The holiday season may be, as the song says, “the most wonderful time of the year.” But everyone who travels knows that it brings added stresses because of winter weather, heavy traffic and flight delays. Planning ahead is the key, and using a travel checklist can keep things calm. The following list offers tips and strategies to help you save time and money as well as conquer seasonal travel-related hassles. So make your list and check it twice—you’ll increase the number of holiday smiles, including your own.
Plane and train tips
- Research and book flights early. For Christmas, the year’s busiest period for air travel, book about 80 days ahead to avoid rising fares. For Thanksgiving, you’ll get the best price by buying 5 to 6 weeks ahead. Start researching earlier, using an online search tool such as Google Flights or Momondo; set fare alerts. See a fare you like? Don’t delay booking it.
- Travel early or late. Flying early in the morning or late in the day can mean better on-time performance.
- Score holiday savings. Check alternate airports, connecting flights rather than a nonstop and traveling at different times of day. If you can do it, flying on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day may save you money. Check flight prices at NEA Vacations.
- Track your flight. Download your airline’s app but also look for apps such as GateGuru that track flight status and delays, airport amenities and even security wait times.
- Book holiday trains early. Reserve a month ahead, especially for Thanksgiving, the busiest time for train travel; some trains sell out. Prices increase substantially closer to the travel date at any time of year. Amtrak’s booking tool is handy, and you should look at the site’s Deals section.
- Study car rentals. Book about 6 weeks ahead to avoid a limited choice of vehicles during the holidays. To save money, use your NEA member discount at one of five rental car companies or check general travel sites as well as car-rental agencies. You can even call to ask about discounts. The number of days counts, too: It may be cheaper to pay for a weekly rate rather than rent for a few days.
Road trip strategies
- Think safety first. Get your car checked (brakes, tires, oil, etc.) before you head out. Be sure to pack an emergency kit that includes a flashlight, blanket and small shovel.
- Plan your route but be flexible. Study driving options before you hit the road, and use an app such as Waze for real-time updates from other drivers to avoid traffic tie-ups.
- Pack your trunk. Plan ahead for how you will transport holiday gifts and any winter sports gear.
- Gas up. Start with a full tank to avoid lines and higher prices on the highway. GasBuddy is a valuable app that helps you find cheaper gas prices on the road.
- Make smart stops. Save time and money on mid-travel stops by downloading iExit interstate highway guide to locate gas stations (with prices); it also has restaurants (with ratings) and ATMs.
- Book city parking. An app such as ParkingPanda saves time and money on spaces in city lots. Parking on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas? Call the lot even if you have a reservation—to be sure it’s actually open.
Keeping the kids happy
- Get kids involved. It’s always best to talk with your kids about your travel plans and what to expect well in advance. First-time fliers will benefit from a step-by-step rundown. Ask for kids’ vacation suggestions, and keep a countdown to the big day.
- Take favorite stuff. A few toys and snacks are essential, and don’t forget the video game or tablet to keep kids occupied. Take earbuds and headphones. Books and audiobooks make great travel companions, too.
- Consider childproofing. If you have small children, check with your hosts about specific concerns, or speak with your hotel. Take along any childproofing items (outlet covers, for example) as needed.
Gift guide for travelers
- Keep gifts unwrapped. TSA rules mean gifts go through security screening, so plan to wrap items after you arrive at your destination. It’s a good idea even if gifts are in your checked luggage.
- Consider shipping gifts. The holidays challenge the lightest packers, so check luggage weight restrictions. An extra checked bag may cost you $35 or $40; shipping can be more convenient.
- Bring an extra bag. An easily foldable bag may be useful for gifts you want to carry back.
Ready, set, go: advice for your travel day
- Check in. Confirm your flight’s status; you can check in online up to 24 hours before you fly. Print your boarding pass or keep it on your phone.
- Keep travel documents handy. Be sure any boarding passes, identification and other material are in a convenient place.
- Leave early. Whether you’re driving or taking a plane or train, allowing plenty of extra time will keep everyone less stressed. If you’re parking at the airport, factor in time in for that.
- Charge your devices. Be sure your phone is fully charged, and keep chargers handy during travel.