We'll offer tons of honest advice and specific answers in an upcoming issue of the magazine. And here are some quick tips right now.
At least one Ask Trip Coach question concerns the general craziness of airports and security checkpoints around the holidays. For domestic flights, I'd most certainly follow the official airline suggestion of arriving two hours before departure (add in time for parking if it applies to your situation); go a half-hour earlier than that if you're the especially nervous type. Also, check out some very practical advice in 14 Ways to Survive a Holiday Flight, and for that matter, 10 more ways to make holiday travel as jolly as possible.
As for finding a destination that's uncrowded and cheap? Well, that's really hard to pull off during the peak of peak season (anywhere from around December 18 to January 4 or so). But often, a week or so after New Year's, spots that were just recently packed to the gills and charging top dollar can be relatively empty, and quite affordable. This goes for Hawaii, much of the Caribbean, and ski resorts all over North America.
Such flexibility is not possible for a lot of travelers. They can only be away during that peak traveling window of time.
Piecing together a trip on your own can be especially complicated if you're traveling during a holiday period. One or more components of the itinerary may be unavailable or prohibitively expensive. What can you do? Book a package that combines airfare and perhaps hotel or car rental (or both). Package prices are usually much cheaper than you could get if booking components separately, and there's also generally less hassle when booking (if only because you're doing all of the booking at the same time).
Reliable packager Go-Today.com, for example, offers Ireland packages with airfare and a car rental starting at $389 per person (based on flights from NYC and two people traveling together) if you leave on or after New Year's Day. The price is more expensive if you want to fly from December 14 to 31 (from $589), but still reasonable considering it's a peak travel time.
For that matter, Go-Today.com is loaded with holiday travel packages to Europe, with air-hotel combos such as Thanksgiving in Rome (six nights, from $659), New Year's in Barcelona (four nights, from $649), and New Year's in Paris (six nights, from $749).
Want even more holiday package options? Check out Gate 1 Travel's holiday packages. There are offers to Europe, South America, the Middle East, Down Under, and Asia, and to get the best flight routing (short or no layovers), you should book four or more months in advance.