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15 Holiday Travel Tips for a Less Stressful Festive Season

See that twinkle on your neighbor’s roof? Can you hear the soft sound of sleigh bells ringing in the distance and smell the distinct scent of pine wafting through the air? Yes, dear reader, the holidays are almost here, which means it’s also time for you to plan out all your holiday travels.


Traveling during the holidays can most certainly bring plenty of joy. After all, it usually means you’re off to see your loved ones or heading to the vacation destination of your dreams to end the year right. But so are millions of other people, which can make for a rather stressful travel experience in airports, train stations, and on the road. But fear not — we’re here to help. Here are 15 holiday travel tips that will make for a more joyful season. 


Related: 25 Things You Should Do Before Boarding a Plane, According to a Frequent Flier


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Set price alerts and book flights early.

If you’re planning to fly for the holiday season, you better get a move on because ticket prices are likely only going up from here. As Travel + Leisure previously reported, the typical prime time to book flights for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is usually in September. However, we aren’t really living in typical times now, are we? That said, it’s still a good idea to book ASAP. And if for some reason you’re still not convinced that now is the time to buy, try setting up price alerts on sites like Skyscanner, then click “buy” when the price is right for you. 



Don’t forget to book your rental car ahead of time.

Car rental prices are only going up, too. Cars are a finite resource, and everyone wants one during the holidays. In fact, in September 2021, Kayak noted that holiday car rental searches were up 243% compared to 2020, so you can only imagine that people are already searching (and booking) for Thanksgiving and Christmas right this second. Make sure to grab your necessary vehicle before it’s gone. 



Be flexible on dates (and airports).

Remaining a little fluid with your holiday plans can really pay off. Having the ability to leave for your trip a day or two earlier and return a day early or late could help you save big on airfare as you have a little more flexibility on picking a less crowded day to fly. One more way to keep costs down when flying? Picking a smaller airport nearby rather than a main hub. For example, you could try flying into Long Beach Airport or Van Nuys rather than Los Angeles International Airport. Smaller airports tend to have less demand, thus lower prices.  



Consider less-visited destinations.

If you’re visiting family or friends, you can’t change where they live, so ignore this tip. However, if you’re thinking of setting off on vacation, try broadening your horizons. Looking for some fun in the sun over the holidays? Rather than going to notoriously popular destinations like Cabo, try heading out of town for slightly fewer crowds and potentially more affordable options. For example, you could head to the equally alluring Todos Santos, just an hour away from Cabo. There, you’ll find a slower pace in a town with more Bohemian flair, and plenty of vacation rental options for you and your crew to keep costs down, including this gorgeous two-bedroom home with a private pool for just $181 a night. The same goes for winter ski destinations. Forgo the big ski mountains for smaller spots that may not come with all the bells and whistles but still have all the powder stashes you’re truly after. 



Book with points.

The holidays are the ideal time to use those points you’ve been racking up all year long on your credit card. And we know you’ve likely got points waiting because, as a rather shocking Lending Tree study showed, a whopping 70% of U.S. rewards credit card holders have unused rewards in the form of either cash back, points, or miles. You’ve earned those points. Use them now to feel less of a pinch this year on your holiday travel spending. 



Try to book direct flights. 

We’re heading into winter, which means we’re also heading into an unpredictable season that could come with snowstorms and delays. Try to always book direct flights to lessen your chances of missing a connection along the way. And if you’re in close enough proximity to your destination, forgo planes altogether and opt for a train or bus instead. 


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Splurge on lounge access.

As we’ve mentioned several times here already, airports can be one of the most stress-inducing places. You should get to the airport at least two hours in advance of your flight, but know that you may have extra time to wait around. Rather than trying to find a seat in the crowd, use this as your excuse to splurge on lounge access. Lounge access usually comes included in first-class flights. However, those in economy can upgrade to purchase lounge access, or they can check their credit card to see if lounge access comes as an included perk. Better yet, try Priority Pass, a yearly service that can help you get access to some of the best airport lounges. 



If you can, only pack carry-on luggage.

Losing a checked bag, to put it bluntly, sucks. Now, imagine losing a checked bag that’s filled with all the gifts you so diligently purchased for your nieces, nephews, aunts, grandparents, and more. If you can live without a few items, it’s a good idea to only pack a carry-on to reduce your chances of losing anything along the way. Plus, you’ll be able to leave the airport faster because you won’t have to wait forever at the baggage carousel. 



Be cautious with your gift wrapping.

If you’re traveling with gifts, leave them unwrapped. If for some reason your wrapped gift raises any red flags with the TSA, they will be forced to unwrap it at security, undoing all your hard work. You could also avoid this hassle altogether by shipping your gifts ahead of time instead. 



Have a backup plan in case things go wrong. 

It’s Murphy’s Law. Everything that can go wrong, will. That’s why it’s a good idea to have backups on backups for your holiday planning. This starts with opting in for travel insurance. Travel insurance can be purchased through airlines, or can be purchased via various providers. Check out all the options — including “cancel for any reason” policies and standard options that cover everything from canceled flights to lost baggage — and find the one that fits your needs. Also, check with your credit card provider to see if it’s already included in your purchase. Next, try to create an alternate route to your destination. Flight canceled? See how far the drive is, check bus and train routes, or have an entirely different plan B option for your holiday celebration (like a staycation), so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. 



If you’re driving, make sure to get a tune-up. 

Driving in the winter can be just as tough as flying. Not only do you have to think about the various weather patterns, but you also have to contend with millions of others making the drive too. And the last thing you need is your vehicle breaking down at an inopportune time. Make sure to get a quick tune-up before hitting the road, and try to avoid these 10 other road trip mistakes along the way. 



Make use of all the apps. 

You know what’s great about living in the 21st century? All. The. Apps. This holiday season, make use of every app in your phone’s arsenal — from your airline’s app to your favorite streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc.), along with map apps to keep you on track. Download movies, add your flight info to your phone’s wallet, and keep directions handy so you’re prepared for everything and stay entertained even on long-haul flights. 



Check the opening hours at your destination’s attractions.

You’re not the only one on holiday break. So too are hospitality and attraction workers. Before heading off to your must-see destinations, take note of holiday hours. Often businesses will have condensed hours or closed days to ensure their staff gets time with their families too. 



And make reservations at all the restaurants you plan to visit. 

We’ve said it before and will say it again: You have to plan ahead for the holiday season. That applies to restaurants too. Have a spot you’re dying to try? Make reservations for the holiday season as soon as they open so you have a guaranteed place to eat. 



Be ready to tackle stress and spread joy instead.

Hopefully, all that preparation will help keep you calm this holiday season. If you need a little help relaxing, try downloading a few meditation apps to use during your journey. This way, you can breathe through any stress and anxiety and focus on staying positive for yourself, your family, and all your fellow travelers just trying to get to their destinations.