Surviving Holiday Travel – Tips and Tricks for Stress-Free Travel This Holiday Season

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Marlon Brando, traveling in style

Whether you’re heading home to spend the holidays with family or jetting off on a tropical vacation, traveling during the winter holidays can be hectic and stressful. Even though it’s hard to avoid the chaos that comes along with holiday travel, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to reduce the stress! From navigating holiday traffic to mentally preparing yourself for the crowds, these tips will help you travel with ease this holiday season.

Home for the Holidays?

Before you can make any travel arrangements, you’ll have to choose your holiday destination. For most of us, traveling for the winter holidays probably means visiting family. However, if you’re free this holiday (or if you can talk your family into celebrating somewhere new), you can find great travel deals during this time of year! December and January can be great months to travel outside of the US, especially if you’re willing to travel on off-peak days (like Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, for example). When other people are sitting around the fire, you could be sitting on the beach!

Cars, Trains, and Planes: Navigating Holiday Traffic

Now that you know where you’re going, what’s the easiest way to get there? Whether you drive, fly, or take a train, it’s best to travel on off-peak days during the holiday season if you can to avoid the hectic crowds and bumper-to-bumper traffic. However, traveling at off-peak times isn’t always possible, so if you can’t, prepare yourself for the extra time (and stress) your trip may take.

If you’ll be flying during the holidays, make sure to allow for plenty of time at the airport. With so many people trying to get home for the holidays, airports can be overwhelming, so be sure to get there even earlier than you normally would for a flight. TSA suggests getting to the airport at least 2 hours ahead of time for a domestic flight and 3 hours for an international flight during normal travel days, and it would be wise to add on another hour during busy travel times- like the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Try to fly nonstop if you can. Weather is unpredictable during the winter months, and a delay at one airport can mean a missed connection, so reduce those risks by flying nonstop to the closest city to your end destination!

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Step 1: Don’t miss your flight (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Bringing gifts with you on your flight? Don’t wrap them ahead of time- even if your wrapping looks beautiful, TSA may still rip through it. If you can, I suggest ordering gifts and having them sent to your end destination and wrapping them there- you’ll have less to carry and less to worry about! Finally, if you’re flying, make sure to take your vitamins and wash your hands- everyone knows planes are germy, but with flu season setting in, you’ll want to be extra careful!

If you’re driving, build plenty of extra time into your itinerary to account for traffic, and don’t forget snacks! Last year, I was traveling just before New Year’s Eve, and a trip that was supposed to take 6 hours took just over 12! Try to plan out an alternate route ahead of time if you’re concerned about traffic, or wake up extra early to avoid some of it.

Keep it Positive

The stress of holiday travel can be really overwhelming, and things don’t always happen according to our plans. Even the best-planned vacations can hit some bumps along the way, so it’s important to try to stay positive! The holidays are a great time to catch up with family and friends and reflect on the year, so try to keep calm when things go awry. We’re all just trying to get home for the holidays, after all!

The holidays can be a stressful time for travel, whether you’re headed home to family and friends or to a fun vacation destination. Try to plan your travel on days with lower crowds, but if you can’t, make sure to plan ahead for traffic and crowded airports! Mentally prepare yourself for the holiday rush, and try to stay calm when things don’t go as planned!

Happy holidays and happy traveling!


Article and photos by Elizabeth Rhodes. Find Elizabeth on TwitterInstagram, and her website. For more practical travel tips, check out our guide to travel advisories and what they mean.