10 Holiday Travel Hacks Travel + Leisure Editors Swear By

T+L Editors' Holiday Travel Hacks
Photo: Getty Images

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

Traveling during the holidays can be stressful — especially when you're hitting the road and the skies with tens of millions of other Americans.

But whether you're heading home for Thanksgiving dinner or stretching your snowbird wings and flying somewhere tropical, knowing how to navigate the crowds, plan, and pack everything from clothes to presents can make all the difference when it comes to traveling easy between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Fortunately, Travel + Leisure's editors have a few clever tips for surviving the season with their holiday cheer fully intact. Consider this your guide to making it through every flight, drive, and train ride without breaking a sweat.

01 of 10

Fly direct whenever possible

First Morning Flight, Sunrise
E Woolley/Getty Images

"Flying during the holiday season is expensive, so you might be tempted to save a few bucks and opt for a flight itinerary with a stopover or two, but I always encourage people to fly direct whenever they can. Between inclement weather, overbooked planes, and other flight schedule mishaps, delays happen, so minimize travel plan disruption by flying direct to your destination. It will be exponentially less stressful — if your departure is delayed, you won't miss your connecting flight, and there's less of a chance that your luggage will be lost." — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor

02 of 10

Pack your patience

A woman wearing face mask, sitting and relaxing at airport terminal waiting area
whyframestudio/Getty Images

"The truth is, we're all on each others very last nerve. After nearly two years of that pandemic life, it's not gonna be chill to stand in line at the airport, overpay for a wrap, and get jammed into a middle seat next to somebody who's got a bad case of mask slippage. But you know what? That holiday trip will eventually end, and you'll be there soon enough. So don't be a jerk, least of all to the airline crews, security staff, and overworked airport folks who are just doing their jobs. Download some shows, throw in those earbuds, and look on the bright side: At least this year we actually get to go somewhere!" — Paul Brady, Articles Editor

03 of 10

Arrive really early

T+L Editors' Holiday Travel Hacks
Yuji Kotani/Getty Images

"Getting to the airport hours before your flight is almost always a good idea, but it's even more important during this holiday season. Travel regulations and short-staffed airports and airlines can lead to long lines when checking bags or going through security, so it's best to air on the side of caution as many Americans get back into holiday travel this year." — Elizabeth Rhodes, Associate Digital Editor

04 of 10

Downsize and streamline

The new Apple iPad mini in purple
Courtesy of Apple

"After a lifetime of stuffing my carry-on items with things I might need "just in case," I've adopted a minimalist (and, okay, more honest) attitude toward holiday packing. I use my smallest rollaboard suitcase, fill my packing cubes with only the clothing I know I'm going to wear (read: nothing fancy!), whittle my toiletries and makeup down to the most essential items, and download a mix of books and TV episodes to my feather-light iPad mini rather than cramming two hardbacks into my tote. This approach has not only lightened my physical load, but my stress levels." — Sarah Bruning, Senior Editor

05 of 10

Fly on the actual holiday

Travelers walk through the airport terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia,
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

"Why deal with the chaos of the busiest travel days of the year, when you can be part of a secret club instead? Some people hate being at the airport on Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year's Eve, but I love the fraternity that only takes hold on those days. It always seems that everyone smart enough to fly on those relatively calm days is giving each other a wink and a nod, like, 'Hey, this guy right here? He gets it.' Be like that guy." — Paul Brady, Articles Editor

06 of 10

Be prepared to check a "gift" bag

Passengers with gifts at baggage claim at Pulkovo airport, St. Petersburg, Russia
Igor Russak/Getty Images

"I'm one of those people who never, ever wants to check a bag, but I now fully embrace checking one on my return flight after the Christmas holiday. I spent years trying not to grimace if gifted a fancy full-size shampoo I love, a gorgeous bottle of olive oil or wine, or any other item that couldn't go in my carry on or that was going to be a pain to lug around. It's much less stressful (and far more gracious) to just be physically — and mentally — prepared to check a spare bag filled with all the wonderful, generous, TSA-unfriendly gifts that might come your way." — Skye Senterfeit, Deputy Photo Editor

07 of 10

Be ready with the bribes

Hand holding or giving bunch of 50 euro banknotes.
Anurak Tepkhamtai/Getty Images

"One super-savvy frequent flier I know swears by a simple tactic to always get his way: just bribe people. Seriously. Pack a few gift cards in your carry on — maybe a $20 Starbucks card, a $20 Apple credit, stuff like that — and be ready to spend 'em when things get dicey. Want to swap seats at the last minute? Break out the gift card. Need a little extra overhead space? Boom, here goes $20. Need those yakking people in the next row to zip it? Pass that extra gravy on up. It might be the best 20 bucks you spend all year." — Paul Brady, Articles Editor

08 of 10

Avoid budget airlines if you can

A United 737-MAX 9 Livery in flight
Courtesy of United Airlines

"We all love a good flight deal, especially during the holidays when prices tend to soar. But after a few too many budget airline mishaps, I'm a firm believer that when it comes to air travel, you get what you pay for — and while no airline is immune to delays and cancelations, over the holidays especially, poor customer service and bare-bones policies in these situations can ruin a trip and cost you precious time with family and friends. (Also, by the time you pay for extra baggage to lug all those gifts, how much did you really save?) During COVID, too, I've found budget airlines to be less transparent in terms of laying out rules and helping passengers ensure they're arriving to the airport with everything required to travel. So, the holidays can be hectic enough... pay a little extra, if you can, to save yourself some stress on the journey." — Nina Ruggiero, Deputy Digital Editor

09 of 10

Ship your gifts

T+L Editors' Holiday Travel Hacks
Getty Images/iStockphoto

"There's nothing like having to check a bag to turn me into a total holiday grinch. To avoid lugging an unwieldy suitcase to the airport, I always opt for buying my gifts online, then shipping them directly to my destination. This also reduces the chances of a lost bag — and showing up empty-handed. (If you do decide to pack your gifts, remember to keep the wrapping off, as TSA agents may need to rip items open during screening). As for returning with a sack full of presents? Compare the costs for checking extra luggage versus shipping gifts home — I've found that the latter can be more cost-effective, depending on the airline. Plus, the ease and comfort of traveling light is the best holiday gift of all." — Alisha Prakash, Senior Digital Editor

10 of 10

Stash some essentials at a family member's house

Drawer Full of Organized Young Girl Clothing
Carol Yepes/Getty Images

"If you stay with the same person every time you travel home for the holidays, ask if you can keep a handful of items there (they'll likely oblige, especially if they're a parent or sibling). Packing will become a way less stressful part of the journey if you know you have a few sweaters, pairs of shoes, and skincare items waiting for you at your destination. Plus, it'll free up space in your suitcase for gifts that you plan to give — and get." — Hillary Maglin, Assistant Digital Editor

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