5 Essential Holiday Travel Tips, According to a Travel Expert

5 Essential Holiday Travel Tips, According to a Travel Expert

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Brandon Presser
Nov 8, 2016
(Image credit: Frovola Polina/Shutterstock)

With Halloween behind us (well, mostly — we're still getting over Martha Stewart's costume this year), it's time to start preparing for two more months of themed living, a seasonal palette of Thanksgiving yellows and oranges that morphs into Christmas greens and reds as jingles blare on the radio.

Are you ready to trade carved jack-o'-lanterns on your stoop for painted gourds on your Thanksgiving table? And, more importantly, have you made your travel plans? That coven of witches (or Trump lookalikes in fluffy wigs) ringing your doorbell for candy is your warning: Don't get stuck overpaying or underwhelmed by last-minute plans.

And so, without further ado, here are our top five tips for travel during this year's holiday season.

1. Book the earliest flight in the day — and fly direct.

Sorry, night owls, but it's true — the earlier in the day you fly, the more you decrease your chances of delays. Think of a commercial plane as a big fancy air taxi starting early in the morning delivering passengers to a first destination, then moving another set of passengers to a second destination and so forth.

For every unexpected hiccup — from a mechanical malfunction, to a high-traffic runway — you start adding small delays to the clock. By the evening, those 15-minute blips throughout the day could set your scheduled departure back by a full hour — or more.

A corollary: If you can, save yourself the headache of a layover (not to mention a greater likelihood of delays) and book yourself a direct flight. It might cost an extra $70, but in the end it'll be worth it.

2. Turn the holidays into a vacation.

Many of us get such a small amount of vacation time that we often have to give up our travel aspirations in order to spend time with our families during the holiday season. But what if you combined the two?

American airports are clogged during Thanksgiving with travelers heading to their hometowns, leaving hotels in popular city-break destinations rather empty. Consider driving or flying to a nearby city to explore a cold-climate getaway like Chicago or Boston with the entire family.

Canada's Thanksgiving is in October, so the end of November is just a regular ol' weekend for them, making Montreal or Toronto a good option. And flights to international destinations are often a bargain during this time of year, too.

"Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, our airline does not consider it a high-traffic weekend, and therefore our prices are not higher," notes Anders Lindstrom, director of communications for Norwegian Air. "In fact, our flights from New York to London, for instance, are cheaper on Thanksgiving and the day after than any other day this month."

3. Don't be tricked by cheap airline tickets.

Travelers tend not to discriminate when it comes to booking airplane tickets. We want the cheapest way to get from A to B, and tend to pay much more attention to our accommodations when we arrive.

But don't be fooled by bargain-basement tickets. Those trademark cheap-o seats seem appealing at first, until you're stuck spending $20 for your carry-on (yes, some carriers charge for use of overhead bins), $14 for a mediocre meal, and $10 for a blanket (because it's basically glacial on the plane and you forgot to pack your fur-lined aviator hat).

And that's before you even set foot on the ground. If you've decided to take our advice (see above) and turn your holiday into a last-minute no-frills adventure in say, Iceland, you may experience sticker shock once you get there ($30 for fish soup lunch?). Pricing out your in-country costs should be just as much of a priority as weighing the benefits of a seemingly inexpensive flight.

4. If you're bringing gifts, don't wrap them.

If you're passing through a security checkpoint or a border crossing, don't waste your time or money wrapping presents before you arrive. The TSA has the right to open any package you bring on an airplane.

Your best bet may well be to send gifts ahead. Go ahead and wrap them, mail them off, and then, come travel day, you don't have to worry about cramming those presents into your carry-on.

5. Pack snacks.

This goes for anytime you go anywhere and by any means, but it's especially true when you're headed to the airport. Not only does packing your own snacks mean you get to eat something you'll actually enjoy, but it also means you'll save money.

Let's do some simple math: at most airports, a 16-ounce fruit smoothie ($5.99) and a modest wrap ($9.99) for a family of four costs around $64 (plus state-dependent tax). With some planning, a quick stop at, say, Trader Joe's for the same bites will cost $28 ($2.99 + $3.99 x 4), saving you around $36. Just don't forget to drink your smoothie before passing through security.

What's your best advice for traveling during the holidays?

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