To Grandmother's House We Go! How to Avoid (or at Least Prepare for) a Holiday Travel Disaster 

Rule #1: Embrace the magic (read: mayhem) of the festive season

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The season of 2-hour airport security lines, traffic jams with a car full of kids, and that annual reminder that yes, fruitcake is TSA-approved, but that gravy in your carry-on (looking at you, Chrissy Teigen) is more than 3.4 fluid ounces.

It’s peak travel season, and the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, in particular, will see millions of Americans swarming major transit hubs in order to make it home for the holidays. While some level of chaos is essentially guaranteed, there are a few travel hacks anyone can apply to make the coming festive season a little less stressful.

Midwest Snowstorm Holiday Travel, Chicago, USA - 25 Nov 2018
Nam Y Huh/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Travel at off hours, or even on off days, whenever possible.

Heading to grandma’s house on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always going to be a slog. If possible, try to travel at less popular times: Very early in the morning or later at night, instead of in the afternoon or during evening rush hour.

Even better, travel on less popular days, advises AAA. Driving to and from your Turkey Day destination on Wednesday afternoon and Sunday evening, for example, is best avoided. Making the trip on the Monday or Tuesday prior and returning the following Monday should save some traffic headaches. And if you’re flying, you’ll likely find cheaper ticket prices.

Arrive to the airport early. Like, really early.

Cautious planners, this is your time to shine. Unexpected delays, like long lines to check baggage or go through security, can add significant time to your trip. The TSA recommends arriving to the airport two hours before your flight for domestic travel and three hours ahead for international trips during the holidays.

Christmas surprise at the airport Pulkovo

Don’t pack presents.

For your own peace of mind, it’s a good idea to ship presents ahead to your holiday destination. It will mean less to lug through the airport while sweating in your ski jacket, and less likelihood of incurring an overweight bag fee.

And if you must, don’t wrap them.

If, for any reason, the TSA finds a wrapped gift suspicious, they can — and will — unwrap it. Every year, holiday travelers are shocked to find upon opening their suitcases after a flight, that their carefully packaged presents have been opened and sometimes, unceremoniously rewrapped by security workers because they were thought to include something dangerous.

A few common offenders: That Nerf gun is a no-go. Snow globes must contain less than 3.4 ounces of liquid (about the size of a tennis ball) to go in your carry-on. English-style Christmas crackers are completely prohibited.

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Plan ahead for a kid-friendly flight.

Traveling with the whole family can be a headache, but there are a few tricks to keep your party — and those sitting near them — happy on a long haul flight. If you have a particularly rowdy crew, consider bringing along mini care packages for nearby passengers that include things like ear plugs and sweets. One woman even sent some gift bags along with her dad, a noted loud snorer, to be shared with his seat mates.

Interior of airplane showing air steward serving drinks

Embrace the wipe down.

Naomi Campbell caught flack for her elaborate plane-seat-cleaning routine, but wiping down your whole area is actually not a bad idea, according to experts. Because of quick turnarounds, plane interiors often don’t get deep cleaned between flights. So take an antibacterial wipe to any surface you plan to touch — including your tray table (one of the dirtiest spots), touch-screen entertainment systems, and anywhere you might rest your head — to avoid coming down with a Christmas cold.

Prepare for a little chaos.

No matter how well you plan, holiday travel is bound to throw you a curve ball or two. So prepare as best as possible, and then be ready to readjust. Remember, that turkey waiting for you at the end is worth it!

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