Holiday Travel Tips
The holidays are steeped in family traditions - opening presents at first light on Christmas Day, napping during the football game on Thanksgiving, lighting the menorah during Hanukkah, inching the car through a traffic jam on the interstate and standing in an airport line that just doesn't move. To maximize holiday travel happiness and minimize coal-in-the-stocking grief, follow these helpful holiday travel tips compiled by ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know the secrets that will help you and your family arrive at Grandma's house full of holiday cheer.
Before the Holiday Travel Begins
Contact a travel agent well in advance of your trip to secure the lowest-priced airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars that usually sell out quickly for holiday travel. Be aware that prices generally escalate during the holiday season, as demand is higher.
Packing light saves time and energy when it comes to filling the trunk with fragile bags packed with gifts or racing to fill the last empty space in the overhead bin. Some airlines place special restrictions during the holidays and allow only one carry-on, so less luggage is vital. One holiday travel tip for packing lighter is to ship your gifts to your destination ahead of time. Allow at least two to three weeks for your package to arrive, for the holidays are hectic times for courier services like UPS and Federal Express.
Before leaving, be sure to secure your house. Lock all doors and windows, and don't forget to set the alarm. Also, give your home that lived-in look to repel potential burglars by having a friend collect your mail, setting lights on timers and not leaving details of your trip on the answering machine.
Flying During the Holidays
Without a sleigh and eight reindeer, your holiday travel plans will most likely bring you, and millions of others, to the airport. But fear not - with a few precautions, your pre-flight schedule will be absent of anxiety.
First, avoid peak travel days. As your travel agent will tell you, the busiest days to fly are those immediately before and after the actual holidays. Book your flights two days before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Your travel agent can secure you a non-stop flight, or one involving the fewest connections and stops. Every time your plane touches the ground during peak travel times, the possibility of delays due to inclement weather or air-traffic problems increases. Also, aim to book morning flights, which tend to be delayed less often than afternoon departures.
If possible, have a friend drive you to the airport, or take a shuttle or public transportation. Shuttle services generally pick up guests early to ensure a timely arrival. If you drive and park at the airport lot, do not leave any valuables, such as CDs, or GPSs in plain view. Also remember to put jumper cables in the trunk in case the battery dies during your trip. Take the worry of getting to the airport completely out of the equation by staying at an airport hotel the night before an early flight. The additional sleep is well worth it. In some cases, hotels will allow guests to leave their car in the hotel lot for the duration of their trip, so make a few calls to discover which hotels offer this valuable service.
As flights are sometimes overbooked during the holidays, it's critical to check in early. Domestic travelers should arrive at the airport two hours prior to departure, while international travelers should arrive three hours in advance. Spending an idle hour in the gift shop is much more fun than missing your flight by ten minutes.
If you do not send your gifts ahead, then do not wrap them before the flight. With safety a priority for all airlines, security personnel will need access to all items. Pack collapsible gift bags to be used as wrapping upon arrival.
Keep a positive attitude, but also be mentally ready for setbacks. Delays happen, and airlines do the best they can to keep their schedules on time. Bring water and snacks, an inflatable pillow and eye mask, a good book, your favorite CDs, MP3 player and a deck of cards. Boredom is the true enemy in these situations, so be prepared to conquer it!
Holiday driving Tips for Navigating the Open Road
Most Americans tend not to stray too far from their family's roots, making long drives on the interstate an integral part of the holiday ritual. The first step to ensure a smooth car trip is to keep your car in good working order. As temperatures drop during November and December, being stuck on the side of the road while waiting for an overworked tow-truck driver is not the place to be. Before you leave, have a qualified mechanic check all the car's vitals: brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs and any parts that need regular maintenance.
As with all long-distance winter road trips, it's wise to bring emergency equipment, such as a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, drinking water and snacks, along with flares and jumper cables. An ice scraper and chains for the tires will also come in handy. While a white Christmas is great for the memories, it's not ideal for winter driving conditions.
Pad your schedule to allow plenty of time for the drive. Like shopping malls, the roads are busiest on the days right before and after the major holidays. If possible, take an extra day off to reduce the chances of being lodged in a traffic jam. Once on the road, drive carefully, patiently and stifle any burgeoning impulses of road rage. Try not to view other cars and traffic signals as personal obstacles. Work with your fellow drivers and not against them. Indicate during lane changes and give everyone plenty of room. Also, be forgiving when someone demonstrates reckless driving.
Don't leave valuables in your car. Pack all items, especially brightly wrapped packages, in the trunk. If afraid of squashed bows, wait until you arrive to wrap the gifts.
Overall, try to make driving fun, and view it as part of the holiday, not as a chore. If traveling with children, get everyone involved by singing or reminiscing about favorite past holidays. The ride will be over before you know it, and you'll actually look forward to the drive back home.