If holiday travel isn’t something you do often (like myself), it can be stressful … so for those about to embark on what may possibly be their first holiday trip, here’s a few tips to make things go smoother regardless of your mode of transportation.
— Get plenty of rest before your big travel day. Driving? Make sure the person who’s best rested is the one who drives the first shift.
— Most travel sites recommend leaving out early on the day of if possible. If you have a few hours drive or equivalent time in the air, consider leaving bright and early to avoid crowds and traffic. However, if you’re driving during late night/pre-dawn hours, be well rested; I’d hate to hear of another tragedy like this recent one involving a family from East Texas.
— Make sure if you’re traveling by car that you’ve checked to make sure your vehicle is winter ready (I’ll do a more in-depth post on this topic next month) in case of hazardous conditions. Add a few extra essentials to your vehicle beyond the everyday ‘in case of breakdown/emergency’ essentials — blankets in case you’re stranded (to keep warm if its going to be a wait or in a rural area with no cell service), a few bottles of water and granola/protein bars to tide you over while you wait for roadside assistance, flashlights, a first aid kit. Snow chains if you’re in an area where a snowstorm could possibly blow in. Sounds weird, but kitty litter is something I keep in my vehicle during inclimate weather (i.e. ice and snow) — if you were to lose control and need some traction to move, pour some out in front/behind the tires you’re spinning on. Oh, and don’t forget to check the air pressure on that spare tire in case you end up needing it …
— Plan ahead, especially if inclimate weather could become an issue. Note alternate routes and any rest stops or travel centers you could pull into in the event conditions become too hazardous. This is where paper maps become a handy tool as well.
— Bring snacks. Seriously, the holidays are stressful enough as it is when you’re on the road/in the air, no need to add hangriness to the mix!
— Traveling by car means you can take your own pillow and nap on the road. If you’re like me, you probably will develop a beef with hotel/motel pillows in no time flat; they’re either too stiff or too flimsy for this side sleeper. Or there’s not enough to split up if you’re sharing a bed with someone else. The only two times I didn’t take my pillow with me, I regretted it. It wasn’t an option when I flew to Vienna for Christmas in 2003 and I ended up with an stiff neck and an ear infection to boot from the stiff pillows at the hotel I had to stay at in Austin for a work conference years ago.
— Load what you can into your vehicle the evening before you leave, especially if you have an early morning start. Anything I feel is safe to leave in my vehicle overnight I load up and save valuables and my ice cooler to put in before heading out. Granted, I live in a rural area with a dog that barks at every. single. thing. that moves during the night, but if you live in an area where cars tend to be broken into, hold off unless you can store stuff out of sight, like in a car trunk. Also, by doing this, I’m likely to realize I’ve forgotten something before I head out in the morning when I’m doing a double check before walking out the door.
— Traveling with gifts by air? Leave them unwrapped. You don’t want security personnel undoing all your hard work at achieving a gift wrapping masterpiece. When I flew to Vienna, I mailed ahead several items to my friend to avoid overweight luggage fees, but brought along a couple of fragile items. I told her not to open the package until I got there & warned her I’d need some scotch tape and then packed in some gift wrap in my rolling carry-on. Use the front zipper pocket to put some sheet gift wrap (or precut pieces that you’ve already measured ahead of time) + flattened gift sacks & folded tissue paper.
A few essentials for travel by any means of transportation at any time of the year, but especially during the crazy holiday travel period:
1) earbuds + a portable music player (smartphone, iPod, etc). When craziness erupts or you don’t want to engage in conversation, pop those earbuds in and turn up volume for your favorite songs. If you’re traveling with kids, swap out the portable music player for a portable dvd player … let each kid watch the movie of their choice and travel with a bit more peace and less stress! And for those that don’t want to use sound to drown out noise, pack some earplugs 🙂
2) a lightweight hoodie or pashmina shawl that takes up minimal space in a carry-on or vehicle. If you’re like me, when everyone else is comfortable, you’re the one that’s still cold.
3) an eyemask. This was the one thing I loved about flying to/from Europe; the international flight I flew home on years ago handed out eyemasks and blankets in economy. I was sick and miserable and didn’t get much sleep the night before (& was grieving the loss of my grandmother), so on went the eyemask and the blanket over my head to create as much darkness (and solitude) as possible to sleep for a bit.
4) hand sanitizer. Its that time of the year when we’re all unintentionally sharing germs. If you can’t get to a restroom/sink to wash your hands after touching something that every other traveler has, at least the hand sanitizer will help reduce the chances you’ll get sick.
5) portable charger for electronic devices. Outlets for charging up your phone during layovers or during a flight delay may not be available. I’ve seen a lot of small portable charges in the stocking stuffer sections of stores lately that you can wedge in your carry-on to pop out when your battery is almost dead and a plug is nowhere to be found.
I also asked my sponsors for their best holiday travel tip since they have families hundreds of miles from their current home bases …
Darci of Freedom of Excess recommends if you don’t celebrate Christmas itself or don’t mind traveling on the day of itself, airports tend to have fewer crowds that day and airfares are cheaper as well, as in hundreds of dollars in savings over flying on December 24th or 26th.
Casey of True Colours suggests using mileage points for holiday travel, as booking normally can be much more expensive than usual fares throughout the rest of the year. Also, allow yourself plenty of extra time at the start and end of your travels and book direct flights if possible to minimize delays or cancellations.
What holiday travel tips would you recommend? Share in the comments below …