29 Holiday Travel Tips to Keep you Sane and Happy

The holiday season is ahead of us, otherwise known as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons! It’s the most magical time of the year, but possibly the busiest time to travel.

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 and throw blanket after a couple of hikes and small town wanderings.

You can have those holiday crowds.

But we’re no strangers to traveling during the holidays, and to help you get through your next trip smoothly, we’ve prepared these holiday travel tips to keep you sane and happy.

Travel during this holiday season is so very different from the last time we were free to roam in 2019, but as long as you follow these holiday tips, you’re in for an incredible time!

Christmas in NYC
Magical Christmas in NYC

2022 Holiday Travel Caution

The past few years have been a crazy time to travel. When travel shut down in 2019, it was quickly followed by rising oil prices, pushing airfares through the roof – it’s no surprise that many people have avoided traveling over the last few years.

But not anymore.

people posing in front of a christmas tree
Crazy travel times ahead

The time to travel again is here and this time, traveling is a little different from before. Even though much of the world is starting to see normality reform, 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 paying extortionate prices for flights just to get away in search of fun, adventure, and connectedness.

But now there are new protocols, circumstances, and regulations to adhere to, and they differ depending on where you’re traveling to and from.

Before we get into our holiday travel tips, we’ll cover all the aspects of travel that have changed over the years. Starting with…

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 in the lines to collect your boaridng pass when you arrive!

Buy a flexible flight. 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 for example, has checked-in baggage included.

Do your research carefully and make sure you check the luggage requirements carefully.

The cheap flights may be cheap, but you may have to pay extra for luggage, choosing your seat, insurance, plus have hidden fees such as taxes. In the end, it could end up costing you more.

Pack your Masks and Hand Gel

people sitting on a swinging chair
Mask buddies – Beaufort SC

The pandemic is not behind us yet. You still may come across places where you’ll need to wear masks, so pack them in your carry on just in case.

You should also be vigilant with using antibacterial hand gel in airports. Most airlines don’t limit the amount of hand gel you can take with you on planes anymore, so take advantage of this and stock up.

Pack your Vaccination Card

The vaccination pass or certificate is something no one looks at anymore but the minute you don’t have it, someone will ask for it.

It’s not just about getting through the TSA precheck at the airport, you might also need it when you arrive at your destination.

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

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

Travel Insurance

We always recommend it, but even more so now. Most countries require you to have travel insurance, with specific Covid-19 measures. Read your policies very carefully to ensure you are adequately protected from pandemics, trip delays, and cancellations.

If you’re flying abroad, it’s likely the airline will check your travel insurance so many sure you have your policy documents on hand to show to them.

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)

We have their annual travel policy so we can always travel confidently on a whim.

Restaurants, Tours + Attractions

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

Also bear in mind, most airlines and tour operators are experiencing a shortage of employees and delays are more common. This will impact your experiences on the road. We encountered it a lot on our Globus tour.

Services were not operating, restaurants were closed – even Starbucks in Yosemite – and wait times were really long.

Winging it on your travels is no longer possible. It’s important to plan ahead. Book tours ahead or you may miss out on the opportunity (you can always be refunded if it’s canceled). 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 and still be able to travel. Show your appreciation to anyone who tries to help you on your travels – the best small gift you can give is a simple “thank you.”

Rental Cars and Ride Shares

Chaos once again. Rental cars are hard to find last minute, and VERY expensive. If you do end up getting on, you may not get what you reserved. Don’t leave it to last minute, plan ahead!

Choose destinations where a rental is not needed, or better still, just take a road trip.

However, I recently had to hire a car in Los Angeles as the ride share prices were INSANE. I’m talking $90 to go 2 miles. Click here for rentals with DiscoverCars.com which always returns us the cheapest rates.

Do your due diligence in comparing rental car prices with ride sharing apps.

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

If this doesn’t work for you, always book your ride with plenty of time in advance!

Holiday Travel Tips

Now you have more of an idea of how travel has changed over the past few years, it’s time we showed you some of our top holiday tips to make sure your trip runs smoothly.

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. Choosing packages not only saves you money, but it alleviates some of that stress.

You do need to plan ahead to find these deals, though.

3. Check Alternate Airports.

You can often experience fewer delays and get cheaper deals by taking flights from different airports. And it’s not just on fights, but on rental cars and transfers as well.

Check the flight prices from differing airports that you can fly to. For example, in New York City, it might be cheaper to fly from Newark over JFK. In the UK, for example, you might find flights to and from Manchester are cheaper than in London.

You can always take a train or bus to the airport if it’s a further distance. Don’t always go for the obvious ones.

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.

Flying over the weekend tends to push prices up. If you can fly mid-week, it will work out better for you. And, there’s usually fewer crowds in the airport.

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 fewer 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 than almost missing your flight.

I once 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 of the security line 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 flight, or even get a flight at all.

7. Fly Direct to Avoid Possible Connection Delays

If you can fly direct, do it. If not, plot your connection routes carefully and bear in mind weather conditions that might cause delays.

It’s also a good idea to pack hand luggage only when taking connecting flights, as this is usually where bags get lost.

If you’re worried about your checked back getting lost, I highly recommend you get yourself a luggage tracker tag from Amazon, which sends a GPS signal to your phone and tells you where your bag is.

8. Avoid Airline Counters If You Can

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

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 United States visa.

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.

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 or bus 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. If the celebration of the big day isn’t a big deal for you, you can find pretty good deals on this day.

The same goes for New Year’s Eve, as it’s not a popular day to fly.

11. Use Your Membership Reward Points

Cash in those reward points for flights, accommodation, or upgrades. This is what you’ve been saving them for!

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 by post instead, give gift cards, or have Amazon deliver them!

Craig’s Mum (in Australia) shops for presents at 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 the rules about bringing in food or plants. 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. You can always buy things when you get there.

For example, soaps, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste are not essential to pack. I can guarantee that anywhere in the world will have those supplies in a supermarket – or you can book a hotel that offers free toiletries!

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.

Get yourself a neck pillow, travel socks, eye mask and ear plugs. Be prepared to settle in, even if it’s not a long journey.

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 altogether. 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, and 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

Google Maps is quite good in that it will constantly update and divert you from traffic so you always take the faster route. Another great app to use when driving is Waze, which is a really great SatNav app.

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

19. Stay Local

people walking towards a beach house
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.

LAst year we visited Boone, North Carolina for Thanksgiving, Bryson City for Christmas fun, 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

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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 the 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.

22. Be Nice

If something goes wrong, just smile, be patient, and be 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, for 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 we’ll never forget riding the Polar Express in Bryson City, NC.

All of these are unforgettable holiday memories.

FAQs About Holiday Travel Tips

Here’s what people usually ask us about traveling over the holiday season.

What should I do 3 days before my trip?

Three days before your trip you should check you have all your documents ready and printed. Confirm your bookings if you need to and then check the weather forecast. This will give you an idea of what to pack.

What do I need to know before going on holiday?

You should know what documents you need to enter a country, such as visa, passport requirements (some require you to have six months validity) and insurance coverage.

How do I leave my house when on holiday?

If you’re worried about leaving your house when on holiday, ask a friend or neighbor to keep an eye on it. Leave a spare key with someone you trust and have them swing by from time to time to make sure it all looks ok. Or better yet, get a housesitter.

What are your best travel tips?

Our best travel tips are to pack light; lay out everything you want to take with you and then half it. Travel carry on only when you can (it’s cheaper and you won’t have to worry about losing your bag).

Final Words of Advice

So there you have it, those are our top travel tips for traveling over the holidays. It might seem overwhelming and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.

Our main piece of advice is to plan ahead with plenty of time. If you’re thinking of traveling last minute, you can expect chaos, but if you prepare in advance, it should run smoothly.

You should also make sure you are well prepared, both with all your documents and your mentality.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”

Benjamin Franklin

The journey may be perilous, but the destination will make it worth it.

Happy travels!

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

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