Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, or at the very least, meant to be a reprieve from the stresses of everyday life. But visiting a new place or traveling with family, especially during the holidays, can be hectic.
Fortunately, there are ways for travelers to stay relaxed amidst all the craziness that might surround them. Here are our top tips for keeping sane - and even jolly - as you set off on your holiday trips.
Make a packing list
...And check it twice. If you plan out all of the bare essentials ahead of time, not only will you avoid leaving anything behind, you are also more likely to pack light and eliminate unnecessary items. Challenge yourself to stick to a carry on bag and leave the “just in case” items that you could buy in your destination at home.
Quick tips for packing smart: Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants that can be reworn. Roll your clothes instead of folding them to maximize space. Pack basic colored clothing that can be coordinated with multiple items. Use a small backpack as your additional personal item which can fit more inside than a purse or laptop bag. Wear your heaviest clothing such as coat and boots on the plane.
Avoid the busiest travel days
According to CheapAir studies, the worst days to fly are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday. You will find lower fares and less crowds earlier in the week on Monday and on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday when people are out shopping.
The Christmas travel schedule varies each year since the holiday falls on different days of the week. Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, which opens the weekend for travel since most schools and businesses will close for Christmas Eve on Monday. Christmas Day is the cheapest and least busy day to travel, but you likely want to be spending quality time with family.. Christmas Eve is the second best choice, followed by December 23rd. The worst travel days this holiday season are December 21st, 22nd and 26th.
Book a non-stop flight
Direct flights may be more expensive, but when your sanity is at stake during the holidays, it may just be worth it. You will avoid getting stuck in a layover spot due to weather delays and cancellations.
If you opt for a non-direct flight due to budget, be sure to give yourself ample time to make flight connections. Keep in mind that airports will be more crowded at this peak time and winter weather can cause more delays. 60 minutes is recommended but add at least 30 minutes extra during the holidays. Always add additional time if you are landing at a large airport or switching airlines. Allow at least two hours on international flights where you are required to go through Customs and Immigration upon landing.
Book travel insurance
While not always necessary for shorter domestic flights, travel insurance can give you peace of mind for illness, if plans change, or if flights are canceled. Protecting the vacation could be a lifesaver and reduce unnecessary anxiety.
Buffer the vacation days
Try to give yourself breathing room by not starting or ending your travels too close to a work day. Take at least a day or two before and after the trip to chill at home before returning back to the daily grind.
Give yourself enough time so that you’re not rushing around frantically panicking at the last minute. Realize that traffic, security lines and baggage issues can cause unanticipated delays. During the holidays, it is advised to arrive 45 minutes earlier than the normal time recommended by TSA (Two hours for domestic flights, three hours for international). Even frequen fliers shouldn’t test their luck around this time of year.
Check in online
Most airlines allow you to check in 24 hours ahead of time online. Lines are much longer at the holidays, so avoid this by checking in ahead of time and having your boarding pass ready on your phone. The earlier you check in, the better boarding group you will be placed in and if you only pack a carry on bag, you can go straight to security.
If you are a frequent domestic traveler, it’s worth it to get TSA Pre✓® which will expedite you through security in over 200 airports in the USA. (94% wait less than 5 minutes!) Membership is just $85 for five years and you’re not required to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and jackets. Several credit cards and loyalty programs cover the application fee or allow you to use reward points towards it as a member benefit.
If you often travel internationally, consider the Global Entry program to speed through U.S. customs. It’s only $100 for five years and well worth it for your sanity!
Be prepared for security
The ever changing rules and regulations at airports can be frustrating. Visit the TSA website so you’re up-to-date on the latest. Avoid the hassle by having your laptop and camera out and liquids less than 100ml already separated in a plastic bag. Remove all metal objects such as keys, coins, belts, from your pockets beforehand so you’re not dinged in the scan.
Splurge for the lounge
If you’re stuck at the airport for a long delay or layover, don’t make your time miserable! It’s the jolly holidays after all. Bring a little luxury to the long wait. Most lounges have food, unlimited alcohol, high speed wifi, charging stations and quiet areas. For a little extra, you’ll find the seating is more comfortable and in a more tranquil environment than the chaotic airport.
If you have Priority Pass, you are granted access to over 1,000 airport lounges in 500+ cities around the world. Membership plans start as low as $99 a year! A few credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve even offer Priority Pass as a perk. If you don’t have Priority Pass, you can get a day pass which ranges from $25-50. If you don’t want to splurge on lounge access, simply relax with a book you haven’t had time to read, listen to music or podcasts or play cards with your group.
Get to know your airport
Download the app GateGuru to find shops, restaurants and amenities such as yoga rooms, and manicure and massage stations to get your relaxation on.
Send gifts ahead of time
To save space and money on overweight luggage, it’s a good idea to buy presents online through Amazon or another online retailer and have them shipped directly to your destination. If you do need to bring them with you, leave them unwrapped for airport security.
Psstt... Need a unique gift for the exchange? We have a perfect map to check everyone off your list!
Prep your vehicle
About a week before you leave for a long road trip, check your car’s fluid levels, brakes, and tires. Be sure that your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have jumper cables on hand for unexpected breakdowns.
Pack an emergency kit
Be prepared with a road preparedness kit with a flashlight, heavy blankets, Band-Aids, water bottles, a cell phone charger, jumper cables, and any necessary tools.
Create a Road Trip Playlist
The same old radio songs get boring quick… not to mention when it fades in and out as you trek through more remote areas. Download a playlist on Spotify of either Christmas tunes or just feel-good songs. Don’t forget the USB cable!
Take Turns Driving
Switch on and off between driving and passenger navigating if possible. One person is bound to get tired or carsick.
Pack hunger-sustaining snacks
Protein rich snacks will help so you don’t find yourself starving in between pit stops and meal breaks. Think almonds, granola bars, jerky and dried fruit, which are portable and don’t require refrigeration.
Bring an entertainment bag for the kids
Load a bag with with coloring books, magnetic games, a tablet, and a paper map of your journey for them to follow along. Give them each a lap desk for their activities.
Limit the number of activities
Keep things as simple as possible, especially around the holidays when it’s all about quality time over quantity of activities. You will feel more calm with relaxation time built in. Remember, it’s perfectly okay to take a break once in awhile. Yes, even vacations need their own vacations!
Fitness can be easily thrown to the wayside when traveling. But exercise not only releases dopamine endorphins to reduce stress and improve mood, it also promotes better sleep and higher energy levels. So make it a priority! If nothing else, get outdoors and take a daily walk in the fresh air.
This means eating both deliciously and healthily. Easier said than done during the holidays and especially when navigating foreign places. Go ahead and treat yourself to that extra slice of pumpkin pie, but try to be mindful and realize it’s all about balance. Eat smaller meals throughout the day so you’re not starving come meal time. Try to eat healthier options on the days other than Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Set boundaries ahead of time
Let your family know ahead of time how long you plan to stay and where you plan to sleep. That way, feelings aren’t hurt from high expectations of more quality time.
Avoid controversial topics
This should be a given any time extended family comes together for the holidays. Steer clear of potentially offensive topics, politics and religion. Odds are, at least one person at the table won’t agree and a heated debate will ensue. An unnecessary argument where neither side will sway from their strongly held beliefs.
It can be easy to avoid situations by having your nose in your phone the whole trip. But make an effort to restrict cell phone usage, especially at the dinner table. Odds are, your family will feel more respected and you will have more genuine conversations.
Focus on the positive
When the going gets rough in a conversation or painful situation, sit back, breathe, and practice visualizing being in a relaxing place. Sometimes it’s all in the mind. If someone says something offensive, don’t feed into it. Try saying something like: “It may not have been your intention, but I found what you said hurtful. I’d like us to enjoy our time together, so let’s focus on making it a peaceful and pleasant day.”If you need to walk away, take some time to yourself and recompose, do that! You’re likely to return more level-headed or with a fresh perspective.
Respect your limits
Some people are super close to family and don’t have any issues. But that’s not all of us! Ahead of the visit, assess how long you can comfortably spend with your family without feeling overwhelmed or annoyed. You don’t want to risk lashing out or causing drama. When it’s time to call it quits, it’s time.
Now of course we hope that your holiday trips are nothing short of visions of sugar plums, but that is impractical to always be the case. We hope that these tips help make your visits to family as jolly as possible! Download our handy guide below. Wishing you a joyful, stress free holiday season!
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