Traveling during the holidays can be an incredibly stressful. Insane airports, excited (and tired) kids, more luggage than normal, and less skilled travelers create the perfect combination for a chaotic and frustrating trip. That is, unless you use our recipe for better travel and our brilliant holiday travel tips! In this post we creatively examine how to travel a little better during this holiday season.
Recipe for Better Travel: The Best Holiday Travel Tips
Before we dive into the details, here’s a quick overview of our recipe for better holiday travel and the holiday travel tips. Here are the 8 ingredients you and your family need to make your holiday travel a wonderful success (or at least not kill each other).
- (1) Cup of “Book your Flight Early“
- (2 1/2) Teaspoons of “Travel on the Right Days“
- (1) Tablespoon of “Use Those Points You’ve Been Saving Up“
- A dash of “Mail your Packages Ahead of Time“
- (5) Scoops of always “Pack Light“
- (3) Servings of “Get to the Airport Early“
- (1) Large Helping of “Don’t Check Your Bag!“
- Finally, salt your trip with a pinch of “Don’t Lose Your Cool“
Let’s dive into these Holiday Travel Tips in more detail.
(1) Cup of “Book your Flight Early” – Holiday Travel Tip #1
Generally speaking, although not always, the farther out you book your flight the cheaper it will be. An airfare study conducted by CheapAir.com suggests that up to 70 Days in advance can bring the cheapest flights.
During the holidays, booking at least 4 weeks in advance should be the minimum for you. Anything inside of that and you run the risk of paying too much. However, if you are flexible on your destination, you can book super last minute flights (like 2 or 3 days before you travel) and possibly find a seat or two that didn’t get sold that the airline is offering a great deal on. Risky though.
By the way, CheapAir.com has a great tool you can use to validate for your routes, when the best times to book your flights are, etc.
(2 1/2) Teaspoons of “Travel on the Right Days” – Holiday Travel Tip #2
The actual days you travel to/from your destination play a large role in the cost and ease at which you travel. For example, CheapAir.com also notes that Monday, the week of Thanksgiving, is the best day to travel in terms of fare price (and the Monday AFTER Thanksgiving is looking like the best day to get back home!).
In terms of Christmas, CheapAir.com recommends leaving on Dec 18th and returning on Dec 28th.
If it’s difficult schedule-wise for you to travel on those days, consider at least avoiding the worst days to travel. Those are, of course, the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Day itself (something I can personally attest to). Black Friday, on the other hand is a pretty light day to travel (everyone is out shopping or recovering from eating) and Christmas Eve can sometimes not be so bad.
(1) Tablespoon of “Use Those Points You’ve Been Saving Up” – Holiday Travel Tip #3
If you are a regular traveler (aka a Business Traveler), you likely have a ton of points saved up. Hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton have great loyalty programs and by staying with them you can rack up loyalty points which can you redeem for free flights and hotel stays. The Holidays are a great time to use them!
For example, this Thanksgiving I am flying my family to Salt Lake City using some of my Southwest Rapid Rewards points and I am covering a couple days of my National Rental Car with some of the free days I earned last year.
You might be interested in the following articles: 10 Great Hilton Honors Hotels Hacks You Need to Know, and Hilton Honors Rewards Program – a Fresh Look.
A dash of “Mail your Packages Ahead of Time” – Holiday Travel Tip #4
During Christmas we often travel to see family. And we come bearing gifts. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen folks during the holidays lugging their gifts through checkpoints, only to have them opened by TSA, or break in transit, or not be allowed to be carried on, etc.
Skip all of that nonsense.
Mail your packages ahead of time and out of band from your trip. If you have a few stocking stuffers, ok, bring them (check TSA’s guidelines!). But the rest, just ship ’em. I often use Amazon.com to have my gifts shipped directly to my recipients (and have them gift wrapped!). This is one of my favorite holiday travel tips.
And if you are looking for some great gifts, check out my Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers – it’s full of great suggestions for folks who travel.
(5) Scoops of always “Pack Light” – Holiday Travel Tip #5
The golden rule of traveling is always pack light. People tend to think they need more than they really do when they travel and no time is this more apparent than during the holidays.
Trust me, you don’t need as much as you think you do. Reuse your jeans, wear your winter coat on the plane (and then store it in the overhead bin), learn how to pack more efficiently, and so on. Packing light will help you avoid checking a bag and will allow you travel more efficiently.
By the way, if your family is looking for travel strollers check out this list of the Best Travel Strollers for 2019.
If you are traveling with kids, they get two carryon’s too…so use ’em. They are not likely filling their suitcases up with clothes so if you need a little extra space for the holiday trip, use their luggage.
Pro tip: If going somewhere cold…mail your cold weather gear like snow gloves, boots, etc to save space and hassle (hotels will accept it and hold it for you, or mail it to mom’s house and have it ready when you get there).
(3) Servings of “Get to the Airport Early” – Holiday Travel Tip #6
During the Holidays the airports will be slammed. More people, more traffic, more stress, more everything! And many of the travelers adding to the increased load are less-skilled travelers. Folks not as familiar with the different tips and hacks necessary to travel smoothly can bog things down even further.
To account for this, you need to plan on getting to the airport a little earlier. Give yourself (and your family – who likely is NOT used to travel) a little more time to get through security or other aspects of travel (like picking up your rental car, etc).
How early? Some of that will depend on what airport, what day you are traveling, how skilled your party is at traveling, whether they have things like TSA Precheck, etc. My suggestion? Whatever you would normally do…add 45 minutes to an hour to it.
And if you are looking for more travel hacks and travel tips that will make your travel experience smoother (during and after the Holidays!) you might be interested in my article on 101 Travel Hacks You Need to Know.
(1) Large Helping of “Don’t Check Your Bag!” – Holiday Travel Tip #7
If you were successful in getting you and your family to pack light, as noted above, you are primed to employ the #1 Travel Hack of All Time: Never Check Your Bag. I am a firm believer in traveling light with the intent to not need to check your bags. And during the Holidays, the importance of doing this is heightened.
By not checking your bag you automatically reduce some of the extra time it will take you to get in and out of the airport on either side of your flight. No waiting in a baggage line, or tipping the baggage handler. No waiting for the bags to come off the belts in Baggage Claim. And no chance of your luggage getting lost.
And by the way, make sure you get quality luggage. I personally recommend anything from TravelPro, but in particular the TravelPro Crew 11 21″ Softcase Carryon is a great suitcase for business and leisure travelers. Here’s my review.
PS…you might like this great article on Secret Rental Hacks You Need to Know which is chock full of extra holiday travel tips that will make your rental car experience that much better!
Finally, salt your trip with a pinch of “Don’t Lose Your Cool” – Holiday Travel Tip #8
My last ingredient to your successful Holiday travels is a healthy dose of “Keep Calm and Don’t Lose Your Cool.” If you are traveling with your family, it’s likely they are not well skilled. It will add some stress. You may not be able to travel as fast an efficient as you might be accustomed to.
Lines will be longer, traffic heavier, people more tired, and so on. You need to expect all of this and gird your mind with resolve on how you choose to react to all of this. By accepting the fact that your trip WILL be more difficult than usual and then choosing to NOT LOSE YOUR CRAP about it, will go a long ways towards making that trip a fun and exciting trip and not the next installment of Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation…
Just relax, man…
In fact, go check out our funny travel memes…maybe that will help cool you down!
Bonus Holiday Travel Tips
Here’s a couple of bonus holiday travel tips for you as well (consider this the dessert to your great travel meal you just cooked up…lol):
- Bonus Holiday Travel Tip: Bring something for the kids to do on the plane. Get them some good headphones, charge the electronics, bring a backup portable charger, and download something from Amazon Prime Video. No need to have a meltdown on the plane!
- Bonus Holiday Travel Tip: Tie in a business trip with your family travels and save some money. Last year I was in Salt Lake City the week before Thanksgiving to attend a conference. My parents also live in the great SLC. So I am just staying over the conference and flying the family up. Saved me a little money and the kids get to see gramps.
Final Thoughts on Holiday Travel Tips
Hey, the Holidays are supposed to be fun. A time for families to get together, create memories, etc. No need to make the travel part of your trip a horrible experience! I hope these holiday travel tips make your travel experience these holiday’s one to remember!
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