With our 2017 Thanksgiving holiday travel experience now in the memory banks, we are reminded that even the most seasoned travelers can benefit from a refresher on some vital Dos & Don’ts for serenely getting from Point A to Point B at the most hectic time of year.
While the goal of a totally problem- and stress-free holiday trip may be too tall an order for the travel gods, a reasonably not terrible experience is more than possible. Following are the tips that we’ve found the most helpful in the past few years.
Hotel Website/Call Center Say Sold-Out? Pick Up the Phone If you have your heart and/or budget set on a specific hotel and the website says it’s sold-out, don’t give up without a phone call. And make sure that call goes directly to the hotel, not a call center. Websites and call centers often have caps on the number of rooms they can book, with a portion reserved for the hotel’s own staff to fill. Furthermore, hotel staff will have the most up-to-the-minute information on any cancellations that may have come on and, best of all, are often willing and able to negotiate rates, which will never happen on a website or with a call center. If you’re booking through an online travel agency (Expedia, Orbitz, Roomongo), be sure to utilize their call support as well, they often have rooms available for a particular hotel, even if the hotel is showing sold out.
Religious Housing – Enriching for Soul and Wallet If you’re traveling to a special and relevantly inspiring destination for the holidays, such as Italy or Israel, you can greatly enhance the atmospherics – and often stretch your budget considerably – by choosing lodging offered by religious establishments and communities. Check out MonasteryStays.com for convent and monastery lodging in Italy, Travelujah.com for Christian guest houses in Israel, and Booking-Kibbutz.com for Jewish guesthouses in Israel. The experience will be welcoming, quiet, clean, basic, wholesome, and enriching. Any catches? Well, not all will have a private bathroom for you and many will have a curfew, so if you’re not into sharing and you plan on late nights out, this won’t be the right choice for you. Also, while many welcome children and have larger rooms set aside for families, the expectation is that they will be quiet and well-behaved. If you know your brood does not fit that description, again, this isn’t the right choice for you.
Fly Nonstop – Pay More If You Have To Choose nonstop flights whenever possible. The worst, most upsetting and miserable long delays, and especially cancellations, you’ll ever experience will be those that catch you in connecting airports, where you have no home, no friends, and no family to come to your rescue until you can work out the snafued travel plans.
Know Your Alternate Airports This has been a valuable year-round tip for quite some time now, but with the rush and general seasonal stress levels, you might think it isn’t worth it to pick an out-of-the-way airport for your holiday travel. It is, and more than ever. With the crush of travelers this time of year, an alternate airport will almost without exception have far less traffic pouring into it, therefore more available parking, more rental cars at the ready, shorter security lines, fewer backed-up flight schedules… you get the point. If the hesitation is that the airport is further, maybe notably further, from your house than the main airport, you can pretty much bank on that being more than made up for in time not spent in traffic and in line, and therefore much less stress and hassle.
Get in the Boarding Line Right Away Getting to the airport early and checking-in early or even online before you leave home are important, but not enough at the holidays. Airlines routinely overbook holiday flights, so if you aren’t in line as soon as boarding begins – or rather if you show up once most people have boarded thinking you can skip the tiresome boarding lines and bustle in favor of a duty-free shopping spree or a massage at the nifty new terminal spa , you may have done your best to get bumped. If everyone shows up for the flight and checks-in early, whoever gets themselves in their seats first is going to get where they’re going as planned. The one who lingered until the last boarding call… not so much.
Peak Season Package Deals Can Really Pay Off Maybe you’re already thoroughly sold on travel packages and you can skip this tip. Maybe you never go near them, absolutely confident in your ability to piecemeal a better deal. We’re talking to you. For the holidays, give packages a chance – you may be shocked to find, as we frequently do, that the savings are so significant you are effectively either flying or lodging for free, and no amount of research and deal alerts will get you a better a la carte bottom line price. Unless you’ve got frequent flier miles to cover the entire flight or hotel rewards points to cover your entire stay, give the holiday packages a look. Really.
Make Pet Boarding Arrangements ASAP If you’re leaving your pets at home, make securing their boarding spot for the holidays a priority on your schedule. Any time of year, very good boarding options are limited in most locations, and these will be booked fast and early for the holidays. You’ll be quite distressed if you find yourself with no choice but to leave them in a substandard establishment, or having to cancel your trip because even the least desirable places are totally booked.
Earplugs – A Game-Changer If you know you turn into the Grinch at airports and on airplanes, suppressing (or not) a shout of “Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise. There’s one thing I hate, all the noise, noise, noise, noise!” What to do? Yoga at the gate? Definitely not. Earplugs, so simple. Crying babies, yammering cellphone talkers, beeping-boinging-booming video games. Earplugs, earplugs, earplugs! This one little supply has been a travel game-changer for us, and while we have no stats to prove it, we suspect we are among millions who would say the same.
Driving? Don’t Just Hit the Road Un-Prepared Have a qualified mechanic give your car a thorough check-up, including brakes, battery, fluid levels, tire pressure, light bulbs, and any parts that need regular maintenance. Pack a road-trip emergency kit that includes first-aid essentials, flashlight, drinking water, and snacks, flares, and jumper cables. Driving through snow and/or ice? Make sure you have an ice scraper, lock de-icer, and tire chains. Allow way more than enough time for the drive and, if possible, avoid traveling on the peak days right before and after the holiday, just as with flying. If time is really on your side, take the scenic route – there will be less traffic and the drive can be part of the fun instead of a drudgery on the way to the fun.
Oldies But Goodies Than Can Never Be Said Enough As a rule… 1) Airports are least congested early in the morning when most people are still in bed, or at the end of the day when they’re too tired to deal with and airport – makes sense. This of course also means delays are minimal at these times.
2) The busiest days to fly are those immediately before and after the actual holidays. Air, car or rail, no matter. Travel two days or more before and after a holiday. If it works for you, traveling on the actual holiday is another way to avoid the worst of the crush.
3) The cost of an airport area hotel for one night before your flight is a wise investment in happy traveling. This is almost de rigueur, in our opinion, if your airport is far from your home and/or reachable only through nightmarish traffic. Most will allow you to leave your car there while you’re away, either free or for no more than airport lots, and they provide a free shuttle to the airport, so you won’t be adding any more hassle to your plans by choosing this stress-busting option.
4) Wrap gifts on arrival, otherwise, be prepared to be totally cool with TSA agents having had no choice but to rip them open to inspect them, even gifts in checked luggage.
5) Apps, apps, apps. Load up your airline’s app, a weather app, a traffic and road conditions app, a last-minute hotel booking app, and anything else relevant to your trip. Currency converter, language translator, cheap gas finder, cheap eats finder — whatever you need or might on some wild off-chance possibly need. Load them at home, in peace, on your reliable internet connection, long before the day of your trip so you have time to keep thinking of apps you might want to have before you’re Out There needing them.
If Despite All Your Best Preparations… If despite all your planning, something or everything goes wrong, well, you have a choice. Have a meltdown and make it all worse, or see it as prime material to regale everyone with when you finally arrive at your holiday destination. Let’s be honest, for all we do to avoid holiday travel nightmares and genuinely hope to escape them, many (most?) of us also just love sharing our holiday travel nightmare stories. So, if drama strikes, flip the script and do your best to see its entertainment value. You’ll only make a bad situation better.
Do you have any “good planning/hot tip paid off” stories from your Thanksgiving holiday travel? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section!