Travel Tips for the Holidays

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You haven’t truly lived until you’ve spent the night on the floor of the Denver airport. Circumnavigated by vacuum cleaners, trying to sleep while lights shine at full blast, and with the chatter of a 24-hour news channel hovering on a television above your head. How about pairing that with two cancelled flights, a rental car three days later, and an overnight at an express airport hotel sipping wine from plastic cups and hoping the roads are clear by morning? Actually, I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.

Us in Iowa on New Years Eve

Unfortunately, such is a reality for holiday travellers like John and me who make it back to Iowa (where John is from) at least twice a year to visit his family. Thanksgiving (American), Christmas, New Year’s Eve, we’ve been through MSP, DEN, ORD, MCI, CID, and more all to see our loved ones before packing up and reversing our trek.

Fees, allowances, de-icing, boarding order, customs, wait times, leg room, connections 60 gates apart, snow, sleet, and those random bonus security checks. Getting through the holiday season without stress is tough enough that travel shouldn’t have to lump on that extra emotional baggage. Through the years I we have honed our holiday travel style, skills, and techniques and I’m happy to share some Travel Tips for the Holidays with you, courtesy of Travel Leaders and including some of my own insights:

In Iowa for New Years

Travel Tips for the Holidays

Make a checklist and check it twice. Before any trip, it’s important to make a checklist of essential items like chargers for electronic devices or prescription medications. It’s easy to forget the items you use every day and you don’t want to spend your trip seeking replacements.

Portable power. Can’t find out outlet in the busy airport? No problem. Bring your own portable battery backup. I use the Anker Charger that I bought on Amazon. It has 4 USB ports and can fully charge my phone several times before it needs re-charging.

Label prescription medication. I once traveled to Iowa with strep throat and brought my medication with me. It’s a good thing because at the Walmart down there you need to show your passport just to purchase some Advil Cold & Sinus.

Check-in online. Airlines generally allow passengers to check in online 24 hours in advance, with a cutoff a couple of hours before boarding time. So make sure you’ve checked in well before you’re set to head to the airport. Have your boarding pass, paper or digital version, within easy reach, along with your ID, to save time as you approach the security checkpoint.

Keep valid identification at hand. Children under 18 are not required to provide identification when traveling with a companion, but passengers age 18 and older must show valid ID at the airport security checkpoint. Since most ID, like a driver’s license, has an expiration date, double-check that your ID will not expire before your return trip home.

I usually use my passport on the day(s) we travel then I tuck it away while we’re in Iowa and just use my driver’s license as ID. People not from BC will always struggle to find your birthday on your license but it’s generally a nice surprise when they realize they get to welcome a Canadian to their establishment.

In Iowa for New Years

Double check your baggage. Overhead space will be at a premium during the holiday travel season, especially as people bring gifts for friends and family or return home with gifts they’ve received. So when preparing to pack your bags, it’s crucial to check in advance whether your luggage meets the airline’s size and weight restrictions for checked baggage and carry-ons.

We usually try our very best to online travel with carry-on items (since you know they’ll make your connections with you) but when we’re going away in negative temperatures for two weeks, we need space for coats and boots. I’d say 6 times out of 10 our bags don’t make it to Iowa on the same day we do but we follow up with the airlines ASAP and always get them delivered to our door within 24 hours.

Save gift wrapping for later. TSA doesn’t care about your lovely wrapping job, your gifts and all contents of your bags can and may be screened like any other item. Pack your gifts unwrapped and just bring wrapping paper with you to finish the decorating once you’ve reached your destination. We just put ours together in a plastic bag in our luggage so that it’s accessible but still separated. You can also just mail your gifts in parcels to your destination in advance.

Keep 3-1-1 in mind. The TSA and/or CATSA allow each passenger one quart-size bag of liquids and gels, including toothpaste, gel deodorant, and lotions. Each item must be 3.4 ounces or less. Medication, infant formula and juices for infants or toddlers are exempt from the rule, but keep them separate from the items in your one-quart bag.

We have clear zipper pouches with approved sizes of toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, and conditioner that we take in a carry on and bring out at security. We like bringing that with us and not putting all our liquids in the checked bag in case we are stuck at an airport overnight, at least our teeth will be clean. We put a little bottle of hand sanitizer in there as well, for our germ-y airplane hands.

Be prepared to take laptops out and shoes off. Laptop computers must be removed from their carrying cases and submitted separately for screening. (Small and portable items, including smartphones, tablets and portable games, don’t need to be removed from their cases). At many airports, you’ll have to place your shoes and belt in the plastic bin that goes through the X-ray screening. The only exceptions are for passengers who are 75 and older, children 12 and under, and travellers approved for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.

Leave early. From traffic that may be heavier than usual and hard-to-find parking spots, to longer lines for security screenings, you’ll ease your stress if you give yourself extra wiggle room in your schedule, whether traveling by train, plane or automobile. Arrive at the airport 75 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and three hours before international flights.

Know your emergency contacts. In addition to contact information for next of kin or a close friend when traveling internationally, bring the contact information for the nearest Embassy or Consulate at your overseas destination.

When you check-in online for a US destination generally the airline will also ask for an emergency contact and for that I either put my mom or John’s mom into the system.

Put your travel agent on speed dial. Bring the email and cell phone number of your travel agent with you, and provide your travel agent with your personal contact information, as well as pertinent health and travel insurance information. Your travel agent can rearrange your itinerary should you decide to extend your trip, or if there’s an emergency.

If you booked online (Expedia, Travelocity) have their contact info handy too. I book all of our holiday travel in person at Flight Centre so I have my agent’s card with me at all times.

YVR Observation Area

Finally, my biggest tip would be to try (with all your might) to have an easy-going attitude. Leave room in your schedule so that if the unforeseen happens, you can easily roll with the schedule adjustment and go with the flow. Remember that airline and airport staff are doing their best at a very busy time and they deserve the same respect as you. Be calm, rational, and try to have a very happy holiday season. Happy travels!

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