We promise, traveling for the holidays can be a pleasant experience. These expert suggestions show you how.
Flying home for Christmas? Do those words inspire a kind of once-a-year cognitive dissonance that blends fond sentiment with deep-seated dread? You're not alone. Recent surveys suggest that holiday travelers do not, in fact, love everything about the experience. Shocked? We didn't think so. Here, we've consulted with some of our favorite travel pros to deliver stress-melting travel tips that are almost as effective as that second glass of eggnog.
1. FLY EARLY OR DRIVE LATE
While a 6 a.m. flight may seem like a rough way to start your holiday trip, Andrea Feczko, host of the ABC series Vacation Creation, reminds us that the first flight of the day is often the most affordable and, of course, flying early means there’s less of a chance that your flight (and any connecting flights) will be delayed. But if you’re driving to your holiday destination, it may be best to try the opposite approach and hit the road after dark, when the roads are almost always emptier. Let the kids sleep in the back seat, and when you get to Grandma’s house, you may sleep in before the festivities start.
2. TRAVEL LIKE SANTA ON CHRISTMAS EVE
Before we leave the subject of the best times of day to travel, the Budget Travel editors swear by imitating St. Nicholas’s approach: Travel on Christmas Eve night. For real. A red-eye from Cali for NYC on Christmas Eve, for instance, is a surprisingly peaceful, drama-free way to get home for the holidays.
3. MAIL YOUR HOLIDAY GIFTS AHEAD OF TIME
Unless you’ve got eight tiny reindeer and a flying sleigh, chances are your gifts are going to slow you down. Wrap your presents (and bulky winter coats too, if you want) and ship them to your destination ahead of time to save time and money on the whole checked-bag experience. And be sure to pack an empty expandable bag, too, so if you end up acquiring a multitude of items while you’re away from home and you don’t get a chance to mail them home, you’ll got something to haul them around in.
4. THESE APPS MAKE FLYING EASIER
“Appy Holidays!” When you’re flying at one of the busiest times of the year, such as the last two weeks of December, “know before you go” becomes an urgent necessity. Before you head to the airport, be sure you have downloaded some essential apps, suggests Wendy Perrin, the editor of WendyPerrin.com and travel advocate at TripAdvisor. Get the MyTSA app, which will keep you updated on your airport’s security lines and wait times. And download your airlines’ app, so you have up-to-the-minute intel on delays and cancellations at your airport and any connecting airports.
5. BOOK GROUND TRANSPORTATION IN ADVANCE
Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner.com, suggests that, during the busy holiday travel season, book your ground transportation in advance instead of relying on the kindness of on-demand apps or taxis to get you from the airport to your lodging. “Book ahead of time with a shuttle service or private driver that will be there waiting for you on arrival.”
6. TURN A DELAY INTO AN ADVENTURE
Try to look at an unexpected flight delay as a good thing and embrace your newfound free time to explore the city where you happen to be "stranded," says travel writer Kaeli Conforti (@KaeliTravels on Instagram). Remember, a flight cancellation isn’t a disaster if you can think of it as a travel adventure.
7. DON’T BELIEVE “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS”
Instead of going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, consider going your own way over the holidays, at least every so often. (Surveys suggest that 7 out of 10 travelers aren't all that crazy about staying with relatives anyway.) Caribbean beaches, European cities, and Las Vegas may be calling your name. This year, we're seeing reasonable holiday airfares to Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Orlando (remember, Orlando's theme parks see a lull in crowds and a dip in hotel rates between the busy Thanksgiving weekend and crowded Christmas week).