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Everything You Need to Know About Traveling During the Holidays

Experts share their tips for dodging headaches and hassles during the busy holiday travel season.

U.S. News & World Report

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling During the Holidays

people running on Barcelona Airport

Signing up for TSA PreCheck is one way to avoid airport lags during the busy holiday season.(Getty Images)

We've all been there. Bulging bags. Flight delays. Grumpy kids. Inclement weather conditions. Unfortunately, holiday travel can make Grinches out of the best of us. But fret not: We sought guidance from travel insiders to help make holiday travel feel more bearable. Whether your idea of the perfect winter wonderland involves piña coladas and sea breezes, hot chocolate and ski slopes or a roaring fire in the family hearth, follow the advice below and plan ahead to make the best out of your time in transit this season. From last-minute deals to family travel advice to packing tips, U.S. News has you covered.

Take Advantage of Holiday Trends and Deals

Lissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of the online travel magazine Family Traveller, has visited more than 33 countries. Poirot plans to travel over the holidays, and she's not alone. According to AAA, 107.3 million Americans are expected to travel this holiday season, the highest year-end volume on record, with 97.4 Americans projected to travel by car, 6.4 million by air and 3.6 million by bus, train and cruise ship. Over the years, Poirot has noticed an increase in popularity of more off-the-beaten-path destinations like Iceland, "which has been on the rise and continues to draw travelers who want to see glaciers and hot springs," she says.

Poirot has also seen an uptick in holiday travelers heading to undiscovered hot spots like Panama and Nicaragua, as well as more families diving into the Galápagos Islands and Ecuador. Poirot also notes that European destinations like Croatia are drawing travelers interested in taking the path less wandered by losing themselves, in the case of Croatia, among the legendary landscapes and filming locations from the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones."

When considering more traditional destinations like those in the Caribbean, Poirot points out that most of the islands are open for business, despite this year's damaging hurricane season. According to Poirot, travelers may be able to find deals to unscathed islands such as "Aruba, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Nevis the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and even Turks and Caicos," which she says "have already reopened, despite receiving hurricane damage." On the other hand, she advises waiting to visit Puerto Rico, St. Marten, St. Barth’s and the Virgin Islands, "as they will be rebuilding for several months."

Keep the Kids Happy on Long Trips

With a day job as president of her own public relations firm representing clients in over 100 countries, Laura Davidson is a seasoned traveler. But she also knows a thing or two about family travel, thanks to crisscrossing the globe with her two boys.

When taking a holiday road trip, Davidson makes sure each child has their own portable phone charger to avoid arguments over the one in the car. For long airplane rides, "everyone needs their own backpack with their own distractions," she says. "Don't count on domestic flights to have movies your kids will love. Have them downloaded ahead of time on their iPads," she says. For teens and adults, Davidson recommends downloading favorite Netflix series ahead of time. "Last time my flight was delayed, I watched four episodes of 'The Crown' and didn’t mind a bit," she says. When her boys were younger, Davidson says she would carry small surprises that require assembly or imagination, like Lego kits, to keep the kids occupied in case of airport delays.

Avoid Holiday Hassles at the Airport

Davidson stacks the deck in her family’s favor at the airport by following a few simple rules. First, she checks in online to avoid lengthy lines. Then, she arrives at the airport extra early. "Three hours prior to flight time is a safe bet," she says, adding that she keeps important documents in an easily accessible place to avoid having to dig through her bag at security.

Signing up for TSA PreCheck, the government program which allows pre-qualified U.S. citizens expedited passage through security, is worth it, Davidson says. That way, you can avoid having to take off shoes and remove computers from bags at security. If one parent has TSA PreCheck, kids age 12 and under will get it on their boarding passes, she says. Davidson also recommends downloading the airline's app ahead of time and signing up for text alerts "to stay informed about any changes to the flight."

Navigate Weather Delays and Disruptions with Ease

"Unfortunately, winter weather delays are often unavoidable," Poirot says. "Choosing drive-to locations of direct flights can help eliminate some of the stress, but if you've discovered you will be delayed, don't allow this to ruin your vacation." Instead, she suggests taking advantage of airport services like salons that offer massages or sit-down restaurants to kill time before your next flight.

If your flight is canceled, Poirot says it is much more effective to call the airline from the airport instead of waiting in-person to talk to a reservations agent. By calling, "you will get through quicker and they can help accommodate you on a new flight, and help you find seats together and confirm them." Poirot also cautions against attempting to travel on standby. "If you attempt to fly standby, you forfeit any seats you have confirmed and are subject to the availability of a flight," she says. When traveling with young children, it is best to confirm your seats to avoid being separated, she adds

Pack Strategically for the Holidays

As CEO of high-end luggage purveyor Briggs & Riley, Richard Krulik is an expert on all things packing. His top advice during the holidays is to avoid checking bags if possible. "Pick a carry-on bag that offers some extra packing room," he says. Also, familiarize yourself with TSA requirements and ensure you don't bring more than the allotted quart-size bag of liquids, gels and pastes under 3.4 ounces. "Either fill small travel bottles with your own products or buy the travel size at your local drugstore," he says.

To ensure wrinkle-free clothes upon arrival, Krulik recommends three different packing methods. The Interweave Method is his favorite way to pack. "First, place the longest items, like dresses and pants, in the bottom of the suitcase, with the ends draping over the suitcase edges. Then, fill the suitcase with folded shirts and rolled items, before laying the draping garment edges over the top." The Rolling Method, he says, works for garments like sweaters, pajamas and jeans. "Secure the rolled items with a rubber band so they say in a roll," he says. If you want to pack by outfit, Krulik suggests bundling longer outfit items around the smaller ones.

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