Hate to grit your teeth in gridlock, or pay an arm and a leg to stand in line at the airport? Holiday travel thins pocketbooks and tests patience of travelers everywhere—but fear not, dear urbanite. Plan your travel wisely (and with time to spare) and you can minimize the stress this holiday travel season.
Avoid Last-Minute Surprises
Bringing home food or wrapped gifts? Look into the rules for airplanes, trains, and other forms of transportation ahead of time.
If you’re hoping to delight your far-away family with a home-cooked meal, you’re probably wondering what menu items can make it through security. Turns out, turkeys really can fly (and so can pies!), but they’re subject to normal search procedures. Your cranberry sauce is also allowed, but—like any fluid—it must be 100ml or smaller, and in a 1-quart resealable bag to come with you in your carry-on. Flu season peaks December through March, so make sure your food is protected from germs when traveling.
Wrapped gifts are also subject to TSA inspection, also known as unwrapping. Save yourself the trouble by preparing your presents for presentation after you land instead. If you’ve got a beautifully wrapped gift and want to avoid spoilers at all costs, traveling by car avoids this hassle, plus eliminates the risk of an airline losing your bag (and your sack of gifts). That risk, however, is very small, so don’t sweat it too much.
Smart travel prep takes pets into account, too. Dog-sitter–finding app Rover helps you secure a trusted human to watch your four-legged friend while you are gone. If you are taking them with you, read up on airline pet policies well in advance. And don’t fur-get: Fido and Fluffy are both welcome to come with you and your travel buddies in a Zipcar; just be sure to keep them safe in a pet carrier.
Before You Drive
Plan out your route before you drive. Hint: try to leave in the morning or evening instead of the middle of the day.
If you’re four-wheeling it, make sure you have a car booked ahead of time, as the holidays are a time of high demand. Naturally, we’re partial to the Zipcar app, which lets you reserve wheels ahead of time—or on-demand—by the hour, day, or week, and shows you where the nearest cars are. Zipcars are also available at more than 50 airports, so if you’re traveling by plane, there may just be a Zipcar on hand where you land.
The road is in fact a popular place to be during the festive season. More Americans plan to drive during the holidays instead of fly, and everyone is a procrastinator. Make your drive as efficient as possible by installing traffic-busting app Waze to avoid the busiest routes on your way out of town. Waze also helps you find the best deals on fuel near you, so you won’t feel pressured when the needle heads toward empty in an unfamiliar part of town. (Plus—gift-givers that we are—Zipcar always pays for the gas during your reservations.)
To determine the path of least resistance before you get behind the wheel, you can also pick specific departure times and arrival times in Google Maps. The middle of the day tends to be the busiest on days many of us will likely take off work, so plan to drive in the mornings or evenings.
Before You Fly
For the best deal, try to buy your airline tickets between three months and 30 days prior to your trip home.
Think ahead and buy your tickets during the seasons when the sun stays up past closing time. The travel gurus at farecompare looked over airline ticket prices from the 2016 holiday season and found that shoppers saw prices rise over $3 per day on flights leaving from hub cities New York, Boston, LA, Denver, and Atlanta if they waited until after October 1 to buy. That’s a lot of gravy. They recommend buying tickets between three months and 30 days prior to your trip to save cash. (Still haven’t booked? Something to keep in mind for next year!)
Have your dates locked in, but are unsure of the best exact day to buy? Flight-booking app Hopper lets you input your desired travel dates and then compares your choices against a database of historical airfares to let you know if today is a good day to book your trip, and—if not—predicts the best time to make the final click.
And then there’s the cost of transporting your luggage, too. Checked baggage can be expensive, so consider sending gifts bought from e-commerce sites straight to the recipients and just ask for a little patience before opening. If you have a huge family’s worth of gifts or simply aren’t the type to travel light, consider Amtrak, where you can take two free carry-on size bags, and even skis and snowboards. Cars, of course, are also cargo friendly.
What lessons have you learned about savvy holiday travel? Share your festive tips in the comments below!