Planning on going home or exploring a new destination this holiday season? We may be over many of the challenges that plagued summertime travel, but the most wonderful time of the year is still also one of the busiest at airports, train stations, and on the road. These expert travel hacks can help set you up for a seamless, stress-free travel experience no matter where you’re off to this winter.
Tip #1: Head out early
When it comes to travel, the early bird really does catch the worm. If you’re flying to your destination, opt for the earliest flight of the day. Sure, waking up to catch an early-morning flight can be a pain, but it sure beats dealing with the long lines at baggage check and security, and the delays and cancellations that later flights are more prone to. This same rule applies if you’re setting out by car, too. Hit the road well before the morning rush-hour commute and you’ll be in a better position to log some serious miles unimpeded by traffic.
Tip #2: Consider alternate airports
Everybody craves convenience when it comes to travel, but being flexible can offer benefits. When booking flights, consider alternative airports both at home and at your final destination. For example, the international airports at Geneva and Zurich can both offer comparable access to Switzerland’s top-rated wonders. Fort Lauderdale International Airport is a great alternative to the more crowded South Florida hub, MIA. If you’re headed to New York City, you can consider flying into Newark rather than LaGuardia or JFK. Opting to fly into a different airport can result in cheaper airfare and more flight options.
Tip #3: Be flexible with travel dates
Being flexible also counts when it comes to when you’re looking to travel, not just where. Hopper reports that some of the best travel deals around Christmas occur on Tuesday, December 21. Meanwhile, Priceline reports that December 22 and December 28 tend to be extremely busy days to travel and should be avoided, if you can help it. If you’re able to set out a few days early or return a few days late, you could end up saving a lot of money and enjoying far fewer crowds.
Tip #4: Breeze through airport security
It might be too late to apply for and get TSA Precheck before the holidays if you haven’t done so already, but you can still take several steps to speed up your journey through airport security. Clear is a wonderful alternative to TSA Precheck that can help you move faster through the process — just double-check to make sure there are Clear kiosks at the airports and terminals you’ll be passing through during your travels. It also helps to familiarize yourself with security protocols at any airports on your itinerary, so you can arrive prepared. London Heathrow Airport, for example, requires that all liquids and creams be presented in a transparent bag, with certain restrictions on the size of the bag.
Tip #5: Don’t wrap gifts before you fly
If you’re traveling to visit friends and family this holiday season or bringing back souvenirs from your journeys to give to loved ones, don’t wrap them before packing them. You might feel tempted to, as it will save you time once you arrive home, but travel experts advise against it. Wrapped items tend to be harder to pack, and wrapping materials can get damaged within your suitcase during transit. Instead, swaddle any fragile items in sweaters or soft clothing and leave other items in their original packaging while you’re traveling.
Tip #6: Take advantage of hotel concierge services
A concierge team is there to assist guests with their needs, from restaurant recommendations to printing travel documents, arranging transportation, and more. They are typically local experts who can offer advice on the best ways to reach nearby airports or train stations and even get around town. If you’re concerned about getting somewhere on time, feel free to ask the concierge for tips or for help coordinating transit.
Tip #7: Pack for unexpected occurrences
Even if you’re lucky enough to have never dealt with lost luggage, it pays to plan for the possibility of this unfortunate occurrence — especially during busy travel periods like the holidays. If you can swing it, pack an extra set of clothes and all of your toiletries in your carry-on to get you through a few days if your main luggage does end up getting lost or arriving late.
Tip #8: Opt for direct flights whenever possible
One way to reduce the risk that your luggage will be lost in transit is to book direct flights, if possible. Sure, these routes can end up costing more than routes with connections, but you can travel confidently knowing your luggage is more likely to arrive at your destination with you.
Tip #9: Come prepared for flight delays
While flight delays have decreased since the peak of summer, they can still happen to anyone. Bring snacks and an empty water bottle to the airport so you don’t end up having to splurge on airport food and drinks if your flight ends up running late.
Tip #10: Download trusted travel apps
It's true what they say — these days, there really is an app for everything, including travel. Apps like Hopper and Kiwi can help you find the most affordable flights, rental cars, and hotels for your upcoming travels, while apps like TripIt and Roadtrippers help you organize different aspects of your itinerary, from travel documents and reservations to driving routes. Before you take off, download Google maps of your destinations to use offline so you can access them even if you don’t have reliable WiFi or an internet connection while you’re on the go.
Tip #11: Set price alerts
Rates for everything from airfare to hotels to concert tickets tend to go up the tighter the purchasing window gets. Setting price alerts for upcoming purchases can help you save some money if you weren’t able to book ahead. You can also compare prices across different booking engines to ensure you’re getting the best rate.
Tip #12: Consider bundling
If your holiday travels will include a combination of flights, hotels, and a rental car, consider booking a vacation bundle that includes all three. Many travel companies offer these, including major airlines and booking companies, and it’ll sometimes save you more money than booking each component separately.
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Tip #13: Tap into your credit card perks
Before booking travel or setting out on your adventure, check to see if any of your credit cards offer perks you can use before or during your trip. These might include things like complimentary lounge access at airports, priority boarding via certain airlines, discounts with partner rental car companies, and more. Call your credit card company if you’re unsure of what your benefits are.
Tip #14: Invest in noise-cancelling headphones
Planes and trains can be noisy, so it’s worthwhile to invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones ahead of your travels. If you can splurge on a high-fidelity set of earbuds, even better — ultra-portable and easy to pack, they’ll ensure you always have your favorite tunes, audiobooks, or podcasts in your pocket, without pesky cables.
Tip #15: Reserve popular restaurants ahead of arrival
Nabbing a reservation at a top-rated restaurant can be tricky under normal circumstances — even more so during a busy time of year like the holidays. One way to secure a table is to make reservations ahead of your trip. You can do so by calling up the restaurant yourself or calling the concierge desk at your hotel and asking them to make a reservation for you — sometimes hotels have great relationships with local spots and might have a better chance at scoring spots for guests.
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