5 Easy Ways to Minimize Holiday Travel Stress

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Bah humbug!  As much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hate holiday travel.  For years, I’ve dealt with sky-high airfares, traffic jams on the highway, and winter storms that cause delays, delays, delays.  Thankfully, I’ve got a few holiday travel tips that take the sting out of the stress.

tips for holiday travel

Holiday Travel Tips from Someone Who Travels Way Too Much

1. Always, Always Allow Extra Time

Years of travel experience taught me one thing: travel rarely goes as planned during the holiday season.  It seems like blizzards and ice hit every Thanksgiving, impacting both drivers and flyers and it’s not much better for Christmas or New Year’s.  Unexpected delays are so common this time of year that I now consider them a sure thing.

As much as you can, look for off-peak times for travel to avoid congestion.  If you’re traveling during peak times, plan your arrival for earlier than needed, just in case you have hiccups along the way.  This goes especially for flying: even if you’re an experienced traveler, airports are full of families flying for the first time ever which means security lines will be extra slow and even getting off the plane can take twice as long.  This is not the time to choose a short connection.

In case of a delay, pack a few things to keep you comfortable.  A good book, a snack, and fully charged electronics will at least keep you relatively happy when you have time to kill along the way.

2. Ship as Much as Possible Ahead of Time

I normally travel carry-on only, but that’s not realistic if you have to squeeze in Christmas gifts.  It’s too easy for something to break or end up confiscated by the TSA.  So the best of my packing tips is not to pack it at all 🙂

Girl tagging checked luggage, a holiday travel tips
I got to help unloading bags once — not something I want to do in winter weather!

Now that most checked bags cost $30 each way, it can be just as cheap to mail gifts ahead of time.  Better yet, shop online and have gifts shipped directly to the recipient to save money — shopping online is a great way to earn cashback on your purchases anyway.

Even if shipping costs you a little extra compared to bringing it in person, you won’t need to worry about your bag being lost or delayed in transit.  Plus you won’t have to wait at baggage claim after a long trip, which is worth its weight in gold.  Once you arrive, you can wrap things as needed and pass them out to everyone in person.

In my experience, UPS and FedEx are way more reliable than the post office if you’re on a deadline.

>>>>> Related Post: How to Avoid Airline Lost Luggage

3. Look Out for Yourself

No one will ever look after your best interests better than you do!  Check for flight delays online before they’re officially announced and track winter storms that might impact your intended route.

>>>>> Related Post: 8 Secrets to Coping with Flight Delays

If you have a flight delay or cancellation that requires rebooking, be your own advocate.  Proactively look into other flight options that are available.  Consider which alternate airports and schedules (if any) are acceptable to you so you can help the agent rebook you quickly.  Travel apps like TripIt may preemptively offer alternate flights as well.  If you’re driving, ask around for alternate routes when needed.

flight delays
Thanksgiving travel always seems to get hit the hardest.

This is also an important time of year to consider trip insurance.  I’ve been stranded overnight twice from missed flight connections, once at Charlotte airport and once in Panama, but insurance reimbursed me for an airport hotel, taxi, and meals.

>>>>> Related Post: Do You Need Travel Insurance?

4. Plan Separate Weekend Getaways

I am incredibly fortunate to visit my parents each year for the holidays, but that visit is all about reconnecting with family and our holiday traditions at home.  It’s not a vacation, so if that’s what you’re looking for, book something separately.

Travel deals come around every year after Thanksgiving, usually starting on Black Friday and running through “Travel Tuesday”.  This is a great opportunity to lock in great prices for when you’ve got the February or March blues and need a getaway.  This year I’ve got my eyes on Black Friday deals for Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas — I didn’t jump on a sale last year, but I’ll be eyeing their five days of deals this year!

Once you’ve got that getaway booked, I love using the week between Christmas and New Year’s as free time to research your next trip while you’re sitting in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa.  After all, travel planning a trip is half the fun.

ice skating virginia the homestead resort
Last year, I grabbed a winter wonderland travel deal. This year, I’m seeking out sun and warmth.

5. The Most Fun of all Holiday Travel Tips: Treat Yourself!

The best way to minimize the holiday travel stress is to try and make it fun.  This is the time to download that new audiobook you’ve been meaning to listen to in the car or binge watch an entire TV series on your next flight (if you’re not hooked to The Great British Baking Show yet, you’re missing out!).

If you know ahead of time that you have long layovers at the airport, this is the time to pack or buy airport lounge access.  There are a bunch of ways to get free airline lounge access, but if you don’t qualify, you can get half-price deals on Ebay.

doha lounge qatar / tips for holiday travel
My favorite airport lounge: Doha airport

Lounges have free food, drinks, and Wi-Fi, along with more comfortable seating than in the terminal.  A few even have showers which is great after long flights.  Don’t expect peace and quiet during the holidays, but it’s less hectic than sitting by the gate and a big step up for travel days.

Make This Year’s Holiday Travel Season Just a Little Easier

Look, as much as you might try, holiday travel will never go perfectly.  I’m fully expecting a terrible road trip from New York to Virginia this December and I know at flying will be annoying for a few months straight.  But as long as you’re prepared with these holiday travel tips, you can keep things as easy as possible and make sure your attitude stays cheery and bright!

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11 thoughts on “5 Easy Ways to Minimize Holiday Travel Stress”

  1. Having a airline branded credit card has saved me a bundle in bag-checking fees. I carry on only those things that I must for a good flight, and feel like a good citizen leaving more overhead bin space for others who need more stuff. Packing light is still important however! The less clothing I bring, the less time I spend deciding what to wear. More time to sleep in, or have other adventures!

    1. @Jayne, I know a lot of other people appreciate it if you’re not stuffing the overhead bins full. Frequent travelers can plan ahead compared to people who only travel once a year or so.

  2. Bring a drugstore rain poncho whenever you travel. They are super light, don’t take up any room, and keep everything dry. I always pack one in every suitcase and keep one in every car. The cheapest ones are $3.00. There are more durable ones for $6 but they take up quite a bit more room.

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