The Best Holiday Travel Hacks From Travel + Leisure Editors
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.
From investing in noise-canceling headphones to staying healthy on the road, consider this your full-proof guide to making it through every flight, drive, and train ride without breaking a sweat.
Fly at undesirable times.
“While setting an alarm for 4 a.m. may seem extremely painful the night before, booking a really early flight on notoriously busy days has often helped me avoid the relentless holiday crowds. Arriving with the very early risers will often yield a much quieter and more serene airport experience, in contrast to the mayhem that sets in by 10 a.m. around the holidays. Additionally, if you don’t mind flying on the morning of Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, the crowds are likely to be less chaotic than they would be on December 22nd or 23rd.” — Bailey Bennett, Audience Engagement Editor
Arrive really early.
“I tend to fly the day after Christmas (always in the a.m.) and in order to avoid ever missing a flight due to the snaking TSA security lines, I forgo an hour or two of sleep and get to the airport really early. That way you have more wiggle room in case there's either traffic or lines. You might be tired, but there are plenty of lounge chairs to curl up in and coffee shops to grab a double espresso when you're in the terminal. Definitely better than sleeping in and missing your flight home.” — Kira Turnbull, Photo Assistant
Avoid holiday traffic.
“My extended family is scattered across the Northeast, so I can expect at least a few long drives during the holiday season. Instead of sticking to a typical route and risking standstill traffic that could add hours to my trip, I rely on apps like Waze to adjust the route as I drive.” — Julia Warren, Digital Producer
“Fare gurus have long suggested flying mid-week, as travelers can often score the best flight deals if they’re willing to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday. This tip can also help beat some of the intense crowds that pack airports on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (both of which fall on the weekend this year). When I know I’ll be able to pass through security and board my flight without the crush of a few hundred added travelers in J.F.K. Airport, I’m able to relax and begin preparing mentally for the festivities and familial spats of the holiday season.” — Jess McHugh, Digital Reporter
Find a deal.
“If your schedule is flexible and you’re not flying long haul, look for fares on the actual holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve, and you might find a valuable deal. Travel agents also have access to fares that you might otherwise not find doing a typical web search on KAYAK or Google Flights. And if you need a same-day flight, use the Get the Flight Out app (iOS only) from fare tracker Hopper.” — Chris Tkaczyk, Senior News Editor
Buy extra time — and space.
“My crazy holiday schedule means I usually have to fly at the worst possible times — like the day before Thanksgiving, or right on Christmas Eve — so I’ll take any help I can get to expedite the nightmarish airport process. An Even More Space ticket with JetBlue gives me a taste of first-class privileges for as little as $15 each way: I get to skip to the front of those interminable security lines at more than 60 major airports (including my home base of JFK) plus I’m invited to board first, meaning priority access to limited overhead space. And the extra legroom is crucial for us tall travelers!” — CB Owens, Copy & Research Editor
Ship your gifts ahead of time.
The TSA swears it's okay to bring your beautifully wrapped gifts through airport security, but I don't like taking any chances. And if you're thinking about bringing a fancy Wüsthof knife set for your in-laws, you should know TSA will absolutely confiscate it: wrapped or otherwise. To be safe, ship your gifts before you leave. — Melanie Lieberman, Associate Digital Editor
Roll your clothes.
“If there’s any time you’ll need more space in your suitcase, it’s during the holidays. Finding room for gifts—both the ones you’re giving and receiving—is the ultimate struggle, but one packing strategy that I find works pretty well is rolling my clothes. Instead of folding and stacking, roll and layer each item. You’d be amazed at how much you can pack into a carry-on. As a matter of fact, the technique works so well that I actually use it every day when storing clothes in my dresser.” — John Scarpinato, Editorial Assistant
“Whether you’re headed somewhere sunny or anticipating a white Christmas, winter travel is tough on your skin. Don’t just assume Mom will have everything you need waiting for you — stock up on helpful travel-sized products like moisturizers, hydrating facial sprays or oils, and sheet masks. (And be sure to hide them from prying siblings upon arrival, unless you feel like sharing.) I love TULA Hydrating Day & Night Cream, Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil (and more importantly, so does Kate Middleton), Rehydrating Neroli Water, and Filorga Paris Hydra-Filler Masks for the plane ride (they’re well worth the odd glances you’ll get from fellow passengers, and make flying economy feel much more luxurious). After all, you want to look good in all those family photos.” — Nina Ruggiero, Senior Digital Editor
Get free amenities.
“Airlines often have a handful of complimentary items for passengers — if you know to ask. These include everything from sanitizing wipes to help fight off germs to children’s toys to keep tots occupied during long flights. On select Hawaiian Airlines flights, kids can score a ukulele, while plush toys and backpacks with games based on popular cartoons can be requested on Singapore Airlines trips. JetBlue even doles out unlimited juice and free snacks to children.” —Talia Avakian, Digital Reporter
Sleep in a hotel.
“Seeing family is one of the reasons we go to such great pains to travel during the holidays. But seeing them doesn't have to mean staying with them. Consider booking a room at a nearby hotel or inn (or spa, if you're feeling decadent), and don't feel an ounce of guilt. You'll be able to visit without getting on each others' nerves.” — Jessica Plautz, Deputy Digital Editor
Plan a post-holiday staycation.
“Even a great family visit can be exhausting. Before you head back to the office, give yourself a day at home to catch up on laundry, go to the grocery store, binge your favorite show, or do absolutely nothing at all. You'll feel much more rested and ready for the New Year than if you jump right back into work.” — Jessica Plautz, Deputy Digital Editor