With holiday travel season approaching, we talk about staying sane while traveling over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Family can be stressful enough, but the huge numbers of people doing “vacation travel” over late November, December and early January definitely adds lots of stress to family events. And nobody needs more of that.
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To listen to this show, find episode 217 here in iTunes:
So our best holiday travel advice …
If you can avoid Christmas holiday travel, then make sure you do. It’s the busiest, most expensive time to jump on a plane. Airports are horrendously busy, there’s likely to be more congestion, less turn-around time for planes and less slack for the airline staff.
Delays and cancelled flights are almost inevitable, so there’s all this extra stress for the ground crew and airlines, but it’s compounded by the people in the airport. Many of the people who are flying for the Thanksgiving holiday or the Christmas/New Year holiday are not experienced in airport etiquette and security rules or, perhaps worse, are travelling in large family groups … And groups always move slower than individuals.
Security lines slow down, people argue over their liquids, pocket knives, carry-on baggage allowances. It’s quite hellish. Mark Peacock at Travel Commons has a great podcast on US-business travel and often covers ways to deal with airport security and lines. We also did a podcast on speeding through airport security which can help.
If you have to fly at Thanksgiving, book now
And the same can be said for your Christmas/New Year vacation travel. Airline prices really aren’t going to get any cheaper, so if you’re going to book a flight and you haven’t already, you may as well do it now. Unless you’re a frequent-flyer god or goddess, don’t expect to be cashing in your miles on boxing day, either. I would imagine that flying standby is also going to give you worse odds than a Nigerian widow transferring US$10,000,000 into your bank account.
Try to book an early-morning flight. A lot of leisure travelers will aim for later flights, so the airport will be less congested and also there’s less chance of a domino effect making your flight late. If a plane leaves the gate ten minutes late, that’ll delay boarding the next plane by at least that long, so it’s almost guaranteed that the next plane on that gate will be leaving even later. Once the ten-minutes-late plane gets onto the runway, their slot has been taken and they need to wait to be re-allocated a take-off slot. It just gets worse and worse as time goes on, so try to book your flights for earlier rather than later.
The best holiday travel guide tip, is to travel earlier, stay later. Farecompare had some really interesting stats on when people flew and how much the tickets cost over the last few years. They bundled it all together and this is what the traditional pattern is that’s it is best to fly 5 days before or after the big day.
Actually flying on the holiday itself can also work wonders. @GamerTraveler on said he flew a couple of Thanksgivings ago and had surprisingly little hassle.
I know we speak about this all the time, but packing light is one of the best ways you can help yourself. Especially during such a high-pressure time there’s a likelihood that your check-in bags may be re-routed to another destination. Spending your holidays in the same pair of underpants isn’t going to be pleasant, but it could make your least favourite uncle’s gift a bit more useful.
Get yourself down to one carry-on bag and reduce your toiletries that fits the size and weight requirements of your airline. If you’re doing multiple flights, check them all as some airlines have different requirements for national and international travel. Make sure that you check the liquids and sharps rules for the countries you’re traveling through too.
Consider posting your gifts ahead of time. It’ll help you avoid the Christmas shopping rush and, depending on your airline, might actually save you a big chunk of cash on bag-handling fees. Now, of course, this could get quite expensive depending on where you are and where you’re going but it’s definitely worth looking into. Electronic gift certificates and things like that are also going to be a great way to get around the weight issue. It’s hard to lose an email.
I’d definitely look into travel insurance, even for such a short period. If you’re traveling within the US, WorldNomads (our providers) can insure you if you’re traveling more than 100km from home. We like them because you can sign up and extend from anywhere and they do ultra-short term packages too.
Travel on the ground
Most of these holiday travel guide tips have revolved around air travel, so some quick tips for when you arrive:
Make use of public transport to save taxi fees. Three people traveling a taxi is normally cheaper than a shuttle service, but a public bus or train is almost always cheaper again. Do a Google search for the place you’re going to and dig up the information in advance. The information desk at the airport is probably not going to be easy to reach during the Christmas/New Year holiday period.
Toandfromtheairport.com is a great resource for this. We use it all the time. They list information on public and private transport options for thousands of airports around the world.
I guess the main thing you can do is remember to plan, but then go with the flow. There’s no fun in taking time to spend with cool people then being stressed and grumpy all the time. You can only do so much. There are going to be traffic jams, delayed flights, and annoying people. I guess you have to remember that a holiday isn’t a battle. You don’t “win” by being three people ahead in the queue.
Do you have anything to add to our holiday travel guide? Please leave a comment with your tips.