With COVID-19 cases and deaths largely plateauing around the country and the release of highly effective vaccines and therapeutics, holiday gatherings with friends and family have become mostly possible again. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may still need to take some precautions, but otherwise, many feel that they are able to largely celebrate the season like normal. This often includes traveling — on the road or in the air.
With so many people on the move to get to their holiday gatherings, it can quickly become one of the most stressful journeys you take all year. Nobody wants to start their holiday celebrations in terrible mood, so how can you get where you’re going without spoiling the spirit of the season?
No matter the method of travel you’re taking, there are a few golden rules that you should follow. These are, for the most part, about finding ways to control your travel situation as much as you can.
Plan, Research, Prepare
If you’re ever traveling, take time to research, plan, and get ready to prevent as much stress as possible. If you’re traveling on one of the top travel days of the year, this couldn’t be truer. While you don’t have to research restaurants or hotels, you should look into your travel options.
- Which method of travel would work best for you (plane, train, automobile)?
- If you’re driving, are there alternative driving routes in case of traffic?
- If not, what would be the best time to leave to avoid the most traffic?
- Are there places to stop along the way if it’s a long journey (i.e., overnight or a bathroom break)?
- If you are staying somewhere overnight, you’ll want to book that in advance, since hotels can fill up quickly at that time of year.
Based on these, you should be able to figure out when you should leave in order to arrive on time.
Build in Buffer Time
The best way you can cut down on holiday travel stress is to build some buffer time into your plans. This gives you some wiggle room so that you’re not late in case there are unforeseen circumstances like traffic or you forget something. The same is true for building buffer time after you leave. Don’t plan anything immediately after your Thanksgiving dinner or gift exchange. Nobody wants to be rushing around instead of spending quality time with their family.
Travel During Non-Peak Times
Most people will show up for Thanksgiving and head home once the final piece of pumpkin pie has been served with some coffee. This creates two overlapping problems. First, that’s when most people are traveling, meaning more traffic, more chances for accidents or stress, or more people in the airports. The second problem is that this traveler congestion can create delays. If it’s before your plans, you’re stressed because you’ll be late or even miss it. If it’s afterward, you’re stressed because you just want to get home. Instead, make a plan to travel when most people aren’t. You could leave earlier in the morning and leave the celebration earlier. Or, you could arrive later and leave later. If you wouldn’t be overstaying your welcome, you may even arrive the day before, help set up, and then leave the day after. Avoiding the midmorning rush is crucial, though.
Host the Gathering
Finally, if you find that traveling would be too difficult for you or just too stressful, you can always offer to host the holiday event yourself. Of course, this creates a certain stress of its own, but there are ways around this, too. For example, we’ve written about ways to host an unforgettable Christmas party or shared some incredible Thanksgiving recipes, if you’re not normally a home cook. Just be prepared to risk being volunteered to host every year if you do too good of a job!
Traveling by Car
Driving to your holiday celebration is pretty common, since most of us live fairly close to our family and friends. This comes with its own stresses that you’ll need to account for.
Plan Your Route
We touched on this above, but unless you’ve made this trip many times, it would be good to familiarize yourself with the route you can take. This includes finding any alternative routes that may be a little longer but gets you around traffic. Alternatively, know areas of your route where traffic may occur so that you can plan ways around it. Just a few minutes of forethought can save you a major headache when you’re on the road.
Prepare for Traffic
That said, you can’t always predict where traffic will occur. Accidents happen or there may just be slow drivers causing a buildup of cars. If you’re mentally prepared for traffic — and have built in buffer time — it’ll be less stressful. You can also use a navigation application, or GPS device that tracks traffic, so you can know what to expect while you’re on the road and avoid traffic ahead of you as it develops.
Follow Driving Safety Tips
As with any time you’re on the road, you should be focused on driving safely, especially as we get later into the year and winter weather becomes a reality. Holiday driving comes with an added warning. A few festive drinks at the party can be common. If you’ve been drinking, don’t drive. Make sure you have a designated driver or spend the night until you’re sober. You should also be careful of anyone sharing the road with you who shouldn’t be driving either. You should always be vigilant on the roads, but at times when there are more people on the road, and some of them have been drinking, you need to be extra aware.
The span of time that stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, often grouped together as the holidays, contains some of the worst travel days on the calendar for flying. Can you reduce this stress at all?
Follow Basic Flying Stress Tips
Even if it’s a busier time of year, you can still reduce a lot of your stress by following the airport tips we’ve discussed in the past. The same is true for avoiding flight disruptions, since fewer things ruin a holiday trip faster than having your flight delayed or canceled. To avoid the extra congestion that is common at this time of year, give yourself extra time at the airport to get through security and the check-in process with a good amount of time before your flight boards.
At this point, it may be too late to book your flight at the optimal time for holiday travel, but keep this knowledge tucked away for next year. While it may not help with stress on the travel day, booking your flight early can help you save money and have assurances that you have tickets.
So, what’s the best time to book a flight for the holidays? Experts differ, but a good range is Labor Day to Halloween at the latest. In our opinion, if you know you’ll be going somewhere for the holidays, you’ll want to skew closer to Labor Day as early as possible. Booking closer to Halloween gives you fewer options as flights begin to fill up and prices climb.
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The holidays should be a time of fun and celebration, but all too often, just getting to the event can put you in a bad mood. Keep your seasonal spirit going strong by preparing a little bit and avoiding the stress that traveling at this time of year can bring!