Avoid These 20 Things When Traveling For The Holidays

The holidays are for cherishing and spending time with the whole family, but unfortunately, they also tend to be packed with stress. Travel is seen as somewhat of a blight on the holiday season for those who have blended families or have moved away from their childhood homes. It doesn't have to be this way, though, and there are some key things to avoid when traveling that will help you win back the holiday spirit.

Airports and highways are infamously hellish during the holidays, as it's peak season with everyone traveling this way or that. Could you avoid them altogether? Sure, but that also may bring down the wrath of an even higher power: mothers and mothers-in-law. In most cases, it may be wise to take these tips to heart and show up to family dinner without the war-torn expression flying before Thanksgiving or Christmas tends to put on travelers' faces.

Winging it

Did you really think everything would be easy as pie if you booked a ticket at the last minute, showed up at the airport an hour before take-off, or left your fate to the traffic gods? We love the confidence but pity the journey. Don't get us wrong, spontaneity can result in some epic adventures, but when traveling during the holidays, you need to lock that plan down.

Eliminating as many problems that may come up as possible before you even set out will significantly reduce the chances that you run into delays or — dare we even say it? — get stranded mid-journey. While about 1 to 2% of flights are canceled daily, that number can skyrocket around the holidays. Create a backup plan, and stick to it as closely as possible when traversing the season of ramshackle travel plans. By following this advice, you will be better prepared to face any difficulties that may arise.

Waiting until the last minute to book

While waiting to book your flight out of town may not totally fall under the "winging it" category all the time, just don't do it! There's really no reason to wait to book if you already know where you're going and when you're leaving. If you think you'll snag some amazing deal last minute during one of the busiest days to travel, you'll likely be disappointed. In fact, waiting may have the opposite effect, and you may end up paying more to ensure you get on a flight.

The best time to book a holiday flight is a season ahead, so October for trips in December and September for Thanksgiving pilgrimages. If your plans change in the few months between booking and heading out, you can typically exchange or reschedule your flight for a fee. This could very well be worth it for the peace of mind of having your flight booked and out of the way.

Booking back-to-back flights

For travelers who have moved across the country or even further from family members, you may have a long journey ahead of you when kicking off the holiday season. This means you likely have a connecting flight, resulting in running around an unfamiliar airport, which, in the best of circumstances, can be stressful. Once you add in the massive crowds that will be roaming and rushing around airports, it's a downright nightmare.

Could you imagine navigating that hellscape with a back-to-back connecting flight? It would be nearly impossible to make it to your gate on time. Let's not even get into how that can affect your stress levels, especially when traveling with kids. Save yourself and your family the trial by fire and book a flight with ample time between connections. This is where booking months ahead of time comes in; you'll be glad to have the extra options.


You should never travel without certain things, like comfortable shoes and a first-aid kit, but bringing your entire closet plus a few extras is overdoing it. Baggage fees will cost you an arm and a leg, but what you should really be concerned about is lugging all those bags around with you.

Toting around multiple bags, carry-on items, and presents after arriving at your destination and leaving the airport would likely be a big task. That's if you get them at all — the holidays see a rise in lost and damaged luggage. Starting off a holiday trip with hectic travels and misplaced personal items sounds like a real Grinch origin story. If you can swing it, pack an efficient carry-on with all the essentials and limit your checked luggage.


While overpacking can lead to some luggage mishaps and complicate your travel, underpacking is problematic for completely different reasons. While a forgotten toothbrush or pair of socks isn't going to create a problem that can't be easily remedied, neglecting to pack for the weather or a potential delay might.

It's very possible that you'll be traveling between places that have very different climates. If this is indeed the case, you will need appropriate clothes for both. Your travel outfit can be reused, but you should dress in a way that can be modified for either climate or the weather you will face that day. Check what the weather will be like where you're heading and pack appropriately, or else your holiday could get uncomfortable quickly. Similarly, pay attention to your connection destination and pack something you'd be comfortable wearing in the case of a delay.

Folding clothes

If you're folding your clothes when packing, you may be doing it wrong. No, we are not suggesting you start balling up articles of clothing and stuffing them in your suitcase, but folding may be so last season. The new thing is rolling your garments — it's a game-changing tip that will keep your clothes wrinkle-free.

Rolling your clothes into little cylinders will keep them from wrinkling, and the packing hack will also allow you to see all your attires more easily without having to pilfer through your suitcase. Tightly rolling items may also save room, which will help with that little overpacking problem we discussed previously. The more space you can free up, the better, as you may be bringing home some holiday trophies from under the tree.

Stacking your schedule

We've already warned against booking back-to-back flights — that same energy applies to the rest of your holiday travels. Refrain from booking yourself solid because of the unpredictability of the holiday season. The butterfly effect will naturally shift around your time slots, and, much like the Ashton Kutcher movie, there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

During the holidays, with so many people moving in different directions, it's inevitable that someone's plans will get disrupted. Expect delays and plan for things to take longer than they typically would. If, by some miracle, you are able to keep to a strict timeline, you'll likely already be running on fumes from a full day's travel and won't have the energy for a stacked schedule. Keeping a go-with-the-flow attitude during this time will save your sanity, trust us.

Sleeping in

When you don't get enough sleep, you're more prone to accidents, your attention span decreases, and it's easier to lose control of your emotions. This is why a good night's rest before traveling is so important. While this may be true, sleeping in isn't how you should catch some extra shut-eye. Instead, you should go to bed early and prepare for an early start to the day.

The best time to fly to avoid delays is between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. when the domino effect of delayed flights has not yet occurred. If you're driving to your destination, consider leaving early in the morning, but when traveling with a partner, late at night to avoid post-work and midday traffic. If waking up early has you nodding off at the wheel, though, don't hesitate to pull over and get some sleep — the roads will be dangerous, and the danger only increases with fatigue.

Forgetting important documents

Nothing will sour a mood more than arriving at the airport without your passport. While you've probably reminded yourself about a dozen times before stepping out your door and heading to the airport, there's still that little devil on your shoulder trying to get you to leave without grabbing some kind of important document you need when traveling.

Whether you have to write yourself a note and stick it to your car window or set an alarm on your phone, double- and triple-check that you have the necessary documents to fly, drive, or do anything required of you at your destination. This is especially crucial if you are journeying with a child, as you may need documents proving you have the legal right to have them traveling with you. Heading to the airport without the necessities will kickstart your holiday trip with nothing but headaches and bad vibes.

Dressing uncomfortably

There's nothing more masochistic than wearing high heels on a plane. Flying requires practical clothes because that's the only bit of comfort you'll be getting on the flight. The seats are infamously uncomfortable and cramped; you don't need to add tight clothing and precarious shoes into the mix.

Wearing uncomfortable and impractical clothing could be a safety risk as well. In the case of an emergency, you should be wearing clothes and shoes you can move and run in with ease. Even if you're flying or driving directly to a Thanksgiving or Christmas event, pack your party clothes in a carry-on bag or hang them in the back of the car. Your party dress or suit can get wrinkled and stained if you decide to wear it through a full day of travel.

Flying the Friday before the holiday

You can't avoid the travel season as long as you are participating in it, but you can evade the biggest chunk of it. Weekends naturally see a higher rate of travel, meaning you want to shoot for a weekday when booking flights. This is especially true during the holiday rush when travelers are trying to fit a flight or road trip into their busy schedules. Not everyone can swing leaving for a trip during the week, and those who can't pay the price of packed flights and busy airports.

Many travelers choose to fly out the earliest they can, which naturally falls on the Friday before the holiday. More travelers means more stress and avenues for things to go wrong, like lost luggage and delays. You'll also pay more for premium days like Christmas Eve and the last Friday leading up to a big holiday, Thanksgiving or Christmas, for instance. 

Flying on certain days after the holiday

Just as there are extra horrible travel days before a holiday, there are equally awful days to book a return flight home. If you're the type of person who is totally finished with Christmas on the 26th, you may want to hunker down with the parents or in-laws an extra day because the day after Christmas is killer in the airports and on the roads.

Similarly, the Sunday following Thanksgiving and Christmas are both horrible days to travel. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, in particular, is one of the biggest travel days of the year, with people who have had their fill of turkey coming back home in time to make it back to work. If you are at all able, wait until the week comes around so that the roads and sky are less populated.

Driving without preparation

Count yourself lucky if you don't have to fly around the holidays, but driving isn't exactly a walk in the park either. Roads will be busier than normal, and winter conditions could make the journey dangerous. Driving in the winter comes with its own set of complications, and it's wise to prepare for the worst.

Packing warm clothes and a blanket in case of an accident or large delays is vital. You don't want to get stranded in the winter without a way to keep yourself warm. Stock your car with a few safety essentials, snacks, and water. About a week before heading out, inspect your car for general maintenance. This ensures you are leaving yourself the best possible chance of getting to your destination without incident.

Flying with wrapped presents

We cannot stress enough that flying light should be a goal to aspire to, but when traveling with presents, you should just do away with them altogether. We're not saying you shouldn't shower your loved ones with many appropriate and affordable gifts, just that you should be strategic about how they get to your destination.

Mailing wrapped presents to your destination is much more practical than traveling with them. With the holiday's increased chance of lost luggage, you don't want to risk arriving empty-handed. There's also an even higher chance that your carefully wrapped gifts will be torn open — a process checked pieces of baggage go through. Instead of spending the money on checking a suitcase full of beautifully wrapped gifts, mail them out a few weeks in advance.

Indulging before you fly

While there's typically nothing wrong with having a little nip before getting on the plane, you may want to refrain from hitting the airport bar during the holidays. Not only will they be incredibly crowded, but traversing a busy airport is better done sober and alert. You will need to navigate through crowds of fellow travelers and reach your gate in less-than-ideal conditions. It's wise to wait until you're on the plane before calming your nerves with liquid courage.

You're also likely to overeat when spending time at an airport bar. They typically have a full menu of food that probably sounds pretty good when faced with hours on an airplane with nothing but peanuts to fill your belly. Since you're likely already stressed — and flying can make some travelers nauseous — you may want to opt out of large meals. After all, a holiday feast is in your future.

Forgetting snacks

If you are braving the trainwreck that holiday travel nearly is, you'll need snacks. And if you can avoid the long lines plaguing airport vendors and roadside rest stops, you will be all the better for it. Packing your own snacks will help keep your long day of travel on track and your hangry alter-ego at bay. If snacks are important to a normal day of holiday travel, you can just imagine how vital they are in the case of a delay. If you are sitting around an airport or in traffic for hours without food in an already stressful situation, that frustration could easily turn into a strong emotion.

On the other hand, you don't want to overeat before a flight, as the altitude can cause bloating and discomfort. Having some snacks on hand could help keep the hunger at bay when skipping heavier meals before takeoff.

Not drinking water

Refraining from heavy meals and spirits before a flight and in an undesirable airport situation is great practice. However, you need to stay hydrated. Traveling for the holidays can get hectic fast, and in the chaos of making sure you have your family and presents in tow, you might neglect to do something as simple as pausing for a drink of water.

If you get through holiday traveling without breaking a sweat, you're a god amongst men. This means that it's even more critical to replace lost fluids in your body. Bring your own bottle and use refill stations to save money at the airport. When your flight attendants ask if you'd like a drink, take them up on it even if you don't feel thirsty at the moment. If you are driving, you should also keep a backup supply in the car in the event of an emergency.

Not bringing your own entertainment

If you have found yourself here, you're likely facing a lengthy journey this holiday season. When packing all the essentials, bring along something to keep you occupied and entertained through all the waiting that comes in between rushing around. Books, a pre-designed playlist, or a portable hobby will come in handy when you have a long delay or flight. If you're driving, an audiobook is a great way to get through the long journey.

Traveling with kids is a whole other ballgame, and packing multiple entertainment tools is vital to winning it. If you're a screen-free family, consider stretching the rule to accommodate nervous littles and to fight off boredom. If your family does make regular use of screentime, limiting them the week leading up to a trip can help keep the activity fresh and entertaining during travel. Of course, there are alternatives to screens; just make sure you account for hours of "are we there yet" when packing for your children.

Overstaying your welcome

Once you've made it to your destination and the stress of long TSA lines and overcrowded airports are behind you, settle in and have fun with your loved ones. Don't overstay your welcome, though. If your hosts expect you to stay a week, don't make it two. If you dread the end of your holiday vacation, opt for a hotel room over a continued stay with family. With the holidays coming and going, you will likely be able to secure a room without much hassle unless you stay in a holiday-centric city like New York.

Of course, if you've taken these tips to heart, you won't have the opportunity to stay longer than previously planned. The savvy traveler would have booked their flight back home months in advance — you won't catch us discouraging an extended vacation, though!