travel well. Go for nutritious options that won't leave you crashing mid-flight. Toasting coconut chips and crunchy chickpeas are lighter than greasy potato chips. Dried and fresh fruits make satisfying sweets.
You can also get creative and prepare DIY airport meals beforehand. Sandwiches, cut fruits and veggies, mixed nuts, or overnight oats transported in reusable containers dodge inflated airport prices. If cooking's not your forte, grab entrées and sides from your local grocer or deli before leaving home. As holiday traveler Drew Holmes recalls, "I'll never forget the $18 airport sandwich that consisted of nothing but stale bread and wilted lettuce. Now I pack my own sandwiches with quality ingredients that actually taste good."
While the general TSA 3-1-1 liquids rule limits the beverages you can carry on, exceptions exist for medically necessary liquids. Stock up on empty water bottles once past security and fill them from water fountains to stay hydrated for free mid-travel. If you don't mind checked bag weight, pack powdered drink mixes or shelf-stable juices then add water on the go.
Don't have time to prepare snacks? Many airports now have grocery and convenience stores offering better value than overpriced cafes and kiosks. Stock up once inside security to avoid checked bag issues. Bringing an empty reusable shopping bag eases transporting purchases.
Wherever possible, seek out lounges and restaurants that allow entry without a boarding pass. Airport expert Gary Leff comments, "Even manyPriority Pass lounges now welcome visitors who pay a fee, which is often comparable to or less than airport food court options." Arriving early maximizes chances to access affordable food before boarding.
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Get Plenty of Rest Before Your Trip
The hectic pace of the holidays leaves many travelers exhausted before they even start their trips. Yet rest is essential to keeping your physical and mental reserves robust enough for the rigors of travel. By prioritizing sleep leading up to your departure date, you'll begin your holiday journey refreshed and ready to roll with the inevitable punches.
First and foremost, start winding down earlier in the evenings as your trip approaches. That likely means setting firm cut-offs on holiday socializing to ensure you don't end up bleary-eyed. As travel blogger Erica Hansen advises, "I learned the hard way that staying out late at holiday parties the nights before an early flight is a recipe for misery. Now I schedule in at least 8 hours of sleep nightly for the week prior."
Additionally, stick to consistent bed and wake times to sync your circadian rhythms. Travel disrupts normal sleep cycles, so getting your bio clock aligned ahead of time provides a buffer. Allowing yourself to sleep in may be tempting, but will only make rising early on travel days harder.
Speaking of sleep consistency, try replicating your destination's time zone at home. If you're headed west, progressively shift bedtimes earlier in the preceding days. Traveling east? Gradually delay sleep schedules to match timezone changes. According to Expedia's 2022 Vacation Deprivation study, over 40% of travelers report jet lag interfering with their trips. Getting your body pre-acclimated to new time zones is powerful jet lag prevention.
What you do during your pre-travel days also matters. Avoid work marathons and intense workouts that can leave you depleted. Instead, intersperse lighter social activities with ample downtime. Take relaxing baths, limit caffeine and get outside for fresh air and movement. Travel blogger Stephanie Goldberg explains, "I carve out me-time like reading and yoga before trips. I disengage as much as possible from work and social media too."
Your trip preparations themselves deserve a calm, well-rested approach. Refrain from pulling all-nighters packing, cleaning and arranging travel logistics. Staying up late to cram it all in backfires. Give yourself permission to outsource tasks like pet-sitting and housecleaning so you can focus on self-care. Proper rest fortifies you to handle last minute fires and stresses with level-headed patience.
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Stay Hydrated on the Plane
The dry air and low humidity onboard airplanes can quickly dehydrate travelers, leaving them with fatigue, headaches, and impaired focus as they try to navigate their trips. Staying properly hydrated is key to feeling your best during holiday flights and avoiding the dreaded symptoms of air travel dehydration.
Bring an empty reusable water bottle with you for airport and inflight hydration. Once through security, visit water fountains to fill up pre-boarding and bring your bottle on the plane. Some progressive airports and lounges even have water bottle refilling stations now. Avoid relying solely on tiny cups of water from flight attendants to meet your hydration needs.
If you prefer flavored beverages, bring powdered drink mixes or dissolvable tabs to add to your water bottle. Electrolyte-infused options like Nuun tablets help replace minerals sweated out at high altitudes. Unflavored electrolyte powders from brands like Ultima Replenisher pack light and mix easily too.
Investigate onboard water options as well when booking your ticket. Airlines like Emirates provide canned water free to economy passengers, while others like Singapore Airlines allow premium cabin guests to order sparkling or still water unlimited. However, steer clear of alcohol and caffeine during flights as both have dehydrating effects.
Hydrating well in the 24 hours before your first flight helps build reserves and minimize inflight thirst. The standard guidance is 8 ounces of fluid for every 20 pounds of body weight daily. Up that proportion to account for altitude-related water loss. Travel blogger Emily Lush says she drinks a liter of water the morning of travel days and fills a gallon jug to sip throughout the previous day.
Inflight hydration expert Heather Poole points out, "Cabin airgets incredibly dry, especially on longer haul flights." Counteract that by keeping chapstick and moisturizers accessible while enroute to hydrate your lips and skin. Consider a mild nasal spray as well to counteract nasal and sinus dryness in flight.
Poole cautions against hydrating to extremes though, saying "I always advise passengers to go slow with fluids on board. Restrict intake to 4-6 ounces every 20 minutes or so. Gorging on water floods your system and can lead to other issues." It's a balancing act to stay hydrated without overdoing it.
With airlines limiting lavatory access more, planning your hydration pace takes some thought. Be strategic by sipping minimum amounts when bathroom lines are long. Then once the crowds clear, drink more freely knowing you can access the loo without problem. Slow and steady intake is ideal.
Keep Calm and Carry On: 10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel This Year - Keep Your Cool When Delays Happen
No matter how carefully you plan, travel delays and disruptions can still derail holiday trips. Flight cancellations, missed connections, and unexpected layovers have left many a passenger stranded and steaming with holiday travel frustration. Yet keeping your cool and going with the flow can make the difference between disaster and mere inconvenience when the inevitable snafus occur.
Travel blogger Stephanie Goldberg recounts her holiday travel nightmare: “After spending all day flying from LA to New York with my kids, we arrived to find our connection to Cincinnati cancelled. Cue tired, crying children and rising panic as I imagined our Christmas totally ruined. But then I took a deep breath, got us booked on another airline, fed the kids and soon we were on our way again. Staying calm saved the day!”
Having backups and contingencies prepared allows you to handle delays proactively. Sign up for flight status alerts from your airline so you can be notified immediately of cancellations or switches. Screenshot boarding passes and hotel confirmations so you have all the details with you offline. Locate customer service numbers to call when issues arise. Mapping alternate airports and ground transportation options enables quick pivots when Plan A falls through.
Packing patience and politeness helps smooth every step of re-booking. Remember that gate agents and flight attendants face even more challenges handling stranded passengers at scale during holidays. Travel blogger Erica Hansen says, “I always start interactions by acknowledging how tough their job must be on crazy travel days. Taking an extra minute to commiserate kindly makes a huge difference in how staff treats you.”
Having snacks, entertainment and essentials accessible prevents minor delays from turning into agonies. When her flight from Dallas to New York got stuck on the tarmac for six hours, traveler Morgan Kemp credited having downloaded shows, music playlists, e-books, movies and magazines for preserving everyone’s sanity: “Because we had content to pass the time, my kids actually thought sitting on the plane for hours was fun!”
Delays feel even longer on empty stomachs. Pack food you can easily eat onboard, like protein bars, nuts, and fruited. Canned tuna and crackers travel well too. When flights get postponed for hours, you'll have nourishment until you can get a proper meal.
Travel is unpredictable, but your reactions don't have to be. As airport sleeping pod purveyor Minute Suites founder Daniel Solomon observes, "People spending holidays with loved ones tend to handle delays and cancellations much more gracefully than angry business travelers. Focusing on what matters, like being together, helps."