Traveling during the holiday season can be a less than enjoyable experience, said David Solomito, vice president of marketing at the travel search engine Kayak.
“There are more cars on the road, longer lines at airports and an increased chance of flight delays and cancellations because of wintertime weather,” he said.
The rush may be inevitable, but feeling fraught isn’t. Solomito shared his top tips on how to minimize the stress of holiday travel.
▪ Travel on the holiday: With fewer crowds, less traffic on the road and lower airfares, traveling on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve is usually less stressful than traveling the day or a few days before the holidays. According to Kayak’s data, travelers saved 11 percent on flights in 2015 when they flew on Thanksgiving Day versus the day before and 14 percent when they flew on Christmas Day, compared with Dec. 23.
“You’ll save money and won’t see nearly as many people because traveling on holidays isn’t popular,” Solomito said.
▪ If possible, fly direct: Because the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are the busiest travel period of the year, there are more chances of lost luggage, overbooked flights and other disruptions to your itinerary. A connection, even if it saves you money, can pile on the stress because it increases the odds of something going wrong. Solomito made that mistake two years ago when he was flying before Christmas from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to San Diego and booked a flight with a layover in Salt Lake City because it was $75 cheaper than a direct flight.
“Inclement weather in Salt Lake City delayed my departure by a day, and I ended up missing the festivities with my family,” he said. “The money I saved wasn’t worth it.”
▪ Ship gifts: For air travelers, sending presents to your destination in advance has advantages. You avoid any potential excess baggage and overweight fees and you minimize the likelihood of the presents getting lost en route, in case your bag containing them does, or being ripped open by Transportation Security Administration employees, which they have the right to do if they have a question about their contents.
“I’ve seen instances when TSA had to rip open beautifully wrapped gifts, which is not a fun way to start off a holiday,” Solomito said.
▪ Go in January instead: If you have flexibility, consider a vacation in January instead of traveling in December, because crowds are lighter, prices are lower and travel is generally calmer. Kayak data shows that airfare to many domestic and international destinations is the lowest in January, compared with the three months before. The median round-trip airfare to Cancun in January 2016, for example, from cities in the United States and Canada, was $388, compared with $465 in December 2015.