BONIN
Donna Mcwilliam  /  AP
Emma Bonin, 6, walks through Love Field airport in Dallas with her mother Brenda and her brother Jack, 9, on their way to a ticket counter Thursday, May 26, 2005. Memorial Day & The Fourth of July weekends launch the summer travel season.
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updated 6/29/2005 2:50:26 PM ET 2005-06-29T18:50:26

Our very own Traveler’s Ed is confident that this Fourth of July weekend will be the most traveled in at least a half-decade. Of course, it is great that people again have the confidence and the money to travel, but there is the obvious downside to this upswing. There will be crowds everywhere. Everywhere? Yes, everywhere – on the roads, at the airport, at the check-in line at your hotel, even at campgrounds. Even if you are staying home for the long weekend, expect crowds – with the dollar / euro exchange rate favoring the euro, there will be an influx of foreign travelers to American cities, not just this coming weekend, but also all summer long.

Chances are your travel plans are set for the upcoming long weekend, but there are a few things you can do to make it go as smoothly as possible. Below, find our tips for a (mostly) stress-free Fourth of July weekend.

At the Airport

Pre-print your boarding pass. This will almost guarantee you a wider choice in seat selection and will likely save you time at the airport as you can head directly to the security gate (provided you have no luggage to check). You must be traveling on an e-ticket to take advantage of this time-saver. The time frame for online check in varies by airline so check the Web site of your carrier. Some airlines even offer bonus miles for checking in online.

Do not over pack. Airlines are cracking down on existing rules regarding baggage weight limitations. Many experts think this is yet another move by the airlines to increase their bottom line, but whatever the motivation, it is highly likely you'll end up paying the price (literally) if you show up at the check-in counter with a bag that exceeds the weight limit.

Use the self-service kiosks. Every time I go to the airport, I am surprised at the number of passengers who shy away from the self-service kiosks in favor of waiting on a long line to deal with an airline representative. There is a common misconception that the self-service kiosks are only for passengers not checking any luggage. Not true -- you'll be guided to an airline representative designated to check your bags. Another misconception is that you need to have the credit card used to book your airline ticket with you at the time of check in -- also not true. Any credit card or your airline mileage number will suffice.

At the Car Rental Counter and On the Road
Call to confirm your rental car, and then call again. Maybe you saw the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine arrive at the car rental counter only to discover there was no car waiting for them despite the fact that they made a reservation. ("Anyone can take a reservations, the important part is holding the reservation.") On a busy weekend, it is possible the agency will overbook, and if you are late your car (or at least the car you reserved) might be gone.

Leave very early, or leave very late. This one is a no-brainer. Don't try to leave town at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Even if it means waiting until 9 p.m. and letting the kids sleep in the car the whole way, avoiding traffic will do wonders for your sanity. Just make sure you are well rested and that you stop if you fee yourself getting tired. Another alternative is to leave very early Saturday morning. You'll miss a night, sure, but you will also be rested and will save a night in the hotel room.

Be sure you understand the conditions of your reservation. Is there a penalty for no-shows? How long will the car be held if you are stuck in traffic on the way to the pickup station? Is there a fee for additional drivers and must their names be listed in the contract? Is your 20-year-old daughter old enough to drive the car? These are just a few of the issues covered in our article on car rental tips.

At the Hotel
Confirm your hotel room the day before you plan to arrive. If you gave a time frame for your arrival when you made the reservation and it changes, be sure to call the hotel and let the reservationists know. This is particularly important at small inns and bed & breakfasts that often only designate a few hours per day for checking in -- you'd hate to arrive and find the whole place locked up for the night.

Keeping Your Cool with the Kids
If your grandchildren are coming for a visit this weekend or if you’re taking a family trip that includes little ones, talk to their parents and be crystal clear about the child's likes, dislikes and limitations. More and more seniors are finding that trips with their grandchildren are great bonding experiences filled with wonderful memories – if planned carefully.

For parents of teenagers, your patience is probably stretched thin enough even before you factor in all the stress of traveling this Fourth of July weekend. Sure, they can be moody, but teenagers get a bad rap – more often than not, they’re up for having a good time with the family, provided their friends aren’t around of course. Follow our 10 tips for traveling with your teenager and you’ll be well on your way to having a happy and peaceful family getaway.

Before you hit the road with the kids, be honest with yourself about what you and your children can handle in the way of a road trip. While older children might be capable of dealing with 10+ hours in the family van, chances are your four-year-old cannot. Generally speaking, young children should not be subjected to confinement in a car for more than six hours a day. This is just as much for your sanity as it is for theirs.

Related Links:
Five Features of a Fantastic Road Trip
Family Car Travel
Car Rental Tips
Hidden Costs
Getting to Know Your Rental Car
Seven Strategies for Surviving in New York City This Summer
America's National Parks
America's Best Beaches
Ten Tips for Traveling with Teens
Traveling with Grandchildren
Get the Best Seat
Lost and Delayed Bags
Airline 800#s and Web sites
Discount Airlines
Watch Your (Baggage) Weight

The Independent Traveler is an interactive traveler's exchange and comprehensive online travel guide for a community of travelers who enjoy the fun of planning their own trips and the adventure of independent travel. You can access our wealth of travel resources and great bargains here at www.independenttraveler.com, or at www.bargainbox.com.

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