It’s crazy out there during the holidays, especially if you’re trying to take a road trip to see Uncle Fred in Philly, or your cousin’s new baby in Baltimore. Having found myself stuck in miles of traffic, or re-routed because of weather-related accidents to roads that the GPS doesn’t even recognize, I’ve learned from my mistakes and can offer some hard-earned advice about how to keep holiday trips stress-free.
Check and re-check flights, routes, hotel rooms and dinner reservations. So many things can affect travel during the holidays from snowstorms to airline strikes to overbooked amusement parks. The last thing you want to do is wait until the last minute to realize that your plans might have to change, so even if it seems a little obsessive, keep checking on all of your reservations right up until the last minute.
Pack light. You may think that you’ve only got a two-hour flight to get home to grandma’s house, but it’s not uncommon to get delayed by a few hours in an airport, or even a few days. You don’t want to be hauling heavy stuff around, so only take what you need.
Prepare for delays. I know I said pack light, but if you’re traveling with kids, make sure that you have something to keep them entertained in the event of a long layover or bumper-to-bumper traffic. Coloring books, iPads, and electronic games—whatever it takes to keep everyone’s sanity until you can get moving again. When I travel by myself, I always carry a good book, a bag of snacks and a small travel pillow so that no matter where I get stuck, I can spend the time comfortably.
Don’t assume that you’re safe because you have a cell phone. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: don’t trust your fate to a phone. Batteries die and in some places service is nonexistent—make sure that someone knows your route and when you’re supposed to arrive.
Check the weather. This seems like a no-brainer, but I once flew from Alaska to Nevada, only to find myself stuck in apocalyptic flooding after renting a car. I watched the weather for my flight, but it never occurred to me to check the weather where I was going…and I ended up having to go miles out of my way to make it to my final destination.
Plan alternate routes. I know, everyone trusts their GPS to give them the right directions, but I still say that you should have a map, or at least printed instructions on how to get where you’re going. I trusted my GPS to give me an alternate route in the wilds of Pennsylvania once, and found myself clinging to the side of a hilltop as I tried to maneuver my Jeep through 6-foot drifts. Turns out the main road was only a mile or two away—in the other direction.
Keep calm and carry on. When everyone is traveling at the same time of year, you’re going to get stuck in crowds and traffic—and getting upset doesn’t make anyone move any faster. Try to stay in the spirit of the season by being kind and practicing patience, especially to overworked airline employees, tollbooth collectors and anyone in emergency services. Remember to eat to keep your blood sugar up, hydrate to stay healthy, and practice that Zen attitude—it’s great practice for spending days shut up in the same house with dozens of your relatives.
Do you have any tips for holiday travel?
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Freelance writer. Road tripper. Travel diva. Dog rescuer. Writes for food or kibbles and bits. Based out of Pittsburgh, PA, via Juneau, AK, Vanessa has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years, and has been published in many diverse publications,including GEEK, Recreation News, CATS, VFW magazine, the Antique Trader and more. An avid traveler, she always brings home amazing memories...and often more dogs. Follow Vanessa on her blog, Mood Swings and Other Things, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.
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