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, it created a huge upswing in everyone’s mood.
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’s my birthday (May 31)
This year is going to be like no other since we’re still in a pandemic but we’re recovering better than expected. There will be a huge surge of travelers and I will be one of them.
AAA predicts a significant rebound in the number of Americans planning to travel this holiday weekend. They say that “from May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60% from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.” I will be one of those traveling!
There will also be a lot of first-time flyers in over a year (it took me 435 days to take my first flight since the pandemic started). I know there’s some brushing up to do and re-entry anxiety for some, so I’ve created a list of 10 holiday travel tips and hacks that will have you moving faster and cheaper through the crowds and to keep you calmer.
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. You don’t want to be rushed since that’s when stress levels rise, tempers flare and patience wanes. If you’re flying, the short-staffed 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. Wear a Comfortable Mask
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been vaccinated or not. You still need to wear a mask when traveling, including at the airport, inside stations and on planes, buses, trains and boats. Wearing a mask for a long period of time can be a pain but you have to do it and I’ve seen flight attendants go up and down the aisles making sure passengers wear them correctly. Some flight attendants are vigilant that you wear it over your nose too, which is the proper way. Invest in a comfortable mask and bring extra so you can switch it out if it gets dirty and after each segment. BTW: If you like the world map mask that I’m wearing above, it’s an inexpensive find available on Amazon.
Travel hack: After my first plane ride, I quickly realized that wearing a mask for a long period of time hurts my ears. Thanks to a reader, that problem has been solved. Here’s how.
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 on 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
These days, everyone wants to have a touchless experience or as close as you can get. 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 finger tips.
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, call the airline and tweet them since they might be able to help you a lot quicker.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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. 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 $6 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 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 your seatmate asks you to borrow one, you can just give them the extra and tell them to keep it.
11. If You’re Sick, Stay Home
This should go without saying but especially with COVID-19, everyone’s on edge. When someone sneezes or coughs, they get a ton of eyes quickly trying to figure out if you’re sick or if it’s just allergies. Flight attendants and gate agents can remove you from the flight if you’re sick so do everyone a favor and stay home.
Travel Hack: Pack an extra package of cough drops so that if your seatmate is coughing, you can offer them the whole pack, instead of a single one.
12. 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.
Worst Times to Hit the Road
According to AAA, INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors. Below are the worst times and corridors.