9 Ways To Make Holiday Travel Less Stressful This Year
The holiday season is famously one of the busiest travel times of the year. Just three weeks ago, the Transportation Security Administration screened the highest-ever number of people to go through security on a single day, with 2,907,378 individuals passing through airport checkpoints on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
The week leading up to Christmas promises to bring large numbers of travelers as well ― and with them, a large amount of stress.
“Traveling can be stressful, especially when it comes to air travel,” Katy Nastro, spokesperson for the flight alert service, Going, told HuffPost. “You’re very much out of control for the majority of the experience, and for many of us, the feeling of being in control keeps stress levels at bay. On top of all of that, you add the holidays, which pose their own unique stresses and expectations.”
In addition to crowds at the airport and full flights, there’s a potential for chaos with delays and cancellations (as we saw with Southwest Airlines last Christmas).
“Let’s not forget Mother Nature can wreak havoc in the form of flight disruptions due to winter storms,” Nastro added.
The holiday season brings a lot of strong emotions as well.
“People put such high importance on the holidays being perfect ― getting home to see friends and family, having the perfect gifts, and you’ve put so much effort in, probably a lot of money too ― that when things go wrong, you feel them 10 times more than you probably would at any other time of year,” said Meg Jerrard from Solo Female Travelers Tours.
“And when you’re already stressed, you tend to be paying less attention to the things you should be paying attention to, which means things go wrong more easily ― missing a turn on the highway and missing your flight, forgetting to pack important things because you’re frantic in the lead-up to leaving,” she added.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take in advance of and during the transit process to feel less on edge while traveling around this time. HuffPost asked Nastro, Jerrard and other travel experts to share their advice for making holiday travel less stressful.
Be strategic about when you fly.
“If you have not booked yet, opt for nonstop flights very early in the morning,” advised Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Cancellations and delays snowball throughout the day, so early-morning flights tend to experience fewer interruptions than those later in the day.”
Try to fly on days that are historically less busy as well. Dengler suggested Dec. 18, 19, 20, 28 and 29, as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as those tend to offer better prices and less chaos.
“Book your flights and accommodations well in advance to secure the best deals and availability,” added Brianna Glenn, CEO and travel adviser at Milk + Honey Travels. “Also, check the weather forecast and be prepared for any travel disruptions.”
In the event of disruptive weather, know your rights and options.
“Thanksgiving travel went smoothly, but Christmas and New Year’s have greater potential for snow storms,” Dengler said. “Check if your airline offers a weather waiver, which lets you change your flight at no additional cost if the forecast is looking bad.”
“Make a checklist and pack efficiently to avoid overpacking,” Glenn recommended. “Don’t forget essentials like chargers, travel documents and medications in your carry-on if you are checking luggage, and also include an AirTag in each piece of checked luggage.”
Try to fit everything into a carry-on luggage to minimize the risk of losing your belongings in transit.
“Do not check a bag unless you have to,” Dengler said. “Lines are usually long during the holidays to drop bags off, and airlines have been known to lose or misplace luggage more often during busy times. Many non-basic economy tickets allow you to bring a carry-on and a personal item, so check your ticket’s baggage allowance.”
And if traveling with a checked bag is essential, try to book a nonstop flight.
“Transferring a bag from flight to flight is one of the primary reasons bags can be lost,” Nastro said. “You can decrease these odds by flying straight to your source when possible!”
“Allow extra time for check-ins and security screenings to account for potential delays,” advised Jessica-Kameko Rooks, blogger at Travel With Meko. “Holiday travel, particularly when it involves air travel, can become notably stressful for several reasons.”
She pointed to the increase in the number of people traveling around the holiday season, which means crowded airports, long lines and packed flights.
“Additionally, heightened security measures during peak travel times can contribute to longer wait times and thorough screenings, making the overall experience more time-consuming and potentially frustrating,” Rooks added.
Give yourself enough buffer time to deal with the lengthy lines for security checkpoints and bag check counters (if you must). Consider enrolling in expedited security options like Clear or TSA PreCheck as well.
Staying organized goes a long way in reducing travel stress. Before your journey, make sure you have everything you need in order.
“Keep important documents, like your passport and boarding passes, easily accessible,” Glenn advised. “Have a designated spot for your travel essentials to avoid scrambling at security checkpoints.”
Don’t forget to prepare some entertainment as well. Glenn recommended packing books, and downloading movies and podcasts to keep yourself occupied during the journey.
“It can help distract you from any travel stress,” she added.
Maintain perspective and a positive attitude.
Don’t forget to pack your patience, perspective and positive attitude. It will help with stressful moments.
“So your flight is delayed and you’re stuck in an airport for 15 hours? Make it an adventure,” Jerrard said. “You can choose to see things as a terrible way to spend the holidays, or as that memory that you and your kids tell for 20 years to come at the Christmas table, that you went on a treasure hunt through an airport on Christmas Eve.”
Embody the holiday spirit and look for moments of magic ― or create them yourself. Do what you can do, enjoy the ride and be present.
“Holidays don’t need to be perfect to be memorable, or to achieve what you want them to be,” Jerrard said. “Focus on what’s important to you instead. Are you delayed with your family in the airport? Start spending time together there. Are you in the airport solo? Use the downtime as an opportunity to start video calling people you wouldn’t have otherwise had the time to call.”
Take care of yourself.
“Stay hydrated and rested,” Glenn urged. “Travel can be exhausting, so prioritize self-care.”
She emphasized the importance of drinking plenty of water, getting sleep and taking breaks when needed during the stressful holiday travel season.
Consider travel insurance.
“Consider travel insurance for added peace of mind in case of unexpected events,” Rooks said.
Holiday travel often comes with inclement weather and unplanned cancellations, so do your research to see if travel insurance is worth it for your trip.
“I highly recommend that travelers buy travel insurance and also develop alternative plans for travel,” echoed Jessica van Dop DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler. “The reality is that travel volume is at a record high, so travelers have to be patient and cover their costs.”
If your travel includes expensive non-refundable bookings that aren’t covered by your credit card’s insurance policy, then separate travel insurance might be the move. Compare plans and choose the best one for you.
Think about a solo trip.
“Try traveling solo,” suggested Radha Vyas, co-founder and CEO of adventure travel company Flash Pack. “When you’re only responsible for yourself, you can focus on what you really want to get out of the trip and allow your mind to broaden to new experiences and connections.”
There are countless advantages to solo travel, including the ability to move at your preferred pace and prioritize what matters to you. As we transition from 2023 into 2024, you might also benefit from taking the time alone to reflect on your experiences this past year and set goals for the new year.
Avoid holiday travel if you can.
“If possible, do not fly at all,” Dengler said. “While you can do everything right, traveling around the holidays is still stressful. The greatest risk is severe weather that grounds flights for more than a few days.”
Staying home can offer a truly relaxing and cozy holiday experience. If that’s not an option for you, however, try to be as flexible as you can with your dates.
“For example, my husband and I flew on Dec. 31 and rang the new year in the sky on our way to Peru, and we saved $150 per person by not traveling on Dec. 30,” van Dop DeJesus said. “It’s not about celebrating on an exact date but finding the way to share with your loved ones.”