Holiday Travel Tips: 10 to Make You Less Grinchy

The holidays can be magical. Holiday travel? Not so much.

Traffic, weather, stressed people, alcohol, and just more people traveling can make holiday travel pretty much the opposite of the cheer, wonder, and peace on earth that the holidays are supposed to stand for. Spending time with family and friends is the goal of most people from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but getting there can be anything but magical, turning you into much more of a Grinch than a Who.

Fortunately, with some forethought and preparation, the journey to your holiday festivities can be a little more holiday-like. Here are 10 holiday travel tips:

1. Make sure someone is watching your back at home

Sometimes, the worst things that can happen during travel aren’t on the road or at an airport, but at the place you leave behind. In Home Alone style, thieves often wait for folks to leave their homes for the holidays and then break in for their very own shopping spree. Or they just wait for packages to sit unattended on your porch and then swipe them.

The best way to deter break-ins and package theft is to: 1) make sure everything is locked down before you leave, and 2) have someone watching your place in your absence. A host of home security apps can let you do both from your phone. If you prefer something more analog, a lock and key and asking a neighbor to keep an eye out will suffice. Get them to check on your property regularly and pick up any packages that arrive. also recommends:

“Give your home that lived-in look to repel potential burglars by having a friend collect your mail, setting lights on timers, and not leaving details of your trip on the answering machine.”

2. Travel on a holiday

If you are traveling via bus, train, or plane, the Wednesday just before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year and should be avoided, if at all possible. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, presumably when travelers are returning home, can also be a travel nightmare for air, bus, or rail travelers. The recommended course of action here is to actually travel on the holiday itself, when things drop into a lull.

There is one exception to this rule. If you are traveling in a personal vehicle, then you want to avoid traveling on Thanksgiving. In fact, if you factor in personal driving, then Thanksgiving Day is actually more heavily traveled than the Wednesday previous. Statistics show that auto traffic is actually high for the entire Thanksgiving weekend. The only way to bypass it is to travel before Wednesday or after Sunday.

When it comes to Christmas, auto traffic patterns are a bit different, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics:

“[T]he Christmas/New Year’s travel period, and the resulting travel pattern, varies depending on the day of the week on which the two holidays fall. In 2001, when Christmas and New Year’s Day fell on Tuesday, the Saturday and Sunday preceding Christmas and Christmas Day were generally the busiest travel days of the entire 17-day holiday travel period. The days immediately following Christmas were generally busier than New Year’s Day and the two following days. In 2003, the holidays are on Thursday, which no doubt will change the travel patterns during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period.”

3. Early in the morning or at night

Many travel woes are caused by higher volumes of people. So it makes sense that, if you can choose a time with fewer travelers around, then your stress will be alleviated. With all modes of travel, this means traveling early in the morning or later in the evening.

4. Eat, drink (water), sleep

Not all holiday travel stress comes from other people or weather events. Sometimes it comes from you not giving your mind and body the proper maintenance. The holidays, in their modern form, seem almost primed to create this kind of burnout. We do too much stuff, we eat and drink stuff we shouldn’t, and we get too little sleep.

Fortunately, the solution to this holiday travel problem is plain: eat healthy, don’t over-schedule yourself, get enough water, and maintain a healthy sleep routine.

5. Watch the alcohol

Although this sorta falls into the previous tip, alcohol gets its own section because of the heightened risks it poses during the holidays. Alcohol, after all, is intertwined in our holiday meals and rituals. To hold back on drinking can feel a little grinch-y. But so can the negative side effects of overindulging in it.

Sadly, with the combination of booze and high traffic volume, alcohol-related DUIs and traffic fatalities spike on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve. Statistics show that more than 42% of the traffic accidents on New Year’s Eve are caused by drinking and driving. At the very least, too much drinking can spark family arguments or just saying or doing things you’ll regret later.

Of course, the best protection against over-consumption of alcohol is to not partake at all. If this isn’t something you’re interested in, experts recommend that you use caution with your drinking. Limit yourself to just a couple drinks. Space them out. Eat food and drink water in between drinks to lessen their impact on your system. Do all that you can to ensure that alcohol doesn’t turn time with loved ones into tragedy.

6. Ship it

When you take into account the crowds and TSA and just business as usual in baggage handling, it’s not hard to see why trying to take presents with you on the plane could be a bad idea.

“Travel light,” recommends Zane Lamprey, the host of Chug on the National Geographic Channel. “Checking in luggage can add hours to your trip. When I’m traveling for the holidays, I ship my presents and bulky winter clothes a week ahead of time, and do the same thing when I return home. I miss lines at the airport check-in and don’t have to wait for my luggage.”

Not only does this save you time and stress going through check-in and security, but it also gives your presents a much better chance of arriving at their intended destination in one piece.

7. Pad your time around flights/connections

If you’re traveling by air, bus, or rail, winter weather can wreak havoc on your itinerary. If you’ve given yourself only an hour to make a connecting flight, for instance, a late landing due to inclement weather can blow it for you.

“If your inbound flight is delayed you and/or your bags stand a good chance of missing your connecting flight and with flights expected to be full, your chances of getting on the next flight are slim at best,” says John Lopinto at ExpertFlyer.

To keep this scenario from becoming a reality, give yourself plenty of padding in making your flights and connections.

The website recommends:

“Take the worry of getting to the airport completely out of the equation by staying at an airport hotel the night before an early flight. The additional sleep is well worth it. In some cases, hotels will allow guests to leave their car in the hotel lot for the duration of their trip, so make a few calls to discover which hotels offer this valuable service.”

Lopinto also recommends:

“Many times there are more than one connecting flights, however websites and travel agents may only offer you the one with the shortest connection time. Ask if there is a later connection to give you more time and less anxiety.”

8. Get emergency-ready

Getting stranded in an airport terminal. Getting stranded on the side of the road. Getting caught in a traffic-crippling storm. During the holidays, conditions are always ripe for an emergency to break out. For this reason, it’s smart to always be prepared.

If you’re driving, Edwards and Sedenquist recommend that you think like a Boy Scout:

“Around the holidays, you have to be prepared for just about anything, so keep a cache of emergency supplies in your vehicle. Include these items: blanket, flashlight, candle and matches, bandana or tea towel, paper towels, first aid kit, batteries, water and a good adventure novel. Carry emergency food, too. Canned items are best — We carry MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) — but things like SPAM (Don’t laugh! Try it!) and fruit cocktail are fine. If the cans don’t have pull tabs, bring a can opener, and don’t forget some plastic utensils. If you keep emergency provisions in your vehicle all year round, now is a good time to check that they are still functional or edible.”

If you’re flying, the same thinking applies, although your supplies may be different. You can probably ditch the canned food and just carry plenty of extra cash to buy food in the airport. Also, an extra power brick is a must for any modern smartphone-carrying traveler. And an extra change of clothes and toiletries is not a bad idea.

9. Keep your car in top shape

A lack of auto maintenance tends to catch up with us during the holidays, when we’re traveling long distances, often in punishingly cold weather. Before you think about traveling by car for the holidays, give yourself an early present by getting all of your car’s vitals — oil, tires, fluids, battery — checked out.

10. Invest in apps

When holiday travel crises strike, apps can give you a wealth of precious tools right in the palm of your hand.

“Airline apps on your smartphone let you easily access up-to-date flight information, so you’ll know about delays ahead of time,” Marissa Willman of says.

But airline apps aren’t the only great travel apps out there. Tripit is hailed by experts for its ability to consolidate all of your travel plans and info (think confirmation numbers and phone numbers) into one simple itinerary. Google Maps is great for getting you around traffic jams. Twitter is rapidly becoming the fastest way to get customer service issues resolved. And weather apps like DarkSky can help you get a jump on storms before they make you late for a flight or strand you in traffic.

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