Passengers queue to check-in at terminal 1 of Heathrow Airport on December 19, 2006 in London, England. 

Scott Barbour / Staff

Here's how to navigate the hectic holiday travel season.

Aric Jenkins
December 21, 2017

The holidays are a notoriously stressful time to travel, with jampacked airports, congested roads, and increased fares across the board from hotel bookings to rental cars. With a record number of Americans traveling this year — roughly 107 million journeying 50 miles or more, according to the AAA — that anxiety could intensify.

Fortunately, there are some tips that can be utilized to make the best of your voyage. To help travelers navigate holiday travel, we spoke with six globetrotters on how they make the most out of their Christmas vacations. Here’s their tips:

Double-check Admission Hours for Sights and Attractions

Those visiting popular destinations during the holidays should check whether attractions are really open or have special hours of operation during the Christmas season, according to Rick Steves, the travel writer and television host known for his PBS documentary series Rick Steves’ Europe.

“Your guidebook will say it’s open Tuesday through Sunday, closed on Monday on these hours, but the days around Christmas might be different,” Steves said. “If a particular sight is important to you, be sure that you confirm that it’s open on the day you hope to see it,” he added, also suggesting visitors make reservations for the attraction when applicable.

Be a Contrarian Traveler

Consider visiting places that other people rarely visit, as Matthew Kepnes, travel blogger and author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, suggested.

“When you think about Christmas, New Years, everyone wants to go someplace warm, so you tend to see higher prices in like Florida, the Caribbean, as well as Mexico and Hawaii,” Kepnes said. “So I like to think… go where people don’t go. Maybe Europe. If you want some warm weather, then say Italy, Greece, Spain,” he added, noting the potential for cheaper airfare.

“Everyone goes to Costa Rica and Nicaragua — why not go to Belize, or maybe Guatemala?” Kepnes said. “My favorite places to go during the holiday season is where everybody does not go.”

Be Kind to Airline and Airport Staff

You may be on vacation during the holidays, but the people working to ensure you arrive at your destination are still on the clock, noted Kate McCulley, a Forbes 2017 top 10 travel influencer who runs the Adventurous Kate blog. Treating them with respect can increase your chances of a pleasurable trip at a time when most people are stressed out, she said.

“They always receive disproportionate anger from people nearby, and it can really brighten someone’s day just to be nice to them,” McCulley explained. “It’s always nice to bring, say, a bag of candy bars or something for the airline staff. If you do that, they will take care of you beautifully.”

Bring a Spare Change of Clothes in Your Carry-on

The holidays mean crowded airports — and crowded airports mean more bags for workers to check and hence, more room for error, said Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods. He suggested you be prepared for the worst possible outcome, just in case.

“I think lost bags on busier travel days of the year have a 50% increase over the mean, so the chances are greater on your Christmas trip that you’re going to get a lost bag than on your March trip,” Zimmern said. “I always make sure I have a change of clothes.”

Prepare Yourself for Stress — and Accept That Things Can Go Wrong

You can follow all of the tips above and make the necessary preparations for holiday travel. But the most important one, according to CNN Business Traveller host Richard Quest, is coming to terms with the fact that things might go wrong no matter how much you try.

“Just be ready, and when it happens, you’ll be able to sit there smiling sweetly,” Quest said. “When you travel on Christmas, for you as the traveler — whether you’re in 1A or 39D — there is a mental state that you have to put yourself in, that you’re traveling at the busiest time of the year and you’re going to take whatever comes your way.

“Become zen-like. Do not allow little things to fluster you,” Quest added. “The flight’s delayed, the crew’s late, you may not get the seat you want, the last chicken sandwich may have gone, the movie may not work, but you will at least be sitting there humming along to yourself a little bit happier.”

Take Advantage of ‘Dead Weeks’ for Discounted Airfare

Holiday travel doesn’t need to be during the holidays, per se. If you’re on a budget, considering celebrating away from home at the start of the New Year (or even after Thanksgiving).

“There are two weeks in the travel industry every year that are known as ‘dead weeks,’” explained travel journalist Peter Greenberg. “It’s the week immediately after Thanksgiving and the week immediately after New Years. People don’t travel the week after Thanksgiving because they’re recovering from their obligatory, dysfunctional family get-together, and they don’t travel the week after New Years because they’re simply recovering

“If you want to do yourself a big favor, travel starting January 3rd and take that week off because nobody’s traveling, you’ll own it, you can celebrate the New Year on your terms, on your budget, with your friends, and not have to mortgage your house,” Greenberg said, adding that the “dead weeks” apply to airlines all over the world.

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