9 ways to make holiday travel less stressful this year

The holiday season is known as one of the busiest travel times of the year. Just three weeks ago, the Transportation Security Administration recorded the largest number of people to pass through security in a single day, with 2,907,378 passing through airport security checkpoints on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The week before Christmas promises to bring a large number of travelers – and with them, a large amount of stress.

“Travel can be stressful, especially when it comes to air travel,” Katie Nastro, a spokeswoman for the Going Flight Alert Service, told HuffPost. “You’re very much out of control for most of the experience, and for many of us, feeling in control keeps stress levels at bay. On top of that, you add the holidays, which create their own unique stress and expectations.”

In addition to airport crowds and full flights, there is the potential for chaos with delayed and canceled flights (as we saw with Southwest Airlines last Christmas).

“Let’s not forget that Mother Nature can wreak havoc in the form of flight disruptions due to winter storms,” ​​added Nastro.

The holiday season also brings many strong emotions.

“People put so much emphasis on the holidays being perfect—coming home to see friends and family, having the perfect gifts, and you’ve put in so much effort, probably a lot of money—that when things go wrong, you feel them 10 times more than you would any other time of the year,” said Meg Gerard of Solo Female Travelers Tours.

“And when you’re already stressed, you tend to pay less attention to the things you need to pay attention to, which means things get messed up more easily—missing a turn on the freeway and missing a flight, forgetting important things because you’re frantic preparing to leave,” she added.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take before and during the transit process to make yourself feel less on edge while traveling during this time. HuffPost asked Nastro, Gerard and other travel experts to share their tips on how to make vacation travel less stressful.

Be strategic when flying.

“If you haven’t already booked, choose direct flights very early in the morning,” advises Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Cancellations and delays snowball throughout the day, so early morning flights have less disruption than later in the day.”

Also try to fly on days that are historically less busy. Dengler suggested December 18, 19, 20, 28 and 29, as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as they usually offer better prices and less chaos.

“Book your flights and accommodations well in advance to ensure the best deals and availability,” added Briana Glenn, CEO and travel consultant at Milk + Honey Travels. “Also check the weather forecast and be prepared for possible travel disruptions.”

In case of inclement weather, know your rights and options.

“Thanksgiving travel went smoothly, but Christmas and New Year’s have more potential for snow storms,” ​​Dengler said. “Check if your airline offers a weather waiver that allows you to change your flight at no extra cost if the forecast looks bad.”

Pack smart.

“Make a checklist and pack efficiently to avoid overpacking,” Glenn recommended. “Don’t forget essentials like chargers, travel documents and medication in your carry-on if you’re checking bags, and also include an AirTag in every piece of checked baggage.”

Try to fit everything in your hand luggage to minimize the risk of losing your belongings in transit.

“Don’t check a bag unless you have to,” Dengler said. “Queues tend to be long during holidays to drop off luggage and airlines are known to misplace or misplace luggage more often during busy periods. Many non-basic economy tickets allow you to carry hand luggage and a personal item, so check the baggage allowance on your ticket.’

And if traveling with checked baggage is essential, try to book a non-stop flight.

“Transferring a bag from flight to flight is one of the main reasons bags are lost,” Nastro said. “You can reduce those odds by flying straight to your source whenever possible!”

I arrive early.

“Allow extra time for check-in and security checks to account for potential delays,” advises Jessica-Kameko Rooks, blogger at Travel With Meko. “Holiday travel, especially when it involves air travel, can become especially stressful for several reasons.”

She pointed to an increase in the number of people traveling during the holiday season, which means crowded airports, long lines and overbooked flights.

“Furthermore, increased security measures during peak travel times can contribute to longer wait times and extensive checks, making the overall experience more time-consuming and potentially frustrating,” Rooks added.

Allow yourself enough time to deal with the long queues for security checkpoints and baggage check counters (if necessary). Also consider enrolling in expedited security options like Clear or TSA PreCheck.

I’m getting organized.

Staying organized goes a long way in reducing travel stress. Before the trip, make sure you have arranged everything you need.

“Keep important documents like your passport and boarding passes easily accessible,” Glenn advised. “Have a designated place for your travel essentials to avoid getting bumped at checkpoints.”

Don’t forget to prepare entertainment as well. Glenn recommended packing books and downloading movies and podcasts to keep you occupied during the trip.

“It can help take your mind off any travel stress,” she added.

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Don’t forget to pack some patience, perspective and positivity.

Maintain perspective and a positive attitude.

Don’t forget to pack your patience, perspective and positive attitude. It will help in stressful times.

“So your flight is delayed and you’re stuck in an airport for 15 hours? Make it an adventure,” Gerard said. “You can choose to look at things as a terrible way to spend the holidays or as that memory you and your kids tell for 20 years at the Christmas dinner table that you went on a treasure hunt through an airport on Christmas Eve. “

Get into the holiday spirit and look for moments of magic – or create them yourself. Do what you can, enjoy the ride and be present.

“Holidays don’t have to be perfect to be memorable or to achieve what you want them to be,” Gerard said. “Instead, focus on what’s important to you. Are you running late with your family at the airport? Start spending time together there. Are you alone at the airport? Use your downtime as an opportunity to start video calls with people you wouldn’t otherwise have time to call.”

Beware.

“Stay hydrated and rested,” urged Glenn. “Travel can be exhausting, so prioritize self-care.”

She stressed the importance of drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and taking breaks when needed during the stressful holiday travel season.

Consider travel insurance.

“Consider travel insurance for added peace of mind in the event of unexpected events,” Rooks said.

Holiday travel is often associated with bad weather and unplanned cancellations, so do your research to see if travel insurance is worth your trip.

“I strongly recommend that travelers purchase travel insurance and also develop alternative travel plans,” reiterated Jessica van Dopp DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler. “The reality is that travel volumes are at record highs, so travelers need to be patient and cover their costs.”

If your trip involves expensive non-refundable bookings that are not covered by your credit card insurance policy, then separate travel insurance may be the solution. Compare plans and choose the best one for you.

Consider traveling solo.

“Try solo travel,” suggested Radha Vyas, co-founder and CEO of adventure travel company Flash Pack. “When you are only responsible for yourself, you can focus on what you really want to get out of the trip and allow your mind to expand to new experiences and connections.”

There are countless benefits to solo travel, including the ability to move at your own pace and prioritize what matters to you. As we move from 2023 into 2024, you may also benefit from taking some time alone to reflect on your experiences over the past year and set goals for the new year.

Avoid holiday travel if you can.

“If possible, don’t fly at all,” Dengler said. “Even though you can do everything right, holiday travel is still stressful. The biggest risk is bad weather that stops flights for more than a few days.

Staying at home can offer a truly relaxing and cozy vacation experience. However, if this is not an option for you, try to be as flexible as possible with your dates.

“For example, my husband and I flew on Dec. 31 and celebrated the new year in the sky on our way to Peru, and we saved $150 per person by not traveling on Dec. 30,” van Dop De Jesus said. “It’s not about celebrating an exact date, it’s about finding a way to share with your loved ones.”

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