Over the recent Christmas holiday travel tipsters focused much of their advice on how to avoid overcrowded airports and roadways or overpriced plane tickets and hotels.
I don’t focus on those kinds of tips because honestly, I’m not good at avoiding those things.
Plus, I find that while many holiday travel tip articles have a seasonal veneer, they often boil down to solid advice about how to avoid hassles as well as ways to manage stress and family. All things that, I hope you’d agree, are useful to know year-round.
With that in mind, here are 10 holiday travel tips that you can use pretty much anytime.
- Book the earliest flight you can realistically catch. Catching flights earlier in the day helps to avoid potential delays, note the experts at AIG Travel. Plus, statistics bear out that earlier flights are more likely to depart and arrive on time; after exhaustively compiling data so that you wouldn’t have to, FiveThirtyEight founder and editor Nate Silver determined that the best time to fly is between 6 and 7 a.m. and that “flights leaving before 6, or between 7 and 8, are nearly as good.”For my fellow family travelers out there, I’d add that as torturous as it seems to catch a very early flight – especially if you’re traveling over the holidays – your kids will literally rise to the occasion; there’s a certain adrenaline that kicks in when your kids know you’re about to fly, the same adrenaline that is so elusive when you’re trying to motivate them to get ready for school on time.
- Bring back-up scans of your original travel credentials. Old-school travel tipsters advise travelers to keep photocopies of their identification in their luggage in case the originals are lost are stolen. Still solid advice, but the updated version of this tip is to “keep copies of adult passengers’ photo IDs or passports as pdf documents on your secured mobile device,” says AIG Travel. As an added precaution, you might want to upload these scans to a secure cloud server or send them to a responsible (and reachable) friend at home before you go in case you need those scans emailed to you.
- Limit the cards you do bring. “What you don’t carry in your wallet is just as important as what you do carry,” note the experts at ProtectMYID, adding that “if you have multiple credit cards, only carry the one you use most often,” and “don’t write PINs or passwords on the back of your credit or debit cards or on pieces of paper you keep in your wallet.”
- Carry some dollar bills. Just because you can swipe your credit card at a rest-stop soda machine doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea. While it’s tempting to use credit cards for minor purchases, there’s an advantage to paying cash – you minimize the number of places where your credit card can be compromised and with a finite wad of cash you’re essentially setting a budget for yourself. Plus, when you encounter an occasional roadside attraction that doesn’t accept credit cards – like that Boy Scout troop that magically appears on the side of the road to sell you coffee and donuts – you’ll want to have some singles on you.
- Plan on doing laundry. “Pack less and do laundry at the homes of family members,” says Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of fly.com, which is certainly a given if you’re heading home for the holidays. If you’re planning on doing your wash at least once halfway through your trip, you can theoretically pack half as much stuff and potentially save money on checked baggage or heavy-bag fees. And if you’re not visiting with family or friends, count on doing some wash anyway; when you’re researching hotels, investigate if there’s a coin laundry room on site or a Laundromat in the neighborhood.
- Seize the first ten minutes in the car. The first ten minutes of any car trip, at least in my family, is the honeymoon stage of the ride. The excitement of having just disembarked is still palpable and it’s the optimal time to engage my family in conversation about…anything – what they’re most excited about seeing or doing on our trip, stuff they might be excited about eating or buying, etc. Once my backset crew starts plugging into their devices or bickering, it becomes considerably harder to stimulate a conversation – a civil one, anyway.
- Have kids prepare playlists for long family car rides. A holiday travel e-magazine prepared by Traveling Mom (I serve as editor of the partner site Traveling Dad) suggests asking “each family member to put together a playlist of their top 10 holiday tunes. During the road trip, each member of the family gets a turn presenting their own countdown.” Of course this democratic approach to programming music for the trip will also work during non-holiday times. By the way, if you’re a parent in the car you’re entitled to contribute your favorite tunes, too, despite what your kids may have to say about it.
- Carry antacid. Holiday travel often results in our overeating and absorbing tremendous stress – and in keeping with the theme of this post, the same can be said of non-holiday travel, too. Independently or working together, the excessive food and anxiety can cause what marketers benignly refer to as tummy troubles. Be prepared with the portable antacid of your choice and if you’re traveling with children, ensure you’re also equipped with TUMS Kids or a similar product that’s acceptable for them.
- Reallocate social media time to your family…and your vacation. You can’t turn around without bumping into travelers who spend more time staring at their phones than they do looking at their destination or each other. If you fall into this group, spend less time snapping photos and transmitting social media status updates about your trip and take more time to experience your vacation and start those conversations with your family. The day after Thanksgiving when my wife was driving us to a cousin’s house, I looked up from my phone and said, “Has there been snow on the side of the road for a while?” Indeed there had been. And I knew right then that I was part of the problem.
- Calm down. No tip has served me better in my day-to-day life than this one, but it’s especially important to keep in mind during holiday travel time, when it seems that virtually everyone you encounter at airports, hotels, restaurants, and gas stations has lost their ability to pick their battles and communicate respectfully. As so many holiday tipsters have said before me, it’s helpful during emotional situations to take a deep breath, smile, and remember what you’re grateful for – or, as my eight-year-old son puts it, “spread the spirit and just be nice.”
Image source: Flickr/Scott