There’s no place like home for the holidays – and apparently, there’s no place like vacation either. The end-of-year holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of the busiest travel times, as everyone either goes back home or sets off on a rare holiday trip.
On the bright side, it’s beautiful and touching that so many people are reuniting with their friends and families. On the not-so-bright side, it makes everything a lot more hectic. Holiday travel can be daunting, but if you have the right tricks at your disposal, you just might survive to sing another carol.
Before you pack your bags to stay at Grandma’s, load up the car or board a plane, read these holiday travel tips from AAA travel experts.
Holiday Travel: The Air
Flying during the holidays is always an…experience. But if you know what you’re in for, you can plan accordingly.
“Last year, AAA projected that 54.3 million Americans would travel over the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Paula Twidale, President of AAA Travel, “And a record-breaking 112.5 million during the longer, year-end holiday season. If those trends hold again this year, travelers are in for crowded airports and possibly longer wait times.”
“There’s a couple of peak periods,” said Ray Hourani, director of travel air operations at AAA Northeast. “For domestic flights, there’s peak periods like Thanksgiving. If you’re traveling on Wednesday [before Thanksgiving] and coming back on Sunday, you’re going to be charged a relatively high price for that airfare. If you travel either on the Monday [before] or the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the fares will be a little cheaper.”
The numbers support Hourani’s strategy. According to AAA, the busiest Thanksgiving travel days this year will be November 26 and 27, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The best overall day to fly, in terms of ticket price and relatively lower crowd levels, is November 25 – a Monday. The day with the cheapest ticket prices is Thanksgiving Day itself, since everyone would rather be at home, eating turkey.
As for Christmas, the best overall day to fly is Christmas Eve, and the busiest travel days are December 21 and 23. The most expensive day to fly is actually the day right after Christmas – with an average ticket price of $692. Ouch!
“Pack your patience and plan ahead,” Twidale said. That seems to be the best strategy for flying at this particular time of year.
Maybe bring some earplugs, too.
Holiday Travel: The Road
Gee, the traffic really is terrific this time of year. To figure out how to navigate the busy and icy holiday roads, I reached out to John Paul, senior traffic safety manager for AAA Northeast and AAA’s own Car Doctor.
If you’re planning on driving a long distance, make sure your car is up for it first. “Check all the fluids, top off the windshield washer, and give at least a quick look to the drive belts and coolant hoses. The battery condition should be checked.” Paul said. “Holiday driving can take you through all kinds of weather conditions, so it’s important to make sure the tires are ready to handle poor weather. It’s a good idea to take a winter emergency kit with you.”
“When it comes to driving, every two hours you should take a break,” Paul said. “Don’t try to cover more than 500 miles in a day. If it’s a long-distance trip, plan your route and overnight stay ahead of time.” Paul also noted that AAA’s research has shown that drowsy driving is likely the cause of 10% of crashes. If you’re planning on a long trip, you shouldn’t skimp on sleep. “Don’t head home after that big holiday meal,” he said. “Take a nap and head out refreshed.”
But what about presents, and what about your prize turkey?
“If you’re carrying holiday dinner or dessert, place it securely on the floor, trunk or cargo area.” Paul said. You don’t want to make a holiday mess. If you leave your car at any point in time, make sure your presents are stowed away securely and out of sight.
Holiday Travel: Staying Over
If you’re not staying overnight at Grandma’s house, chances are that you’ll be needing a hotel room.
“Demand for rooms is usually higher on the holidays or the holiday time period, even on long weekends,” said Joanne Monahan, director of AAA Northeast’s travel sales center. “Usually around those times, it’s best to book weeks or months in advance, to make sure you get the hotel that you want.”
During other times of year, hotels may have lower rates closer to the date of booking, so that they can utilize more of their inventory. This is not the case over the holidays.
“Sometimes, when their rooms are getting close to being sold out, hotels may even raise their rates,” Monahan said. “So it’s really a gamble.”
A good rule of thumb is to book your hotel room as soon as possible – and at minimum, a month in advance.
Do you have any crazy stories or tips about holiday travel? Let us know in the comments below!