For those of us who are used to globetrotting for leisure, the greatest chance for travel to go horribly wrong comes during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. After all, this is the most crowded, most hectic, most expensive time of year for vacations. But while some of holiday travel’s baggage is unavoidable—including dealing with baggage itself—you can avoid other headaches with a little advance planning.
Let’s start with the basics. Booking far in advance is generally ideal, so if you haven’t made your travel plans yet, get moving. The best place to start is, obviously, the Internet. But if you’re a regular user of an Online Travel Agency like Orbitz or Expedia, this might be the time to check out some of the great new tools out there.
Metasearch engines, like Sidestep, crawl the airline sites for their lowest fares, then let you book directly with the airlines for no additional fee. Some metasearchers, like Kayak, can also do a simultaneous search on all the OTAs, saving you the trouble of searching those sites yourself.
And if you have a price in mind, click over to Yapta.com, which can search for your price and alert you if and when that fare is found. At this time of year, though, you may not have the benefit of waiting time. So if you see a reasonable fare, pounce on it.
If the destination you have in mind is outside the country, be sure to review the passport requirements, and make sure those all-important documents are up-to-date. Remember, when flying between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and nearly all of the Caribbean, you need a passport.
In fact, if you’re booking in November and hope to spend part of December away, you might be better off choosing a destination where passports aren’t required. That doesn’t mean you have to stay within the confines of the lower 48 states. Craving the Caribbean? U.S. citizens can travel to and from U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands without passports, though you will need other forms of official identification, like a birth certificate or a driver’s license.
All set with air tickets? What about hotels? If you can’t get your dream hotel, remember one golden rule: think against the grain. Where are holiday travelers most likely not to stay? Sure, checking into a business hotel on Christmas Eve may not be the most romantic thing you’ve ever done, but it’s probably better than the spare room at the in-laws’.
You’re not out of the woods yet. You still have to navigate overcrowded airports, deal with the hassle of checked and carry-on baggage rules, and (hopefully) still maintain that holiday spirit. So we’ve put together a definitive list of holiday travel tips—more insider knowledge about getting a fair airfare, a secret about airport parking, how to handle baggage, and more—to make holiday travel go as smoothly as possible.