Can you believe the unofficial kickoff to summer is just around the corner? Crazy! AAA just released their 2024 Memorial Day projection and airports, as well as roads, are expected to be busy, busy, busy. “AAA projects 43.8 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Memorial Day holiday travel period. This year’s total number of travelers is a 4% increase over last year and comes close to matching 2005’s record of 44 million Memorial Day travelers.”

1. Leave plenty of time
With an influx of travelers, you’ll want to leave early for the airport or for your destination. All it takes is one person or accident to slow you down dramatically. Look at what happened on the 405 freeway here in L.A. Thanks to one crazy driver chasing police, the northbound lane has been closed for hours. Those going to LAX definitely missed their flight. You don’t want to be rushed since that’s when stress levels rise, tempers flare and patience wanes. If you’re flying, TSA still 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, enroll in TSA PreCheck or sign up for CLEAR and you’ll be in lines that are shorter and move a lot faster.

2. Check-in before your flight
It surprises me there are still a lot of people who don’t check in for their flight in advance. There are a couple of advantages of doing this: the obvious one is that if you aren’t checking a bag, you can go straight to security. The other reason is because if the flight is oversold and you’re the last one to get checked in, you will probably be ‘involuntarily denied boarding’. If you are checking a bag, show up early. Look at the American Airlines check-in line yesterday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) at 3:50am.

American Airlines line at RDU – 3:50 am on a Thursday
byu/CrazyAssBlindKid inamericanairlines

3. 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 for what and when you eat, bring your own. Bring food from home because not every airport restaurant is open and if they are, they might have long lines. 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.

4. Download apps
Download the app of your airline, hotel, car rental, cruise … you name it. Input your confirmation number so you can manage your trip from your fingertips. Travel hack: One resource that even frequent travelers don’t realize is available right at their fingertips is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). They have a handy free app for both Android and iOS that allows travelers to do a lot of things, including asking them what they can and cannot bring through security. Here’s the 411.

5. 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, use the airline’s app to get rebooked or call the airline reservations and tweet them since they might be able to help you a lot quicker. FYI: Don’t Google the airline’s number. Have the number preprogammed into your phone since some scammers have come up with a clever way of stealing your money by pretending to be airline reservation agents. Travel hack: If you’re not a member of an airline club and the lines at customer service are crazy long look into getting a day pass since agents in the club never have long waits and sometimes have more pull.

6. Find the best seat
Not many people like sitting in a middle seat or to be separated from their travel companions. 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.

7. Double check
If you booked a flight months ago, be sure to keep checking to see if the airline has changed the departure time or route. There’s a very good chance they did and they might not have let you know. Travel hack: There’s free services out there that will help you monitor it like TripIt.com. Just email your itinerary to plans@tripit.com.

8. 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 Frontier and Spirit, can charge up to $99 just for a carry-on bag so do your research in advance. Here’s the best bag for flying the low fare carriers

Travel hack:
Southwest Airlines gives customers two checked bags for free. Or, 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 are also services out there that will come to your door like LugLess.

9. Don’t pay for a luggage cart
Most U.S. airports charge around $8 for 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.

10. Bring a pen
Even before the pandemic, 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 your seatmate asks you to borrow one, you can just give them one and tell them to keep it.

11. 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.

12. Worst times to hit the road
According to AAA & INRIX, a provider of transportation data and insights, drivers leaving Thursday or Friday should hit the road early to avoid mixing with commuters. Travelers going back home on Sunday or Monday should avoid the afternoon hours when return trips will peak. “Travel times are expected to be up to 90% longer than normal. Travelers should stay up to date on traffic apps, 511 services, and local news stations to avoid sitting in traffic longer than necessary,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.

Memorial Day weekend is my favorite weekend of the year for a few reasons:
1. It’s the unofficial kickoff to summer and growing up in Connecticut, everyone’s mood really improved as the weather improved and everyone felt happier.
2. Where I grew up, Memorial Day is celebrated with a parade, a moving ceremony to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, BBQs and reunions with my childhood friends and family.
3. It sometimes falls on my birthday.

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