Thanksgiving, which is just over a week away, marks the unofficial kickoff to the holiday travel season. Yep! It’s the most wonderful time of the year … or is it?
Those traveling over the holidays may take exception to the iconic Andy Williams’ Christmas song, given the prospect of crowded airports, traffic jams, canceled or delayed flights, and trying to cram gifts and properly sized toiletries into a small carry-on bag. It’s enough to make even the most experienced traveler cringe.
But worry not! We’re here to help you turn the potential ho-ho-horror into hip-hip-hooray! From packing tips to useful products to the must-have travel apps everyone needs, consider this your holiday travel survival guide, which also includes some simple, yet sage, advice, all just in time for the start of the holiday travel season!
1. Forget the sleigh and think FedEx.
Or UPS. Or USPS. Shipping gifts ahead of your travel is the first step to destressing your trip. Why? You can wrap them beautifully and not worry about the TSA unwrapping them. Plus, if your bag doesn’t arrive at your final destination, your gifts won’t either … another solid reason to ship ahead. Even better, if you are heading to a cold climate, you can pad your gifts with those bulky winter coats or snow pants. And, if you are driving, shipping gifts allows more room for suitcases and winter gear.
2. Pack wisely.
Whether you’re carrying on or checking a bag, you can pack a vacation’s worth of clothing in a small space. Look for packing cubes and envelopes, like our go-to gear from Eagle Creek, to maximize your space. You can get from seven to 15 items in a single Pack-It envelope, which comes with a folding board. We give one packing cube and one envelope to each family member, which also helps to keep clothes organized at grandma’s house.
Your holiday finery will arrive wrinkle-free with this easy trick: keep the item on the hanger, wrap it in tissue, or cover it with a plastic bag, being sure to smooth out any wrinkles in the tissue or bag. Fold the item to fit into your suitcase, and you are good to go.
3. A word about those liquids …
If you’re checking a bag and can’t live without your full-size versions of shampoo, conditioner and various beauty and makeup products, gallon-size plastic bags with a zipper seal (not the sliding lock) should be your new bestie. Trust us, though, when we advise: Double bag. Double bag. Double bag.
If you’re carrying on, you know by now it’s nearly impossible to cram all of your trial-size liquids into a quart-size bag. (Clearly, a man came up with that rule!) And the rule, by the way, is still 3-1-1, which equals 3.4-ounce or smaller liquids in one quart-size bag, and one such bag per person.
Ditch the liquids in favor of some nonliquid, TSA-friendly products, like shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush ($10.95 & up); makeup remover towelettes from Olay, Neutrogena and other brands ($6.95 & up); and pick up a powder foundation, like Laura Mercier Smooth Finish Foundation Powder ($47; click here to find a retailer near you).
Finally, be sure to pack our go-to travel workhorse: A travel-size bottle of Febreze. There’s no better way to freshen — and extend the life of — your travel wardrobe than a spritz or two of this miracle worker.
4. Breeze through security.
One sure way to cut down on your wait time in long holiday security lines is through the TSA Pre✓ program. Travelers who qualify for this program are rewarded with exclusive, expedited security lanes and don’t have to remove shoes, belts, your 3-1-1 liquids or laptop.
Speed up your TSA time by carrying your chunky or expensive jewelry in your purse (put it on after you’re through security) and wearing shoes that are simple, with no metal embellishments, that are also easy to remove. Leave your phone in your purse.
Then there’s your choice of bra. Yes, best to support the ladies without the underwire whilst traveling. Again, we know of what we speak, having been delayed (and wanded and patted down) at multiple airports across the globe, all because we decided to wear our fancy French bra.
5. Finally, plan for the unexpected.
We’re back to the Boy Scout rule of being prepared, as holiday travel is rife with tales of traveler woes.
Car travelers — Prepare for the trip with a full tank of gas, an emergency kit in the trunk and a first aid kit in the car. Consider bringing a few extra blankets, if you’re traveling to a colder region.
Also, car travelers should follow the Twitter accounts of the departments of transportation from each state through which they are driving, and consider community-fueled apps, like Waze, for real-time conditions on major routes.
Air travelers — Follow the rule of layered clothing for travel, so you can pop a small bag with an extra T-shirt or tank and a change of unmentionables in your tote, just in case your luggage doesn’t arrive when you do. Pack extra snacks for the family in the event your flight is delayed and your one-hour layover turns into a sprint through the airport to board your next flight.
Follow your airline’s Twitter account for updates on delays and issues, and do some advance research on your flight path, so you can check for potential weather and airport delays. FlightAware offers real-time updates, as well as push alerts for changes and delays. It’s available for iOS and Android smartphones.
And whether you’re traveling by road or by air, download the Weather Channel app and add your destinations for the latest weather conditions.
Even with loads of advance planning and preparation, holiday travel can always be counted on to be a mixed bag of delays, packed planes and traffic jams. So pack your patience and good humor — and buckle up for the adventure that is traveling over the holiday season. Good luck!!
Here’s your quickie guide to everything we discussed:
Waze: Free, real-time traffic app available for iPhone and Android
FlightAware: Free flight status and tracking website and app for iPhone and Android
Weather Channel: Free, localized and travel weather iPhone and Android app and website
Holiday shipping dates are all over the map (pun definitely intended). Click your preferred shipper’s link below to check their seasonal deadlines.
FedEx Holiday Shipping
UPS Holiday Shipping
United States Postal Service Holiday Shipping
Sally Walker is a seasoned traveler and a longtime travel writer who shares her travel experience and adventures with not only StyleBlueprint, but also at The Memphis Commercial Appeal, AOL Travel and 10Best.com. She’s also the author of An Explorer’s Guide to Tennessee. Learn more about her at TheDestinationDiva.com.
If you’re traveling to one of our SB markets this holiday season, download the SB App to help you live like a local. It’s currently available for Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham and Louisville.