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Lessons from well-prepared travelers

We asked our readers how they cope with difficult travel conditions, or get bypass them altogether. Here are a few of their suggestions.
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We asked our readers how they cope with difficult travel conditions, or get bypass them altogether. Here are a few of their suggestions.

Get the worm
I usually avoid traffic by leaving extraordinarily early and sharing the roads with truckers in the wee hours. But I had to work the day before, and had only then decided to deal with seven hours of driving. I prepared the car the night before, took the tollway and didn't hit traffic until I got to the interstate. About 20 miles outside of Houston, [we] hit gridlock. Nothing was moving in the three lanes of traffic on I-10. We guessed there had been an acccident. I took out the map, got off the highway and took an alternate, which eventually connected with I-10 again, where traffic had cleared.

It took a bit longer, but there were no farmers on the road or delivery trucks or Sunday drivers. Certainly it beat sitting in traffic with no resolution in sight! Also, the detour was pretty.

Coming back, I timed the trip to avoid the downtown rush hour and took the less expensive route. The shoppers had mostly gone home, some families were still enjoying their time together — and yet, given human nature, it seemed to take much longer to get home, as we didn't have the excitement and anticipation upon arrival as we did when we set off on Thanksgiving to see family and friends.
— Roberta Cross, Kemah, Texas

Pick a holiday, any holiday
Pick one holiday a year that you are willing to travel for, and stick to that holiday. All the others are less hectic, and you appreciate being home a lot more!

Let others travel to your house to visit. You trade a mess usually for hectic travel, but sometimes the trade off is well worth it.
— Denise Hutchison, Jamestown, N.Y.

Make it work
I fly twice a month from Southern California to Northern California over the weekends.

I have several airports to choose from on each end, but I found that if I fly Friday midday out of John Wayne (SNA) to Oakland (OAK), there are less delays, less airport traffic and its cheaper than the alternate airports.

Flying later in the day usually results in long delays or cancellations. Flying before 5 p.m. is early enough to get you out before the problems start. Also, coming home on Sunday I've learned its wiser to come home a few hours before you really need to be home just in case there's another delay. Delays wear on your mental state of being when you're ready to be home.
— Kari Ribbing, San Marcos, Calif.

Avoid the peak
When we fly, we try to do it mid-week and/or out of season.

When we drive we also try for mid-week and/or out of season. Also, we try to go through large cities [to avoid] the high traffic times.
— B.J. Kennedy, Newman Lake, Wash.

Know what to avoid
Many of the airlines use a spoke and hub system that creates large bottlenecks when moving throughout the country.

If you are going to be flying this holiday season, do your best to avoid flights that have segments that route through the New York/Newark area, and it would also be wise to steer clear of Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. These places are where most of your bottlenecks originate, because of weather and congestion.

If you schedule wisely, you might be able to avoid these hassles altogether.
—Eric Scott, Salina, Kansas

Been there, done that
Here are some tips from a frequent traveler who has been commuting to work by aircraft for about 25 years.

1. NEVER take the last flight out of town that will get you to your destination or connection to another flight. ALWAYS allow at least two secondary flights that will get you where you need to be in addition to your primary flight.

2. Catch the earliest flight available, it is the one that will always have the best chance of leaving on time, and in addition, will have the most available seats because people tend to miss this flight most often due to not getting up in time or poor morning planning.

3. Pack EVERYTHING except the clothes you are going to wear the day before. That way you are awake and organized and much less likely o forget something important like your wallet, purse, or tickets.
— Ric Bucklew, Palm Harbor, Fla.

Living by the rails
I live in Indianapolis, but I don't hassle with planes or the highways. I take the train. Despite all the horror stories you hear about Amtrak, it is still one of the best transportation values to be had. You wouldn't know it to hear all the din and clatter coming out of DC when they discuss funding. They call Amtrak funding a "subsidy" while all the money we pour into the already crowded highways and airports is an "investment".  If Amtrak had its own trust funds like the other two modes for funding, these problems would not be as bad for all of us.

Foreign countries are investing heavily in rail, even third-world countries, and have trains many times faster than our own. So while we are stuck in traffic or on a tarmac going nowhere, our main trading partners are getting where they need to go in comfort. My advice? Pack a blanket or two and some snacks in a back pack and take the train. You may not get there right on schedule, but you will do a lot better than if your plane is canceled or a snowstorm closes the roads. And remember, the rails kept running even when the planes were stuck on the ground right after 9/11.

And if you get the time, write a letter to Congress telling them you want a balanced transportation policy that divvies out your tax money to the most efficient modes of transportation instead of the loudest lobbyists.
— Nick Noe, Indianapolis

The well-prepared traveler
Hello fellow flyers!

I have to fly out of Albuquerque, 90 minutes from my town. So, if I have a 6:00 a.m. flight, I take the shuttle the previous evening, stay at an inexpensive hotel which has a shuttle to the airport. This saves me cost of gas and parking (cost of shuttle and hotel costs less than if I drove myself.

From Albuquerque, I avoid travelling through Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and instead usually go via Phoenix or Dallas-Ft. Worth. I pack a suitcase, and then empty the contents into cardboard boxes and ship them UPS to my U.S.A. destination. ... Yes, it costs $$$, but I don't have to wait in any lines, deal with lost bags or heavy carry-ons or deal with tiny bottles of cosmetics and the like in that 1 quart bag routine.

... I pack a leather backpack with blanket, neck pillow, pills, camera, something to read, sleeping mask and headphones; Purel, mouth mask: I take a decongestant before boarding to avoid ear problems; I start taking mega-doses of Vitamin C and Airborne two to three days before flight; I always get a flu shot. I pack several protein bars and almonds. Once through security I buy two bottles of water and/or juice ... just in case the plane gets stuck on the runway for hours at a time. Sometimes I toss in a deck of cards, crossword book, etc. just to keep me from getting frustrated waiting for the plane to take off. (If you meditate/pray, this is a great way to use the wait time.) On overseas flights I take a sleeping pill once on board so I get to my destination rested.

I run my boarding pass via computer. Email friends and family with itinerary; email sisters/brothers with any updates to my will/estate plans; with all account numbers, etc.

I don't like to cancel mail or papers; I can usually get a friend to pick those up.  I don't schedule any deliveries during the time I will be away. 

Since my house has been robbed twice, I have double security systems, timed indoor and outdoor lights.  I don't tell hairdresser, nail tech, etc that I will be gone. I board the pets so no one has to enter my house to take care of them. When I had plants, I'd put them in the bathtub with lots of water in the tub. I never lost a plant, even when I was gone for two or three weeks at a time.

I take valuables to the safety deposit box including all checks, credit cards, etc., that I will not use on the trip. Of course, I keep my home insurance up to date; photos of inside and outside of house to the insurance guy and a second copy into safety deposit box. I don't leave any cash in the house nor passport or Social Security card. ...

I don't have young children to travel with, so I can't give hints re kids.

Hope this helps you.
— Justice McCormick, Espanola, N.M.

Pick your hub carefully
My husband and I live in Honolulu since he is stationed here with the Army. We're from Virginia and are heading home for Christmas with a 7-month-old baby.

We chose our flights carefully and steered away from Chicago (possible weather delays) and all New York/New Jersey airports (constant delays). There was no way we were getting stuck in an airport with a baby!

Instead we got a round trip flight from Honolulu to Vegas with a stop over for 2 nights and a round trip flight from Vegas to Virginia. We're also travelling the week before Christmas so we don't get stuck in the thick of the holiday rush.

We travel a lot and try to always book our flights in the middle of the week since it's cheaper and (supposedly) not as crowded.

As for living in Honolulu, I take the bus to work and we don't try to go anywhere during rush hour.
— Stephanie Malon, Honolulu

Add a few days to holiday trips
When I need to travel on holidays, I try to book nonstop flights, leaving early in the morning to minimize the chance of a flight delay.

I also try to avoid the hub airports, if possible, and make bookings to alternate airports instead of the major ones, flying into Providence or Hartford instead of Boston, for example.

Otherwise, I try to leave a few days before and return a few days after a holiday.  Being retired makes this possible for me.
— Lee Graves, Houston

Take the train if possible
Avoiding bottlenecks:
1) Take AMTRAK whenever possible.
2) Drive "blue highways" and avoid the most heavily traveled Interstates.
— Jim Whipple, Pittsburgh