The holidays can be one of the most stressful times to travel. Long lines, crowds, delayed flights, bad weather, and cranky kids are just some of the reasons why even the most highly anticipated vacations can turn into horrible experiences. However, with some simple preparation and smart thinking, you can minimize many of these and other hassles and make your next trip go more smoothly.
While most sites list general travel tips like arriving at the airport early or being prepared to wait in long lines, today we’re going to focus specifically on the holiday packing tips that can help improve your next holiday travel experience.
Holiday Packing Tips
Pack Light: Packing light is a good habit to get into year-round, but during the holidays, travel with heavy, overpacked suitcases can be especially difficult. From navigating through large crowds and standing in long lines to hailing cabs and taking public transportation (even that shuttle to the car rental area), if you’re rolling or carrying heavy gear, you’ll soon realize that it’s quite a burden. Choosing lightweight luggage is a great place to start in lightening your load. There are many light options in both softside and hardside luggage thanks to modern materials. Packing aids like packing cubes are also useful because they keep your items organized and maximize space.
Don’t Check, Carry On: Traveling with only carry on luggage will save you the step of waiting in line to check in to your flight. Most airports have kiosks that allow people with only carry-ons to check in and bypass those long lines at the airline counters. Be sure you understand all the rules associated with carrying on including your airline’s rules and the TSA rules about permitted/prohibited items. Read our Carry On Rules post for more information.
Don’t Bring Wrapped Gifts: You hear it every year – don’t bring wrapped gifts in your carry on bags or as your carry-on. Wrapped gifts are not technically prohibited, but the TSA warns that if the gift alarms the security officers, they may need to unwrap the gift to take a closer look inside. Not only does this ruin your wonderful wrapping job, it also delays you in getting to your gate. Ship wrapped gifts ahead or put them in your checked luggage. Collapsible gift bags are ideal for packing in your luggage so you can wrap gifts later. Note: items purchased after the security checkpoint are ok to take on the plane.
Know The Rules About Traveling with Food: So you want to bring your favorite pie or hometown favorite with you for your family and friends to enjoy? Make sure it meets the TSA requirements for carrying on. All food is subject to the same rules as other gels, liquids, and aerosols so items like cranberry sauce, jams, salsa, gravy, and dips must be in checked luggage or shipped ahead if they are above the permitted 3.4 ounces. Pies and cakes are allowed at the security checkpoint but are subject to additional screening. Read more about traveling with food on the TSA website here.
Carry Essentials In Your Carry On: If you plan to check some bags, be sure to pack essentials including medications, toothbrush, travel documents, and even perhaps a change of clothes in your carry on luggage. In the unfortunate event that your luggage is delayed, you will arrive with at least a few of the necessities you need to survive for a couple of days. Be sure to follow the TSA rules about liquids (the 3-1-1 rule) when packing these essentials.
Make Copies Of Your Documents: You may have a handy travel document holder with you, but keeping copies of your important travel documents including your passport, itinerary, confirmations, etc. in your checked luggage could save you a lot of time and hassle in the event you lose the original documents.
Put Luggage Tags On All Your Bags: Luggage tags are important not only for identifying your luggage easier at baggage claim and proving ownership if questions arise, but they are also essential in the unfortunately even your luggage is lost. Most airlines provide paper tags at the counter, but these can sometimes rip off during transit.
Be Prepared For Delays: Weather delays, mechanical delays, or just late flights in general are common during the holidays. Packing the right items can mean the difference between getting aggravated and keeping entertained while you wait. Consider packing items like an inflatable neck pillow, good book, eReader, MP3 player, iPad, and travel blanket to make your wait more comfortable and help you pass the time. Don’t bring water or snacks. Instead, purchase these after the security checkpoint to avoid extra inspection.
Bring An Empty Suitcase: If you expect to be bringing back gifts, consider checking an empty suitcase to carry these back in. Often this can be a cheaper option than shipping gifts back home. Be sure to calculate and compare the cost of shipping vs. the cost of an extra checked bag.
Road Trip Tips
Don’t Leave Valuables In View: It doesn’t matter if you’re just stopping quickly at a rest stop. Those shiny wrapped packages can be very tempting to would-be thieves. Pack your wrapped gifts in the trunk.
Pack A Winter Safety Kit: The holidays often means cold weather and possibly snow in many parts of the country. Whether you’re heading out for a 2 hour trip or taking off on an 8 hour excursion, a winter safety kit could mean the difference between a minor setback or a disastrous breakdown. Examples of items that should be in your winter safety kit include an ice scraper, car charger, tow rope, jumper cables, sand or cat litter, blankets, flashlight, water, matches, first aid kit, and a good book).
Pack Plenty Of Water And Snacks: Not only are water and snacks important for refueling, it can also mean the difference between a safe and a not-so-safe trip. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic shows that a 1% to a 2% loss of body weight (i.e. dehydration) and quickly lead to fatigue and decreased alertness. If the roads are icy, this could be deadly. Staying hydrated with water and packing high-energy foods like sandwiches are a great way to help you stay safe on the road.