15 Tips to Avoid Holiday Travel Hassles

Make your journey smoother with these tips to dial down holiday travel headaches.

Book early. Stop procrastinating or hoping prices will drop. Those last minute deals only work when you can be flexible with time and destination. Also, because there’s high demand, providers won’t be forthcoming with discounts or be willing to negotiate. Experts warn that your best bet to get the transportation and accommodations you want — not to mention a better price — is to book as soon as possible.

Travel early. It pays to be a morning person. Early flights are less like to face delays — especially if you’re travelling via an airport in a bad weather zone. If you do run into trouble, there’s more opportunity to hop on a later flight rather than waiting until the next day.

Skip the line-ups. During peak travel times, airlines recommend using their online or mobile check-in services and printing up your boarding pass at home, at an airport kiosk or downloading it to your mobile device. You can even tag your own bags at a self-serve kiosk if available.

Stay current- on policies and restrictions. Do you know what to expect at airport security, and what limits there are on your luggage? You can avoid many mishaps by visiting your airline and airport’s websites well in advance of your trip. (For more information on avoiding airport hassles, see Happy holiday travels.) You can find out ahead of time if your airport has special lanes for families, business travellers and people with special needs.

Avoid the bump. Many companies overbook anticipating that not all passengers will show up — and as a result, you can get bumped from your plane, train or bus. The American Society of Travel Agents says you can avoid this issue by arriving early, getting an advance seat assignment and checking in online.

Book ahead for extra help. If you’re travelling with medications that require syringes or you have special needs, notify your airline well in advance. (See 10 Tips for Travelling with a Disability.)

Avoid the busiest days. If possible, steer clear of peak travel days like just before Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That’s when airports, bus terminals and train stations are at their busiest. They’re also the days when many people are on the road, meaning traffic slowdowns and an increased risk for accidents. (If you’re travelling through the U.S., try to avoid the days before and after Thanksgiving as well.)

Give yourself plenty of time. Don’t pack that itinerary too tightly or you might risk missing your flight or that big event. Allow extra time to get to your destination. If you’re taking a bus or train that doesn’t offer seat assignments, you’ll need to line up ASAP if you want to sit with friends or family.

Wrap gifts when you get there. While you won’t have your arsenal of wrappings and ribbons, you’ll avoid damage and hassles when heading through security. Another option is to order online and let the retailer send the packages instead. Many companies offer free shipping promotions this time of year — just keep an eye out for the “order by” deadlines.

Stay informed. One of the benefits of living in the information age is that we get plenty of warning when something could affect our travels — like a major accident, travel advisory or severe weather. The radio, internet and TV can help you keep informed, and there are applications and feeds you can use on your cell phone or mobile device. Some airlines offer flight status updates via email or your mobile phone.

Look after your health. Food poisoning, colds and flu, stress and exhaustion are common health issues this time of year. Keep your hands clean, stick to your regular exercise routine and diet and take steps to avoid illnesses. And if “going home for the holidays” means crossing international borders, remember you’re not immune to health issues at your destination. According to travel health experts, many expats overlook preventive measures like anti-malarial medications and vaccinations because it’s “home.”

Take extra safety precautions. Unfortunately, the holiday season is also a busy time for crooks so take extra precautions with your luggage, cash and important documents. Be especially careful at transportation hubs, on public transit and in places where large numbers of people gather.

You’ll also want to take some extra security steps at home as it’s a popular time of year for break-ins. Extra lighting, a security alarm and a house sitter can help deter crooks. (For more tips, see Vacation proof your home.)

Pack emergency supplies. Winter driving can be hazardous, and you’ll want to be ready if you get stuck somewhere. An emergency kit with a shovel, windshield washer fluid, sand or kitty litter, blankets, candles, extra clothing and footwear and a first-aid kit can help you cope with an emergency. Don’t forget to include items like food and water, and carry any necessary medications with you. (For more tips, see 10 tips for a safe winter road trip.)

Pack light. Lots of travellers, bulky winter attire, sports equipment, and presents… all of this can add up to a lot of baggage. Save yourself some trouble by keeping luggage to a minimum.  (For tips, see Pack light to save hassles.)

Consider insurance. A lot can happen while you’re away. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance can help you recoup the costs if you need to cancel or rebook. Also, if you’re leaving the country — even if you’re just crossing the Canada/US border — you’ll need medical coverage to cover you in the event of an accident or illness.

What tips help you survive holiday travel? Tell us in the comments.

Sources: AirCanada.com, MSNBC Travel, American Society of Travel Agents, Transportation Security Administration, VIA Rail.


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