Roughly 91.9 million Americans are expected to travel this holiday season, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), and almost all of those trips will involve either stressful flights or long drives.
This Christmas season, and for those traveling for New Year's Day, cut time, costs and stress from your holiday travel plans by following these twelve tips for fliers and drivers.
We guarantee that if you follow these tips for the 2011-2012 holiday season, you'll have a much merrier Christmas and a happier New Year when you reach your destination.
First off are those who plan to fly for the holidays, braving crowded airports and canceled flights this Christmas. If you're planning to fly for Christmas or New Year's, here are six tips to help make your holidays plans less of a headache.
1. Verify and Double-Check Your Flight Plans
If your family booked their tickets online, be sure to call the airline a few days beforehand to make sure the sale went through, and that you got the seats you selected. Airlines are notoriously overbooked for the holidays, and many think nothing of spacing out seats, even when families are trying to travel together.
If you're traveling with children under the age of 15, check that you're not seated together in an exit row. Minors aren't allowed to sit there, and your family may find itself spread across the airplane's seating chart if you don't double-check the rows.
Finally, make sure to check that all your documents are up-to-date. As of this holiday season, U.S. Airports are now required to report the names, birth dates and genders of all passengers to the TSA, meaning airlines will be checking your information much more closly than usual. To avoid delays or losing your seat, verify that all your information is the same, and that it's all correct.
2. Pack as Light as Possible
It's hard to do over the holidays, but try to only pack carry-on items when you travel. Almost all airlines (with the notabel exception of Southwest Air) charge at least $20 per checked bag, and lines are sure to be atrocious in the days leading up to Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
Most airlines let passengers bring on a purse or backpack as well as a carry-on item, meaning you can easily bring two bags per person on board. Follow this holiday tip to avoid the stress, the charge ... and the chance that your bag might be lost on its way to the holidays.
3. Don't Wrap Your Christmas Presents
When you fly during the holidays, it's always best to pack everything you can in clear plastic bags, so nothing will fall out and security can check it quicker.
But what about Christmas presents for the family? If you can, don't wrap them beforehand. Wrapped packages are automatically suspicious, and if you're traveling internationally then security is guaranteed to strip the wrapping paper off.
If you won't have a chance to wrap the presents on-site, you can always send them ahead. Depending on how heavy your purchases were, it may actually be cheaper to send Christmas gifts through UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. A 10-pound package from Cleveland, Oh. to Tampa, Fl., for instance costs $16 and takes only three days to ship.
4. Pack Your Cell Phone Charger
One of the worst things that can happen during a delayed or canceled Christmas flight is your phone running out of battery, but many holiday travelers forget this simple step when they prepare to fly.
Because outlets are likely to be crowded by travelers on their laptops and smartphones, take this tip one step further and have a full battery when you leave home.
5. Get to Airport Early.
This is something parents have been telling their kids early holiday when they fly home from college, but it's the kind of statement that only gets more true each year.
The days leading up to Christmas Eve are the worst for lines, airport mix-ups and baggage issues year-round, which means that early on a regular day needs to be moved back at least an hour to account for the holiday crush. This Christmas and New Year, try to arrive between 3-4 hours early if you're traveling on a busy day at a popular airport.
6. Be Polite
The easiest and most easily forgotten piece of advice for holiday travelers who fly. The heavier Christmas traffic becomes and the more issues crop up, the more airline employees will start to hate their jobs, and the less they'll want to help someone who's snapping at them to hurry up with their tickets.
Take the time to say hello, please and thank you to them, and offer them a sympathetic smile. If they mention how busy the schedule is, offer a remark about how difficult their jobs must be, and thank them again for their help and patience.
Many passengers have stories about getting to the top of waiting lists, getting choice upgrades or simply getting onto an alternative flight because they took the time to recognize the airline employee's existence.
Follow those six tips for flying during Christmas and New Year's, and you're set to save time, money and hassle this holiday season.
But what if you're driving this holiday season? Some 10 million families are expected to hit the road for the holidays, and although they often avoid some time and money pitfalls, other problems often spring up.
Here are six more tips, with those driving for Christmas in mind, to help you get to your destination this winter.
1. If You're Renting, Make Sure It's Legal
Some college students or senior citizens opt to rent a car to drive for the holidays, reasoning that they won't have to plan the trip as far in advance. But for many car rental companies, there's a minimum age of 25 to rent a vehicle (otherwise there's usually a member fee), and some seniors can't drive at all, no matter how able they may be.
If you plan to rent a car for driving to your holiday destination, check the fine print on the web site regarding age rules. If rental cars fall through and you didn't book a flight, you can always try the Amtrak line or make do on a bus.
2. Load Your Cell Phone (With Numbers)
Having a fully charged cell phone is essential on the road, but something else is equally crucial: having emergency numbers on hand. Track down local emergency lines, family numbers and other important digits before you drive, then log them both in your phone's address book and on a piece of paper.
That way, if bad weather or an accident threatens to ruin your Christmas vacation, this holiday travel tip will have guaranteed you a way to reach someone who can help, even if your driving is cut short.
3. Know When to Drive and What Road Conditions Are
Drivers often find that the day before Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve itself are the busiest days to travel, just like at the airport. If you can travel early on Christmas Day, or set out a few days beforehand, you'll have better traffic and an easier, safer ride.
Many drivers are also likely to have bad weather to battle as they travel for the holidays, so it's important to check road conditions and the local weather in advance. The Federal Highway Administration's website provides links to construction information nationwide, and sites like Weather Underground often give accurate hourly reports.
4. Save on Toll Roads
This holiday traveling tip is one the few take advantage of, even when it saves them time and money on the road. If you're going to be driving on toll roads, buy an E-Z Pass Transponder for your windshield. They cost 75 cents per month and require a $25 starting balance, but they also let you bypass stopped traffic, get you automatically through bridges and roadways across the Eastern U.S., and even get discounts by using that pass.
5. Create a Car Safety Kit
It may be a light year for snow this December (at least after the blizzards that came earlier in October), but it's always better to be safe than sorry when you're traveling long distances in the winter, especially during the holiday traveling season.
Safety kit basics are blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, a radio, a first aid kit, jumper cables and an ice scraper. If you have room, it doesn't hurt to add non-perishable snacks like food and nuts, some bottles of water, and an extra pair of thick gloves.
As part of your prep for car safety, also try to get your car in for a checkup before you travel. Breaking down on the side of the road can ruin a holiday and be dangerous, especially if you're traveling with small children. At the least, check your tires, fluid levels and windshield wipers to make sure they're working properly.
6. Plan Schedule and Stops
Another holiday travel tips is that driving at night means avoiding traffic and having sleeping kids in the backseat. If you can handle night travel, set up as schedule with a driving buddy who'll keep you awake and alert and who can switch places if needed.
If you prefer to travel during the day, you can still cut down on time by planning out your stops in advance. Whether it's as general as the town you'll take a break in or the restaurant where your family will have lunch, plotting out your holiday trip will make it seem faster and keep you to a schedule.