The holidays are fast approaching so that means travelers need to prepare for packed airports and roadways. No one wants to arrive at their destination feeling like the Grinch so I’ve created a list of 10 holiday travel tips and hacks that will have you moving faster and cheaper through the crowds, without losing your holiday spirit. These tips will save you time and money that can be better spent on gifts for loved ones!
1. Leave Plenty of Time
Leave early for the airport or for your destination. There will be a massive influx of people traveling at this time of year and sometimes, all it takes is one person or accident, to slow you down dramatically. You don’t want to be rushed since that’s when stress levels rise, tempers flare and patience wanes. And that’s when things start to go wrong. If you’re flying, the TSA recommends you arrive at the airport terminal two hours prior to domestic flights or three hours for international flights. Travel hack: Many airports have more than one security checkpoint. Ask an employee if there’s another checkpoint that has shorter lines. Better yet, if you would prefer to sleep in a bit, then enroll in TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry and you’ll be in lines that are shorter and move a lot faster.
2. Don’t Pay for a Luggage Cart
Most U.S. airports charge around $6 for a one-time use of a luggage cart. Instead of getting ripped off, go outside to the arrivals curb or parking lot and look for ones that previous passengers have left behind.
3. Act Fast
If your flight is significantly delayed or canceled, then you need to act fast since there aren’t a lot of empty seats airlines can rebook you on. Instead of calling your loved ones to tell them what’s going on, immediately get in line and while standing there waiting to speak to an agent, call the airline and tweet them since they might be able to help you a lot quicker. Travel hack: Sign up to a new flight tool called ‘Freebird’ that will automatically rebook you without any hassles or additional costs.
4. Find the Best Seat
Not many people like sitting in a middle seat or to be separated from their travel companions. Therefore, arrange for seats in advance and then keep double checking to make sure the airline hasn’t reseated you (sometimes they change the aircraft). To find out which seats are the best on your particular aircraft, go to SeatGuru.com and search the airline and plane model. Travel hack: If your desired seat isn’t available, keep checking or better yet, create a seat alert at ExpertFlyer.com. Usually, the good seats will open up because often, elite frequent fliers get upgraded or change their plans. As a last resort, check when you get to the airport at the check-in counter and at the gate.
5. Make an Economy Seat Feel Like First Class
One trick to make your coach seat feel like first class is to book the bulkhead or exit row so you have plenty of legroom. Travel hack: Take your carry-on bag and turn it into a leg rest, after takeoff, of course. The photo above depicts what I’m talking about.
6. Ship Your Bags
If you’re flying, chances are you’ll be checking bags. Most major carriers charge around $160 for two checked bags on a roundtrip ticket ($35 for the first checked bag and $45 for the second). Some low fare carriers, like Spirit, can charge up to $65 just for a carry-on bag so do your research in advance. Travel hack: Southwest Airlines gives customers two checked bags for free. Travel hack 2: If traveling domestically, ship your bags via Ground (do it at least five days in advance) so you don’t have to deal with checking bags, getting slapped with unexpected fees, arriving to the airport early, standing around for what seems like an eternity waiting for them to come out, risk getting stuff stolen or the bags lost. When I checked my bag with FedEx or UPS, I didn’t even need to find a box; they shipped it as is. Another advantage of not traveling with large bags is that you can take public transportation, which can save you time and money, especially in cities like New York and Chicago. Tip: If shipping to a hotel, be sure to call them in advance to find out if they charge a “receiving fee,” which might negate the savings. There’s also services out there that will come to your door like LugLess.
7. Wrap Your Gifts at Your Destination
The TSA allows wrapped gifts but if there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, they will open it and they don’t always do it gently. Rather than spending time wrapping your gifts before your flight, just do it at your destination. Your hotel or host will have scissors and tape. Just pack your wrapping paper or pick some up when you arrive.
8. Bring Food and Drink
On most flights in the U.S., airlines either don’t serve food or if they do, they charge for it. Instead of being at the flight attendant’s mercy on what and when you eat, bring your own. Buy food in the airport or better yet, bring it from home. Be sure to bring plenty of water, too. Travel hack: Since you can’t go through security with bottled water, buy it on the other side or bring an empty bottle and fill it up at a water fountain so you can stay hydrated. In addition to your meal, you should bring snacks in case of any lengthy delays. I always have granola bars and almonds packed in my carry-on bag.
9. Bring a Pen
Even before COVID-19 no one wanted to share a pen and most airlines don’t provide them. So instead of asking your seatmate or having to wait until you get to immigration always pack a pen. That way you won’t lose your place in line. In fact, pack multiple cheap pens so if you’re seatmate asks you to borrow one you can just give them the extra and tell them to keep it.
10. Bring Chocolates
I almost always bring three bags or small boxes of chocolates when I travel — one for the gate agents, one for the flight attendants … and one for me! The agents and attendants are some of the most unappreciated and verbally abused workers in the industry and most travelers don’t realize that these people can make or break your trip. When you give them the chocolates you brought, do it with a big smile, be genuine and don’t look for anything in return. If there is a chance they can give you a better seat or service, most of the time they will. But it’s really to thank them for their hard work because they have to deal with a bunch of miserable people for little pay and few perks.
Bonus Tip: Pack Your Patience
In addition to bringing your clothes and gear, pack your patience because the holidays bring a crush of travelers who don’t fly often so give them a break. Just take a deep breath and remember how lucky you are to be traveling, whether it’s to an exotic location or to see your loved ones, and don’t lose your enjoyment of the spirit of the season.