But! There are a lot of ways you can be inadvertently sabotaging your holiday travel plans without even knowing it.
Here are seven common mistakes that might be making your life harder, and what you can do to fix them.
Your plans are set in stone
If you’re able to have a little leeway with when, where, and how you celebrate, you’ll be in a much better place if trouble arises. There are always some plans that can’t be moved around, but you should always be prepared for the “just in case.” If you absolutely can’t afford to fly home in time for your annual Christmas brunch, maybe you can convince your family to push it to dinner time. Or if someone gets sick and Thanksgiving is cancelled – can you reschedule until the weekend?
You book too late
It’s far, far better to book in advance and be guaranteed a spot than wait in hopes of a (probably non-existent) drop in price. When it comes to booking holiday travel, the insider secret is that there are no last-minute deals. Really. These are the busiest travel days of the year, and every flight and train and rental car is going to be fully booked. That goes for hotels too, so please don’t hold off thinking you’ll snag a last-minute deal.
You’re traveling on the busiest day of the year
If at all possible, don’t travel the day before a holiday or the Sunday after it. This goes for Thanksgiving, New Years, and Christmas, whether you’re driving, flying, or taking mass transit. This will work against you in so many ways that it’s almost the perfect storm of holiday travel stress – higher prices, less availability, endless waiting in lines, and milling around with packs of increasingly irritated people. If you’re not able to negotiate leaving work or school a day or two early, traveling the day of a holiday can mean lower prices, more options, and less crowds.
You don’t leave enough time to get to the airport
Like we've mentioned, the easiest way to make sure you don’t miss your flight is to think of the earliest reasonable time you could possibly be at the airport, and then get there a half hour earlier than that.
Make sure you check in the night beforehand, try to carry on instead of check bags, and if you’re traveling with kids then take advantage of the normally shorter family security lane. Hanging out at the airport may not be the most fun you’ll have in your day, but most of the time you can grab some food, shop around a bit, or at least find a television to keep you occupied.
You don’t bring enough to keep you occupied
Make sure that you have plenty of distractions. Despite your best attempts, your travel plans may get delayed anyway. Flights can get cancelled, highways can get jammed up, and busses and trains can mysteriously go on standby for hours at a time. Even if you think that everything will go off without a hitch, plan on bringing enough to keep you (and your family, if you’re traveling together) occupied.
Bring a tablet or smartphone and download all of those magazines and games that you’ve been debating spending $1.99 on – if you save opening them until you get jammed, you’ll at least have something to look forward to. If you’re stuck at the airport, consider joining your airline’s club lounge for the day. Seriously, for a few dollars you can at least relax in luxury for a day. Either way, pack some food, keep your cool, and plan on hunkering down until you can get moving.
You forget the hand sanitizer
What do you get when you combine cold and flu season with being crammed into close quarters with strangers? Exactly. Make sure to wash your hands as much as humanely possible, and carry hand sanitizer everywhere you go. This isn’t the time to get sick.
With enough advanced planning and a little flexibility, you can avoid (or at least make the best of) arguably the least fun part of the holiday season. Happy travels!
By Megan Ranney