If you want to avoid crowded highways and airports, just don’t travel between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But you want to celebrate holidays with out-of-town loved ones with skiing trips and other vacations only possible when family and friends are off work and out of school.
Face it: For most of us, some amount of travel during those six weeks is inevitable.
“Visiting friends and family is the single biggest reason Americans travel during the holidays. Visits account for 53 percent of all Thanksgiving long-distance trips and 43 percent of long-distance trips during Christmas/New Year’s,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Other findings from the federal government:
- the average Thanksgiving long-distance trip is 214 miles, compared with 275 miles over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday;
- 99 percent of the Thanksgiving trips are within the U.S., while 3 percent of trips in late December are international;
- the average age of travelers during the two travel periods is 35 years old.
On the (Crowded) Road
Traveling by car, especially over the shorter Thanksgiving holiday, can be challenging. You’re likely to face long lines at rest stops and gas stations, and slow traffic and impatient drivers on the highway. Reduce your anxiety by expecting delays and by being prepared.
Before you leave, check your vehicle. Does oil need to be changed, windshield wipers or fluid replaced, tires rotated or inflated, or other maintenance? Pack snacks and water, flashlight and cell phone charger. Weather is unpredictable during November and December, so include an umbrella, ice scraper, snow shovel and blanket. Even if you have GPS, a map comes in handy for detours and weather emergencies.
Speaking of weather, seven-day and longer forecasts are readily available from the National Weather Service, so check regularly for updates and warnings.
Once on the road, AAA recommends you keep valuables in the trunk or covered and give children a whistle to use in case of becoming separated during stops or other emergencies.
If possible, hit the road when it’s likely to be less crowded – early Thanksgiving morning, for instance, instead of Wednesday afternoon.
Fly the (Crowded) Skies
Air travel takes lots of planning these days, from researching websites for best flights and prices to packing luggage to selecting comfortable clothing for the long wait.
TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has developed a pretty lengthy checklist to help you prepare for your holiday flight. Here are five items:
- Call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 if you or a family member with a disability or medical condition has questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint 72 hours prior to traveling.
- Wrapped gifts are allowed, but not encouraged, and inspectors have the right to unwrap them for inspection. (Better yet, consider shipping gifts to your destination.)
- Cakes and pies, wine and other beverages are permitted, but check this list to see what items and size are allowed in checked and carry-on bags.
- Yes you can travel with medication, both in carry-on and checked bags, but refer to this list for specifics.
- Passengers 75 years of age or older can keep shoes and light jacket on during screening. (So can children 12 and under.)
ExpertFlyer.com co-founder John Lopinto has other tips for holiday air travel. Pick your seats as soon as possible so you can fly with family members and get a more desirable spot.
He also recommends purchasing a TSA approved lock for checked bags. With such a lock, you have a combination and TSA uses a master key if it needs to be unlocked. (The packaging will indicate if it is TSA approved.)
Keep Your Home Safe
We all know to stop mail and newspaper delivery while away, though some people prefer having a neighbor pick up deliveries so only a few trusted people know of your travels plans.
But what about posting your travel highlights and photographs on Facebook and other social media, or mentioning travel plans on voice mail? Safety experts recommend saying as little as possible and waiting until you return home to post.
And along with using timers to turn lights off and on, take preventative measures to avoid water damage, the second most common cause of homeowner insurance claims. If no one will be checking your house while you are away, turn off the main valve and keep the heat on low to prevent freezing pipes.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.