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Tips for stress-free travel during the holidays

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

What are the best tips for travelers for the holidays?

One of the best things about the holidays is spending time with friends and family you don’t see very often. But that can mean having to travel back to your hometown or across the country to the sunny locale where your grandparents have retired. Because so many people are hitting the road to visit loved ones, too, holiday travel can be a real headache.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how far you have to venture this holiday season, have no fear. Here are the top travel tips for taking the stress out of your plans.

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Start planning early

The earlier you start planning a trip, the more control you’ll have over all the details, as well as peace of mind. As soon as you know where you’re spending the holidays, start looking up flights to find one that works for your schedule before it’s sold out. For most locations, purchasing tickets about two months ahead of time gives you plenty of options, and can get you a good price, too.

If you need a hotel room for your holiday trip, aim to make your reservations about three months in advance. Don’t forget about other details, like finding a hotel that accepts pets or arranging a kennel for Fido.

Choose off-peak travel days

If you’re stressing about how much your holiday travel plans are going to cost you — or how crowded the airport is going to be while you’re waiting to catch your flight — it definitely helps to choose non-peak dates and times to fly. Instead of heading out a day or two before the holiday, consider flying on the holiday itself, which is usually an off-peak date. That means flights are cheaper, crowds are smaller, and you won’t need to wait in long lines.

If you don’t want to travel on the actual holiday, aim for the first or last flight of the day on the date you want to fly. Those tend to be off-peak, too, so you won’t pay as much or have to deal with especially large crowds.

Take the car if you can

While flying can get you to your holiday destination a little faster, flights are more expensive and crowded near the holidays. If your location isn’t too far, driving can often save you money and stress. You can even make your road trip more exciting by finding interesting roadside attractions to stop at along your way.

Be sure to get your car checked by a mechanic before you hit the road so you know everything is in working order. You may also want to throw a roadside emergency kit in your trunk in case you run into any trouble.

Mail your gifts

You probably have plenty of holiday gifts you want to pass out to family and friends, but traveling with a bunch of boxes and bags in addition to your belongings can be a real pain. Instead of bringing the presents with you, consider shipping them so they’ll arrive safely at your destination before you even get there.

When you’re flying, mailing the gifts can save you the trouble of having to check bags, and in the car, it can free up space for passengers. If you’re flying and it’s too pricey to ship your gifts, don’t wrap them ahead of time—you may run into an issue with the TSA inspection.

Pack light

When you’re flying for the holidays, checking luggage can mean a much longer wait time than usual at baggage claim. In the interest of travel hacking, packing cubes can help you maximize space. Narrow down items with a packing list and pack light enough that you’re able to carry your bags onto the flight. If you only bring carry-on luggage, you’ll be able to head right from the plane to your ground transportation. 

If you’re only going to be visiting for a few days, a small carry-on bag is usually plenty big. You can keep this Samsonite luggage nice and light by wearing your bulkiest items like sweaters and boots, so it’s more comfortable to lug around the airport.

Give yourself some extra time

Even if you think you know how much time you need to get to the airport for your flight — or make the drive all the way to your parents’ house — you’ll probably find the holiday hustle and bustle makes travel longer than usual. That’s why it’s best to add some extra time to your travel schedule, so you don’t wind up missing your flight or getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the road.

For road trips, give yourself a little extra time for rest stops. In addition to a bathroom break, you may find that you also need to grab a bite to eat, and you don’t want to feel like you have to rush through a meal.

Keep the kids entertained

As stressful as holiday travel can be, it can get even crazier when you add kids to the mix. Whether it’s a long flight or a trip in the car, chances are they’ll wind up getting a little restless. Distracting them with some fun activities can make the trip much more enjoyable for them — and you.

Pack travel-friendly books, games, and toys your kids are sure to love. You can also load up a tablet with movies or TV shows they enjoy or plan some fun car games with the whole family.

Create a travel care package

Whether you’re flying or driving, holiday travel is a lot easier if you put together a kit with supplies to make you more comfortable. Gather some snacks, a sleep mask, moisturizer, pain reliever, lip balm, and anything else you might need and store it somewhere you can easily access it while you’re traveling. These Bose headphones can help minimize exterior noise or entertain you on the flight.

Holiday travel can definitely be a hassle. If you plan carefully, though, you can take a lot of the stress out of your trip, and arrive at your destination calm and relaxed — and ready to have holiday fun with family and friends.

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Jennifer Blair writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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