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29 Holiday Travel Tips to Keep you Sane and Happy

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Crazy times are ahead of us. It’s the silly season, otherwise known as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons!

Only the most fearless and brave will walk up to the airline counters and through those security gates. I bow down to you.

Me – the frequent traveler – will be cozied on down in mountains of North Carolina with my red wine, my UGG boots and throw blanket after a couple of hikes and small town wanderings.

You can have those holiday crowds.

Christmas in NYC
Magical Christmas in NYC

But, I understand, that for you it might just be the most magical exciting time for the year for travel for you. So allow me to make this chaotic season of travel a little easier for you with the following tips.

I’ve updated this post because travel during this holiday season is so very different to the last time we were free to roam in 2019. You can see the top 10 USA destinations Americans are traveling to this Thanksgiving.

2021 Holiday Travel Caution

christmas holiday
Crazy travel times ahead

We all know we’re still in a pandemic world, which means Holiday travel will be very different this year. Numbers are dropping, borders are opening, and people are so sick of this that their bags are already packed in search of fun, adventure and connectedness.

Plane Travel

They’re predicting chaos and extremely long lines and wait times in airports everywhere. Keep an eye on flight delays and ensure you arrive early.

If you can, pack carry on only to avoid long check in lines. Always check-in online before your flight. Although sometimes that doesn’t even seem to make a difference, as they still put you on the lines when you arrive!

Buy a flexible flight price. You’ll pay more but travel is so uncertain, this will help you change if need to. Plus, airlines are now starting to charge for carry-on. Flexible tickets often have baggage included. Southwest has checked-in baggage included.

Do your research. The cheap flights can cause many issues and have hidden fees.

Pack your Masks

beaufort sc
Mask buddies – Beaufort SC

Even though things seem to be improving, you can’t be losing the masks just yet so be sure to take yours with you. You’ll have to wear them on the planes, so decide if you can do it for 5-6 hours (Another reason to skip flying this season).

In September, I flew to California for a 9 day Globus Tour of Northern California. I had to wear the mask for the 5 hour flight AND at all times on our tour bus. It really was no big deal. I think we’re all used to it by now. But, I did take advantage of every moment outside to find my own space and take it off.

Pack your Vaccination Card

When I was in San Francisco, I had to show mine if I wanted to dine indoors. It’s holiday season, that means it will be cold in most places you are traveling to. You probably want to sit inside. Many festivals and events are also now requiring them.

If vaccinated, take your proof of vaccination. A digital copy usually works fine.

Restaurants, Tours + Attractions

omsted point yosemite globus tour
I was not bothered by Starbucks being closed in Yosemite!

Also bear in mind, the entire country is experience a shortage of staff and delays with supplies are common. This will impact your experiences on the road. We encountered it a lot ion our Globus tour. Services were not operating, restaurants were closed – even Starbucks in Yosemite – and wait times really long.

Winging it on your travels is so 2019. It’s important to plan ahead. Book ahead or you may miss it. If restaurants don’t take reservations, arrive as early as you can!

We have missed quite a few attractions and experiences on our recent travels, as they had reduced capacity and reservations were needed, which we didn’t do.

Be sure you pack plenty of patience and compassion. People are overworked and understaffed and it’s all a domino effect of this awful thing we’ve experienced.

If you are traveling, understand what a privilege it is. You were able to weather the storm of the past 18 months enough to still be able to travel.

Rental Cars and Ride Shares

Chaos once again. Rental cars are hard to find, and VERY expensive if they can be, and then you may not get what you reserved. Choose destinations where a rental is not needed, or better still, just take a road trip.

You will probably experience longer wait times and higher prices with ride sharing apps as well. I noticed a new thing in Lyft when I was in San Francisco. They offered several different prices with a reduced price ($10) if you could wait longer. As I had time before my flight, this suited me to choose the delayed arrival and I got a cheaper price.

So always book your ride with plenty of time in advance!

Get travel Insurance

We always recommend it, but even more so now thanks to the uncertainty of pandemic travel. Read your policies very carefully to ensure you are adequately protected for pandemics, trip delays and cancellations.

We are ambassadors for Allianz Travel, who are now including pandemic coverage, so we always recommend them. You can read about their smart benefits here (super handy in the event of a cancellation – i.e. immediate money sent to you) And we have their annual travel policy so we can always travel confidently on a whim.

Holiday Travel Tips

New York holiday travel tips

My number one tip is,

1. Be Prepared. Accept. Embrace

Enter the holiday travel season with the understanding it’s going to be chaotic and possibly filled with problems.

Accept this is the case and choose to willingly travel despite this. It puts you in a much better position to handle the lines and the delays.

You’re already prepared for it. And you might get a nice surprise and not have the worst case scenario.

Breathe deeply and use the long queues as an opportunity to catch up on emails on your phone, or swap stories with the strangers around you – helping them to feel at ease at the same time – make it part of the journey.

My daughter asked me last night after bidding the cashier at Trader Joe’s farewell, “Mum, why do you always talk to everyone?

“Because it makes life sweeter. People re so interesting. If you just take the time to engage and show interest.

2. Consider Holiday Packages.

The competitiveness of the holiday season means you might find some great deals on hotel and flight packages.

3. Check Alternate Airports.

You can often experience less delays and get cheaper deals, not just on fights but on rental cars and transfers as well.

4. Avoid Peak Travel Days

Sometimes this can be hard to do but when you’re searching for your flights click flexible dates so that you can find the best price and book your flights according to that period.

5. Early or Late Flights are Best

Most people don’t like to fly at this time so you have a better airport experience and experience less delays as well.

6. Leave for the Airport with Plenty of Time

Even if you have an unusual surprise and the lines aren’t long at least you’ll make your flight and you can relax at the gate with a good book.

There is nothing more stressful then almost missing your flight.

I recently flew home from Austria via Munich on the busiest day of the year. I had two hours to get to my gate, and almost didn’t make it.

I only made it because I begged the airport guy to slip me through on the fast lane and he only did it because I was solo and my flight was leaving in 15-minutes.

The crew of young men who tried to follow me were denied and they would have missed their flight for sure. Being the holidays, you’ll struggle to get on the next, or the next flight.

7. Fly Direct to Avoid Possible Connection Delays

If not, plot your connection routes carefully bearing in mind weather conditions that might cause delays.

8. Avoid Airline Counters If You Can

Check-in online and print off your ticket. Check your bags in curbside.

Important note – this doesn’t always work. It infuriates me when I check-in online, yet arrive at the airport and have to do it again anyway to get my bag tags and then I line up for hours. American Airlines are pretty bad for this.

Research beforehand to find out. If you are traveling internationally as well, sometimes this doesn’t work. I couldn’t do it flying home from Munich for some reason because of my US visa.

9. Reserve Airport Parking

Reserve airport parking ahead of time to ensure a spot and you can sometimes get good deals online.

But, do run the numbers to see if it’s cheaper for you to park your car, or just catch an Uber to the airport. OR, find a friend to drive you.

10. Travel on Christmas Day

You can get great prices and some airports may just be the ghost town of your dreams.

11. Use Your Membership Reward Points

Cash in those reward points for flights, accommodation, or upgrades. Do your research well in advance and book as soon as you can. It is the holiday season so many people may be trying the same strategy.

Be careful that you are getting the right value for the use of your points.

For example, in New York, although we had Airbnb credits we could use, we realized we were better off paying for two nights accommodation that was decently priced, instead of using our credits.

It was a $400 difference and those credits would stretch much further in a cheaper destination. And, as we were out exploring every day, we couldn’t really utilize the benefits of an Airbnb stay, for example the kitchen!

12. Take Advantage of Crazy Holiday Sales

America Girl Store at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota

Now, I am not a shopper, but I was kinda getting into it in New York with those insane deals.

We saved over $200 at Macy’s in New York purchasing some good winter coats for all of us, and two gorgeous outfits for the girls to wear to the Lion King.

We combined those savings with in-store sales, online coupon codes (which you can use in store) AND my Amex card offers. We did not save money at the American Girl Doll Store however. #donotenter #youhavebeenwarned.

13. Packing Gifts

My best tip is to not fly with gifts. Send them instead, give gift cards, or have Amazon deliver them!

Craig’s Mum (in Australia) shops for presents on Walmart and has them delivered to our door.

Or, just forgo gift giving and focus on memory making.

If you must:

  • Don’t wrap the gifts, security could very well unwrap them to take a peak.
  • Pack and pad them well in your suitcase.
  • Be sure not to carry on any gels.
  • If you are flying internationally, be aware of rules bringing in food. Most countries will confiscate them.

14. Pack Light

It can be a bit hard with all that winter holiday gear. #theworst. If you can get away with just a carry on, do it.

Relevant Reading – Check out our best packing tips

15. Be Prepared

With snacks, entertainment, water etc. for your flight or drive. You just don’t know what sort of delays you may experience. Better to be prepared.

16. Be Phone Ready

Make sure your phone is charged and has all relevant phone numbers, itineraries and apps installed.

We love the Tripit App Pro version. It automatically imports all bookings and itineraries from my email into the app.

It lets me know of any flight changes or delays and tells me what gate I am arriving and departing from – super handy if I have to do the mad dash for my connecting flight.

17. Take a Road Trip

Skyline drive, Shenandoah National Park
Skyline drive, Shenandoah National Park

Better still, avoid flying all together. Throw all the gifts in the car and as much luggage as you want and do it old style!

You get more flexibility and freedom, less hassle and stress, quality time with your loved ones, and it will often be much cheaper! Driving to New York saved us about $800 in flight expenses.

Here is our family road trip guide to ensure you all stay sane and have a great time!

18. Have Alternate Routes Planned If You Are Driving

Better yet, just use Google Maps and it will constantly update and divert you from traffic so you always take the faster route.

Again, avoid peak times. We left on our road trip to New York on the Sunday at the nd of Thanksgiving weekend. Hello traffic jams.

19. Stay Local

southport nc
The beautiful Southport

Rent an apartment in a destination close to home with a bunch of friends or family and just have a cheaper and more relaxed experience closer to home. We love Staycations.

Here are some of our recent local trips:

We’ll be in Boone, North Carolina this year for Thanksgiving, and then Beaufort on the Crystal Coast and Outer Banks over the Christmas school break.

Jump in our virtual suitcase – i.e. our free VIP email community. You’ll get lots of tips and updates and freebies when you do, including the following NC Bucket List

20. Get Up Early

Sunrise at Wrightsville Beach
View of sunrise from our room at Blockade Runner Beach Resort

If your holiday travel is centered around exploring and visiting tourist destinations then get up early. You will beat the queues as most people won’t get up early!!

We had no wait to go to the top of the One World Observatory and only a short one for the 911 Museum recently in New York as we arrived at opening.

When we walked out the lines were snaking around the building.

However, we did arrive at the Empire State Building in the middle of the day (could not be helped) and we had an hour wait. It would have been longer if we did not have the Sightseeing Pass which helped us skip the ticket queues.

21. Get a City Sightseeing Pass

If you plan on visiting several tourist attractions in a city, then grab a city sightseeing pass.

Not only will they save you money on attraction fees, they sometimes give you fast pass access. New York was the first time I used one and I’m now a big fan.

City sightseeing passes are the bomb.

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22. Be Nice

If something goes wrong, just smile, be patient and kind. That’s the best way to get help.

No one is going to help you if you flip your lid at them. I understand why you might want to, but it’s not the best solution.

Be understating of the hell the person behind the counter may be going through if there are travel dramas. Sometimes it may be quicker if you phone the airline directly if you have a flight issue.

23. Choose Memories and Moments Over Possessions This Holiday Season

Annual travel insurance tips
Ice skating in New York City at Christmas

Trade the gift giving for a memorable travel experience.

For example, many years we have chosen to not give gifts but to do something special on Christmas. We had Christmas Day in Victoria falls in Africa and Christmas in New York and experienced Christmas fun in New Orleans, Huntsville and Myrtle Beach.

And this weekend, we’ll be riding the Polar Express in Bryson City, NC.

Unforgettable holiday memories.

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Are you traveling this holiday season? What are your best holiday travel tips?