10 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel

iStock.com/grinvalds
iStock.com/grinvalds

Anyone who has traveled during the holidays knows how taxing it can be. Traffic is slow, airport security lines seem to move even slower, and your fellow travelers aren’t always patient. While we can’t promise that your journey to grandma’s house this November and December will be enjoyable, we know of a few travel tips to make it less stressful.

1. TRY TO TRAVEL ON THE ACTUAL HOLIDAY.

The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for holiday travel by air, and this year is expected to be especially bad. Drivers will face a similar situation if they head out on Wednesday, if Google’s analysis of road conditions last Thanksgiving are anything to go by. For these reasons, it’s always wise to travel several days before the holiday or on the holiday itself when possible. Sure, the latter scenario is less than ideal, but the flights are cheaper and the crowds smaller. And since Thanksgiving is such an unpopular day to start your journey, you might even be upgraded to first class.

If traveling day-of isn’t an option, here are a few more travel tips: Try to book a flight early in the morning or late in the evening. Morning fliers tend to enjoy fewer delays, but you’ll beat the crowds if you wait until the evening to fly out.

2. PACK LIGHT FOR HOLIDAY TRAVEL ...

A suitcase with men's clothing inside
iStock.com/mikkelwilliam

If you’ll only be out of town for a few days, there’s no reason to lug around a 60-pound suitcase. The lighter your suitcase, the better you’ll feel—and you won’t have to worry about excess baggage fees, either. We understand that packing light can be challenging, though. If you’re struggling to zip your suitcase shut, try layering up before you head to the airport. Remove the heaviest and bulkiest clothing items from your bag (think boots, winter coats, and big sweaters) and wear them instead. You can always remove them once you get through airport security and store them in the plane's overhead bin.

3. ... AND PACK YOUR LAPTOP LAST.

One more travel tip for packing: If you’re traveling with a laptop, pack it in your carry-on last, along with your liquids. That way, when you head through the dreaded airport security line, you can remove them quickly without having to rummage around.

4. DON'T CARRY WRAPPED GIFTS.

Wrapping gifts in advance and stowing them in your suitcase might seem like good planning on your part, but you might end up creating more work for yourself. According to the TSA, wrapped presents are permitted, but security officers might need to unwrap them if something requires closer inspection. “We recommend passengers to place presents in gift bags or wrap gifts after arriving to avoid the possibility of having to unwrap them during the screening process,” the TSA wrote on its website. “Another good option is to ship them ahead.”

5. RESERVE AIRPORT PARKING IN ADVANCE.

Airport parking lots can fill up pretty fast around the holidays. To avoid having to loop around the lot for 45 minutes, log onto your local airport’s website to see if you can secure a parking spot in advance. Booking online might even save you some money, and you can also check out ParkRideFly’s website for discounted parking rates.

6. CARRY AN EMPTY WATER BOTTLE.

A man holds a water bottle at the airport
iStock.com/ajr_images

It’s important to stay hydrated if you have a long flight ahead, since drinking plenty of fluids can help stave off jet lag. But why pay $4 for a bottle of water at the airport when you can bring your own reusable bottle and fill it up for free at a water fountain near your gate? Just make sure it starts out empty until you get through airport security—you wouldn’t want to hold up the line and get side-eye from your fellow passengers.

A few other travel tips for packing your purse or carry-on: Bring a phone charger, toothbrush, other must-have toiletries, glasses and contacts, medications, an extra pair of underwear, headphones or earplugs, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes (after all, those airport security bins are germ-infested cesspools).

7. TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR SUITCASE.

If you need to check a bag, snap a photo of your suitcase before you hand it over to the airline. That way, if it gets lost, you won’t have to rack your brain trying to remember whether it’s black or navy blue while describing its appearance to airline staff. If your suitcase is rather nondescript, consider tying a colorful ribbon around the handle to set it apart. This will come in handy when you go to retrieve your bag from the luggage carousel.

8. SWAP BELONGINGS WITH A COMPANION.

You and another traveler in your group—be it a spouse or a sibling—may want to swap a few belongings while you're packing. If you put a few essential items in their bag, and let them put a few must-haves in yours, you won’t feel so helpless if one of your bags gets delayed or lost.

9. USE APPS TO FIGURE OUT WHEN TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.

Domestic travelers are generally advised to arrive at the airport two hours before their flight. However, if you’re traveling close to a major holiday, you’ll want to factor traffic and long airport lines into the equation. So when should you leave the house? Google Maps can help you figure it out. After plugging in the airport address, you can select the Traffic feature (on both the desktop version and within the app) to see a color-coded map of the fastest and slowest routes. The app can even remind you to leave at a certain time depending on when you want to arrive. Waze is another useful app for travelers to have on hand. It provides updated traffic information in real-time and relies on user-submitted data about traffic jams and accidents.

10. TRY TO AVOID AIRLINE COUNTERS.

Curbside check-in at an airport
iStock.com/Jodi Jacobson

The ability to check into a flight online is one of the greatest gifts given to travelers. Take advantage of that by printing out your boarding pass at home, having it sent to you in an email, or saving it to your smartphone’s Apple Wallet or Google Pay app. If you don’t have to check any luggage, you can head straight to your airport's security checkpoint and save yourself a lot of time. Plus, you might end up in an earlier boarding group or get better seats, according to Smarter Travel. If you do have to drop off a bag, that’s no problem either. Curbside check-in tends to be faster than the airline counters inside most airports. If that isn’t available, some airlines also have an expedited “bag drop” line you can hop into if you’ve already checked in.

12 Things To Do When Your Flight's Canceled or Delayed

iStock.com/vm
iStock.com/vm

Delayed flights are a bummer. After all, the reason you came to the airport is because you wanted to reach your destination faster. But flight delays are unpredictable. Maybe the weather became surprisingly unpleasant, or a mechanical issue arose, or, as in the case of China’s Hangzhou Ziaoshan International Airport in July 2010, a UFO was discovered hovering near the airfield. Here’s what you should do if you’re stranded because of a flight delay or, heaven forbid, a canceled flight.

1. Understand your rights as a passenger if your flight is delayed ...

Fun fact: Legally, you have very few rights. In the United States, at least, few regulations require airlines to provide you with any form of compensation after a delayed flight. Many airlines, however, have what’s called a Contract of Carriage, which describes what you’re entitled to: Potential food vouchers, discounts, refunds, or a hotel stay in the event of a flight delay when the airline is at fault. So read those terms and conditions when you book!

2. ... Especially if you’re flying in Europe.

If you’re flying in Europe—or flying aboard a European airline—passengers have more rights. According to Regulation EC 261/2004, if your flight reaches its destination more than three hours late (or if you were denied boarding because of overbooking) you may have a right to be compensated up to €600, or about $700.

3. If a flight delay or cancellation caused you a big financial loss, you could be compensated for it.

We’ll let the gurus at the great website Airfare Watchdog explain:

“[I]f you can provide evidence of financial loss caused by a delay on an international flight, and prove that the airline could have prevented it by taking 'reasonable measures,' then you may be able to claim further compensation under the Montreal Convention, a treaty that covers most international travel. Under its Article 22, it stipulates a maximum payout of 4150 SDRs (currently $5870).”

(By the way, an SDR, or "Special Drawing Right," is an international unit based on a basket of five currencies: the U.S. dollar, the pound sterling, the Euro, the Japanese yen, and the Chinese renminbi. It's the main unit used by the International Monetary Fund.)

4. Check your connecting flight status immediately.

In most cases, the airline will put you on the next available flight to your destination—but it may not alert you to that fact. Call or check customer service immediately to get an update on your status. In some instances, the airline might have automatically rebooked you on a completely different route to your destination. (In the case of one Mental Floss editor, a delayed flight from Chicago to New York transformed into a multi-segment marathon from Chicago to Grand Rapids to Dallas to New York.)

5. Make some calls as soon as your flight is delayed or canceled.

If you rented a car, let the agency at your destination know about your delayed flight status. If you think the flight delay might last into the night (or will become a canceled flight at some point) and the airline doesn't seem to be budging on handing out those hotel perks, it may also be worth booking a hotel yourself just in case. Most hotels don’t charge until you check in, so—pending the accommodation’s cancellation policy—there might be nothing to lose if the airline manages to pull through.

6. Do some research on chronically delayed flights.

Now that you have some extra time on your hands, why not check up on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Travel Consumer Report? It supplies a monthly rundown of the cause of every flight delay experienced by each carrier. Similarly, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics maintains a list tracking the causes of delays as well as list of “chronically delayed flights.” It can’t save you this time, but it might help you pick a better flight next time.

7. Wait before you begin making complaints ...

If your flight hasn’t been delayed for at least three hours, you really shouldn’t expect any vouchers or sympathy. At that point, complaining about a delay is a waste of everybody’s time. If you bought travel insurance, your policy will likely kick in about four hours after the delay. Depending on the policy you purchased and the provider, you should call the insurance company when hour four hits to see what you may be entitled to.

8. ... But try not to fall asleep.

In some cases, an airline may tell passengers that the flight delay will last three hours, only to suddenly announce over the P.A. system that they’ll be boarding soon. A flight can be “undelayed” and you should be prepared if that happens. So if you plan on taking a nap, find a buddy to wake you up just in case. (In a similar vein: If a flight is delayed before you reach the airport, you cannot arrive late to check in. You need to show up as if the plane were leaving on time.)

9. Read the fine print on your credit card—it might cover flight delays.

Many credit cards come with travel protection benefits in the event of a delay; some will even reimburse you if your flight is delayed a certain amount of time (if you booked your ticket with that card). So get familiar with your credit card perks and see if you’re eligible.

10. Take a hike.

Airports are great places to go people watching and, of course, plane-spotting. They’re also not a bad place to exercise. (And, let’s admit it—you might need to blow off some steam.) Multiple airports now have gyms and free yoga studios. Phoenix Sky Harbor boasts a “Walk The Sky Harbor Fitness Trail” [PDF].

11. Check the attractions at the airport.

During the winter, Denver International has an outdoor ice-skating rink that’s free to use (even skate rentals are free). Seattle-Tacoma International displays more than 60 works of art and offers a self-guided walking tour. At Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the world-renowned Rijksmuseum has set up exhibits showing Dutch masterpieces. And at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, Terminal 3 boasts a four-story slide.

12. Cuddle an animal.

You’re stressed. You’re anxious. You’re angry. But what if we told you that at San Francisco International Airport there’s a therapy pig named Lilou who struts around (in costume!) and would love to cuddle with you? Or what if we told you that LAX has a program called PUP—for the “Pets Unstressing Program”—that provides free snuggles from therapy dogs? See, getting stranded in an airport thanks to a delayed flight isn’t so bad.

A Golden Girls-Themed Cruise Will Set Sail in 2020

Carlo Allegri/Getty Images
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

If you've ever fantasized of taking a vacation that would make the cast of characters from The Golden Girls proud, you'll soon have the chance to make your dreams come true. In early 2020, Flip Phone Events and the cruise line Celebrity Infinity are launching a Golden Girls-themed cruise that brings the classic 1980s sitcom to the western Caribbean.

As CNN reports, the new cruise, called Golden Girls at Sea, leaves from Miami, Florida—the home of Rose, Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia. For five days, the ship will take cruisers on a relaxing trip through the Gulf, stopping in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. While onboard the ship, guests will have the opportunity to take part in several Golden Girls-inspired activities, including a Shady Pines craft corner, Dorothy's bingo, Golden Girls trivia, and karaoke at Blanche's favorite pickup spot, The Rusty Anchor. And, yes, there will be cheesecake.

The Golden Girls premiered over 30 years ago, but the fabulous foursome hasn't lost its popularity. Even though the show has ended, the ladies can still be spotted on apparel, candles, board games, and even their own cereal box. Their new themed cruise may be the most luxurious Golden Girls-branded experience yet.

Golden Girls at Sea sets sail from Miami on February 24, 2020 and returns on February 29. Rooms start around $987 per person for a standard cabin and go up to $7657 for the top suites. Unlimited drinks are included with every ticket.

Book your tickets here.

[h/t CNN]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER