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  • Carrie Cochran

10 Tips for Easy, Breezy Holiday Travel

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Christmas season is finally here, and I couldn't be more excited! The Christmas tree is up, presents are under the tree, and I have some wonderful travel plans to look forward to next week!

But speaking of travel plans, I know this time of year can be such pain for traveling, whether by airplane or car. It's terrible for a lot of holidays, but the crowds can really suck the Christmas cheer right out of the atmosphere if you're not prepared.

Today, I want to share with you a well-researched and practiced list of travel tips to help you easily navigate your holiday travels and reach your destination with your holiday spirit still intact. I have information for both road and air travel that I trust will be a big help. Some things you may already know, but they're good reminders, so I've included them to keep in mind as you plan your trip.

Air Travel

1. Ship Your Presents

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I say this for a couple of reasons. First of all, it'll be much cheaper to ship your Santa's sleigh-load of presents in advance than it will be to pay for an extra suitcase. Second, the TSA has the right to unwrap any gifts in your luggage during a search. And it would be a terrible shame to reach your destination and find that your present for your mom has been shredded open in a luggage search.

On the reverse side of this, make sure you have room to take your own gifts back home and that they pass TSA guidelines. One of my family members had to forfeit his new toolset last year because they wouldn't let him through security with it, and he only had a carry-on. So think through what you're trying to take both there and back again.

2. Arrive at the Airport EARLY...Really Early

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It's common sense to arrive at the airport 90 minutes to 2 hours early for a flight...normally. During holiday hours, you have to anticipate the crowd of holiday travelers that will slow up baggage and security checks at every turn. It's wise to arrive at least 3 hours early for your flight during the holiday season, if at all possible. And don't forget to monitor traffic on the day of your trip to make sure there are no traffic jams on the way to the airport.

It might sound inconvenient to get there so far ahead of time, but you'll be glad you did if anything goes wrong. And you can use the extra time to read a book, stream a show, or just stroll through the airport shops.

3. Use as Many Shortcuts as Possible

If you plan wisely, you can save yourself a huge chunk of time using some of the crowd "cheats" that are readily available to travelers but rarely taken advantage of.

First off, skip the winding ticket lines by printing out your boarding passes in advance or saving them to your phone. This usually includes a handy copy of your itinerary for you to reference as well. And if you have luggage, opt to leave it with one of the skycaps at the curb if they're open. You'll need to tip them, but the standard rate is only a couple of dollars per bag, and they can often be more lenient with overweight luggage. Just be sure to check ahead of time if they'll be open so you're not suddenly rushed for time.

Second, if you're willing to drop a bit more cash, you can apply for TSA PreCheck or the Global Entry programs to make your security experience much faster and stress-free. Both of these programs allow you to speed through security without taking off shoes and belts or removing liquids and electronics.

Both are great options for frequent travelers and will reduce your wait time every time you fly. TSA PreCheck currently costs $85 for a five-year membership, and Global Entry is $100 for five years. Not a bad price for the potential hours you'll save.

4. Pack Wisely

Make sure that your carry-on bag has everything you'll need for long flights as well as some essentials in case your luggage gets lost. You never know how much you'll miss your toothbrush until it's being transferred to the wrong airport! Additionally, be sure to include some entertainment or comfort items to help make the airport wait and the actual flight more enjoyable (Noise-cancelling headphones are ALWAYS a good idea). And don't forget extra chargers for your electronics.

Another packing concern is to make sure you're familiar with the most recent TSA guidelines, so you don't get in trouble at security or have your bag rifled through. Double-check that everything meets the rules to avoid any hassles and save yourself time.

5. Print out Everything

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I keep a lot of things organized on my phone, but when it comes to air travel, I don't take any chances. You never know when you'll lose your phone and be completely helpless. I highly recommend that you print off (or write down) every piece of information you'll need while you're gone, including:

- Car rentals

- Hotel or Airbnb reservations

- Your flight itinerary

- All emergency and itinerary-related phone numbers

- Your tickets

- Copy of your passport if flying internationally

- Directions from the airport to your destination

Road Trips

1. Do Plenty of Pre-Checks

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Before taking any long road trip, it's a good idea to take your car in for a check-up several days in advance. This will give you peace of mind as you start your journey and allow time if any last-minute repairs need to take place. If you want to do it yourself, don't forget to check your tire pressure and all your fluids.

But don't stop with pre-checking your car--take a look at the weather conditions, too! Sometimes your travel day can't be avoided, but it's best to know if you'll be headed into a snowstorm or facing icy conditions so you can be prepared and potentially find a place to rest until the roads are safe again.

2. Plan Fun Stops

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One of my favorite aspects of road tripping is the freedom to detour and explore at our own leisure. An 8-hour road trip can seem daunting and dull, but adding a fun excursion halfway gives everyone something to look forward to and a good chance to stretch your legs. It doesn't have to be anything huge--just take some time to research your route and use Google's "Attraction" filter to see what catches your eye along the way! This time of year is perfect for checking out Christmas villages, festivals, and dreamy winter views.

3. Consider Renting a Car

Your older vehicle may work just fine, but depending on the type of drive you're facing, a rental may save you a lot of grief. Yes, you have to pay for it, but there are some advantages to using a newer car for a few days.

Depending on the model, you may save a lot of money on gas if the rental gets good mileage (and most seem to these days). For long road trips, having a TV in the car can be the perfect way to keep your kids satisfied, and a built-in GPS is never a bad idea! Plus, a newer model may have some winter safety features that will give you peace of mind as you travel.

4. Pack a Good Emergency Kit

Getting lost or breaking down in the snow are both great ways to ruin your holiday trip. So make sure you're prepared for ANYTHING with a good emergency kit. Have a small first aid kit, a real map, a spare tire (and tools), jumper cables, blankets, bottled waters and snacks, and extra battery power for your phone. You might even want to pack a small bag of sand or kitty litter in case you get stuck in snow or ice. These take up space, but you'll be happy you have them if the occasion arises.

5. Download a Gas App

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When you're in an unfamiliar area, it's easy to accidentally pick the most expensive gas station. Save yourself a few bucks by downloading a gas app like GasBuddy or any of the ones on this list. These apps track gas prices around your location and often give you perks for buying gas in conjunction with the app. If nothing else, you'll always know how close the nearest (and cheapest) gas station is to you.

Alternately, you can just use Google Maps to search gas along your route, and it'll show you the prices of the nearest gas stations along the way. However, I don't always like using Google Maps for this because it shows such a limited list, and the price display often covers up the prices of gas stations right next to each other.

I hope that at least one of the tips on here proves useful to you this holiday and makes your trip merry and stress-free!

If you enjoyed this post please give it a like and share it with those you know will be traveling this season. And as always, thanks for reading!

Happy holidays and happy travels!

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