Travel between Thanksgiving and the New Year is about as stressful as it gets. Supersize crowds at major airports, long lines at highway rest stops, standing room only on passenger trains. It's enough to make even the most-seasoned travelers lose their patience and their cool. Not to worry. Here's our guide to staying calm and carrying on (though not your luggage — that just adds to the hassle).
At the Airport
1. Get there early. WAY early. If you usually allow two hours before a flight, make it three. Airlines are adding 86,000 more seats each day. That means long lines between drop off and gate.
2. Understand what carry-on means and check accordingly. Don't be one of those passengers who tries to cram a too-big bag into already full overhead storage. If you’re determined not to check, ship some stuff ahead.
3. Take seriously the notice that "many bags look alike." They do. Add something — a ribbon, a unique tag, duct tape in a bright color — to distinguish yours from the rest of the black pack coming around the carousel. Just in case, put your contact info inside the bag to make it easier for airlines to contact you in the event it goes astray.
4. If you're traveling as a duo, split your belongings between two suitcases, so if one bag gets lost, both of you will have something to wear. And put essentials in your carry-on: a tightly packed change of clothes, prescription drugs, eyeglasses. You get the picture.
5. Know the new regulations. You must take your laptop and other electronics larger than a cellphone (including wireless keyboards) out of your bags. Remove them before the security agent has to ask and you'll keep everyone moving along faster.
6. Before going through screening, put all pocket items — keys, wallet, phone — in your carry-on, so you don’t forget them, which lots of people do.
7. Your phone is your lifeline, your travel hub. It's the key to rearranging canceled flights, assessing weather, checking in at home. Charge it fully. Then keep your charger and power bank in a carry-on bag. And don't leave home without it.
8. Speaking of weather, be prepared for weather delays or cancellations. Keep your airline’s customer service number handy (not the reservations number, which can have a long wait time) and jump on that as soon as you know you'll need a new flight. Even smarter, head to the airline’s lounge after a cancellation, where staff may help with your flight even if you’re not a lounge member. Last-ditch effort: Start tweeting about your predicament to attract the airline’s attention.
9. Speaking of special needs, line up a wheelchair or motorized transport days or weeks ahead of the trip. Do not count on finding it waiting when you arrive at the airport. Also, call the TSA Cares toll-free hotline (855-787-2227) at least 72 hours before your flight with questions about screening policies or to arrange for assistance at the checkpoint.
10. Bring food. Have snacks like protein bars, fruit or crackers with you to avoid long lines at airport vendors. And don't assume there will be food on your plane. With crowds and delays, it's possible the catering supplier won't stock the galley.
11. Stay calm. Try meditation or a deep-breathing app like Calm or Breath2Relax or listen to soothing music while you cool your heels in slow lines or squish into a too-tight seat for that five-hour flight.
12. Cruise through pick up. Have your ride meet you on the airport departure (not arrival) level, which is less busy, especially in the quieter spaces between terminals.
13. Fly on the holiday. It may be too late for this year, but if you book an early flight on the holiday itself, you will save money.
On the Road
1. Leave super early. There's a reason some road warriors are behind the wheel at 4 or 5 a.m. — less traffic.
2. Be road ready. Check on things like the battery and tire pressure and tread. And include basic emergency gear like a flashlight, blanket, booster cables and, yes, ice scraper.
3. Take a rest. They call them rest stops for a reason. Schedule breaks every two hours to stay alert.
4. Be serious about driving safety. No alcohol, texting or tailgating. Christmastime — Dec. 23 in particular — has some of the highest numbers of crash-related deaths each year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
5. Bring food and water. Consider packing a lunch to avoid mile-long lines at highway rest areas or off-road food, gas and lodging stops. You should still take breaks, but you won’t have to spend them standing in line waiting for a burger and fries.
6. Use paper. Yes, you have your smartphone and maybe dashboard navigation but be prepared with a paper map. If you lose cell connection you’ll need to get around the old-fashioned way.
7. Zip through toll booths. Seriously. That's why it's called E-ZPass. Sign up before you go.
1. Reserve a seat on crowded routes, even if it's a little more money. Trains can get overcrowded at the departure point and more so as they move along the route.
2. Pack snacks. The more passengers, the more likely the cafe car will run out of chips, candy and that microwave pizza.
3. Rise early. The 3 a.m. departure sounds terrible but it will be easier to board and, hey, you can sleep on the train.