The number of people traveling more than 50 miles over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday rises by 23 percent compared to the rest of the year. During this time, nearly half (43 percent) of all travelers are doing so to visit family and friends during the season.1
Unfortunately, holiday travel has become a sort of rite of passage — a dark tunnel through which you must forge your way — before you can start to relax and enjoy time spent with loved ones. At best it is a necessary inconvenience, at worst it can sour your holiday spirit altogether — but it doesn’t have to be this bad. In fact, with a bit of preparation and a few insider tips, holiday travel can be relatively stress free.
Tips for Car Travel
While crowded airports may first come to mind when you think of holiday travel, the vast majority of travelers (91 percent) will actually do so by car. What can you do to make your road trip enjoyable?
Get a pre-trip tune-up
- . Make sure your brakes, heater and battery are in good working order, and there’s an appropriate amount of air in your tires. Get an oil change and make sure your windshield washer fluid is topped off.
Pack an emergency kit
- . It’s a good idea to have one in your car at all times, including such items as reflective triangles to warn passing vehicles during a stall, jumper cables, an air compressor, a first-aid kit, a flashlight and so on. Also be sure to bring the phone number for any roadside assistance programs you belong to, along with a fully charged cell phone.
Pack snacks and travel games
- . If you have kids, be prepared with a cooler filled with water and easy-to-eat snacks, such as cheese and crackers, cut-up celery and baby carrots, apple slices or oranges that are already peeled and sectioned. You can also pack an individual “picnic” lunch or dinner for each child. A pack of baby wipes can come in handy for cleaning up messes and sticky fingers.
- Games will also help pass the time, and can include simple items like crayons and coloring books, a deck of cards, books, and pencil and paper for playing hangman and tic-tac-toe. Also teach your kids games like “I spy” and “The License Plate Game.” Music is also a must-have; let each family member take turns choosing songs, or put on holiday favorites and have a sing-a-long.
Leave early (or late if you have kids)
- . Traveling during off-hours will obviously mean there’s less traffic along the way, so heading out early is a good idea. Alternatively, if you have young kids you may want to plan the bulk of your driving for nighttime, so your kids can sleep most of the way.
Expect to stop at least every three hours (more if you have kids or pets)
- . Resist the urge to plow straight through to your destination. Taking a break to stretch your legs and use the bathroom is not only necessary, but it will give you an energy boost to help keep you alert on the road.
Check the weather report
- . Before you leave home, find out what the weather will be like for your entire journey, including checking road conditions. If severe weather is imminent, you may want to reconsider your trip.
Tips for Air Travel
About 5-6 percent of holiday travelers will do so by air. Planning to be one of them? Here’s how to avoid (at least some of) the hassle:
Allow extra time
- . Airports will be crowded over the holidays, so plan accordingly to avoid missing your flight. Arriving at least two hours before your flight is generally recommended.
Got kids under age 12?
- They can leave their shoes on when they go through airport security checkpoints, a new change for this holiday season, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If you have a few little ones, this new tip alone can save you a huge headache.
Leave Christmas gifts unwrapped
- . Otherwise, a TSA officer may need to unwrap your packages to inspect them. Alternatively, you can ship your gifts to your destination ahead of time and avoid the hassle of packing them and lugging them through the airport entirely.
Book an early flight
- . Afternoon flights may be more likely to be delayed, as they sometimes require more maintenance, and also may have already been backed up due to earlier delays or cancellations. The first flight of the day may therefore be preferable.
Avoid a connecting flight in a winter weather area
- . If you can, avoid a connecting flight at an airport that is prone to blizzards and ice storms, as this can become a hassle if the weather gets bad. Opt for connections in warm-weather cities, or non-stop flights, instead.
Stretch your legs during the flight
- . This is particularly important during long flights, when blood clots can occur in your legs. It’s a good idea to get up and walk through the cabin about once an hour, and move your legs, feet and ankles regularly while in your seat.
Traveling by Bus or Train?
Only 2-3 percent of holiday travelers do so by bus or train (or ship), however this mode of transportation can be grueling if long distances are involved and you overlook a few important considerations:
1. Choose your seat ahead of time. This option is often available, either at the ticket counter or when you purchase your ticket in advance online. If you’re traveling by bus, the front seats usually have more leg room, while on a train ask the ticket person which areas are most spacious or least trafficked.
2. Consider traveling at night. This is particularly useful on a bus, as stops will tend to be less frequent than during daytime routes. If you go this route, bring an eye mask and possibly earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to help you sleep.
3. Plan to relax. When traveling by bus or, particularly, by train, half the fun of the trip is in the journey. So be sure you take advantage of scenic views and meeting fellow travelers in the dining car. Also make your journey more comfortable by bringing a light blanket, a pillow, snacks, a book and/or magazines, music, a deck of cards and a pair of binoculars.
One final note: when traveling for the holidays expect the unexpected to happen, and embrace any challenges or delays with a positive attitude. There’s a good chance that your holiday travels will include at least some delays, traffic jams or a patch of bad weather, but don’t let that spoil the spirit of the season, or the fact that you’ll soon be meeting up with friends and loved ones to celebrate.
1.Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S. Holiday Travel