PLAN AHEAD. Start now and you will ease some of the most common headaches when you travel around the holidays.
With Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas and New Year’s all around the corner, here are my battle-tested tips for holiday travel:
- Get started! If you haven’t already booked your flight for the holidays, stop reading this and look at flights now! With so much consolidation in the airlines there are fewer flights and routes. The seats that are available are just going to get more expensive as we get closer to the holiday.
- Pay for preferred seating, aisle and window: It’s one of the ugliest fees in a slew of bad ones and it’s new for this year’s holiday season. This fee is especially awful for families of four who now have to shell out an extra 60 dollars more each way to sit with one another. But it may be a valuable splurge since as a family you want/need to sit next to one another and if you’re traveling alone during this busy season you’ll be getting a middle seat if you don’t. Some airlines throw in priority boarding when you upgrade your seat, so check the airline’s website to see if you qualify.
- Use them if you’ve got them: If you’ve been saving your travel rewards, it’s time to use them for a first class or business class upgrade.
- The airline club: You may think these exclusive lounges with their heavy wooden doors are reserved only for the chosen but don’t worry they’ll take your money too! You can buy a day pass in advance on an airline’s website or just walk in the day of your travel. Most clubs are $50 and include complimentary drinks and internet as well as working stations and a bathroom with no line.
- Fly against the traffic: The holidays are such a crunch time since just about all of the United States is traveling at the same time. If your dates are flexible you could both save money and avoid the peak most stressful times to fly. Sites like FareCompare.com or Expedia.com have calendars to show when the cheapest days and times are to fly to your destination. Just mark “my dates are flexible.” And book your flight to your destination before or after most people have already arrived, this could mean flying on the actual holiday.
- Leave plenty of time: I’ve said it again and again. What makes everyone panic is when they haven’t given themselves enough lead-time for crowds or unexpected problems. Because of the busy season, get to the airport AT LEAST 2 hours before your flight. Print your boarding passes the night before so you eliminate one potentially long line.Here’s my trick to get to the airport in plenty of time. I base my two hours off the BOARDING TIME not the DEPARTURE TIME. Both times are printed on your boarding pass but generally its ½ hour before the flight leaves. Think about it: if you base two hours off of the departure time you’ve already lost 1/2 hour. And you’ll want to be at the gate when the flight is called so you have a better chance of boarding at the beginning of your zone or group so you can get space in the overhead bin.
- Connecting Flights: If there was ever a time to fly nonstop it would be now. I know the connecting flights are cheaper but they are also the weakest link of your itinerary and will leave you vulnerable to major problems for such a short trip in the first place and If you miss your connecting flight, the chance of there being room on another flight is very slim and no one wants to miss the holiday festivities. If you have to connect — leave no less than 2 hours between flights.
How to bring joy to the travel experience
- Stay busy: We all become 3 year olds in an airport or on the plane who need to be entertained with lots of distractions. Make sure you bring your fully charged electronics on your flight or drive. Watch a movie or TV series you’ve been meaning to see. Read the book or e-book series by the author everyone is raving about. Learn French from a downloaded app and impress your family and friends. And by all means make sure you’re have a book, magazine or puzzle for the time you are asked to shut down all electronics. When the Captain announces that you are 23rd in line for take-off you’ll be happy you’ve got something to do.
- The sound of silence: I achieve a similar effect of noise canceling headphones with a twenty cent set of ear plugs. I find most stress from the airport comes from the noise: crying babies, barking CFO’s, and 43 announcements about flights you don’t need to care about. I slip these into my ears and though it doesn’t block out the noise completely (you still do need to hear things) it does create a more placid existence while in the hurly burly world of an airport terminal. Next time you’re at a Home Depot or Loewe’s pick up a box of them. You get like, 80 for $15 as opposed to 1 measly set for 6 bucks at the airport.
- Make sure you eat something: Most incidents of travel tantrums can be avoided by simply eating something. Yes, even the perkiest travel host on TV has lost her cool when she’s skipped a meal or snack while traveling. So smile, be friendly to the airline staff and make sure you eat a healthy meal or snack. I always travel with a peanut butter sandwich, nutmix and a banana.
And now a word on everyone’s favorite part of the travel experience:
- Transporting Gifts: When there’s a big crowd it’s easier and better to travel light so mail your packages ahead if you can. If you must take them on the airplane or even checked baggage, make sure they are unwrapped. Wrapped gifts will very likely need to be unwrapped for security purposes, so plan accordingly. Also as of November 2012 TSA still hates the snow globe. Don’t try to carry one on.
- TSA doesn’t care that your gravy is the prize condiment of your holiday dinner. Gravy, cranberry sauce and of course soups are all considered liquids and have to be checked or will be confiscated (and consumed in the staff break room.) You are better off just cooking when you get to your destination.
- If you only travel this time of year there are some welcomed changes in security procedures: Passengers 12 and under are able to leave their shoes on and those 75 and over can leave shoes and light jackets on while going through security checkpoints. This will help speed up the line for everyone!
If you haven’t already, check out Samantha’s travel gear only at HSN.