By Lynn O'Rourke Hayes
10:30 AM EST, December 20, 2013
Will you be traveling with family during the holidays? It's not your regular trip. Besides the need to get where you're going — seeing loved ones amps up the pressure — you have the complication of weather that can cause delays and, of course, crowds that almost certainly will cause delays.
Here are some tips that can save you grief; a couple of them call for you to spend money to save heartache. Usually, More for Your Money is all about saving money but in this case, your outlay of cash will be offset. Your initial reaction to some of them may be "no way," but before you draw that line in the sand, think about the trade-off in stress, then it might be worth it.
• Travel light. Yes, you have to get those tins of fruitcake to your loved ones, but mail them. Yes, you need a winter coat for the Upper Midwest. Don't pack it; wear it (and the boots too). The point is twofold: First, by mailing gifts and other things, you won't have to worry about whether they're in a checked bag that goes off on its own adventure. Second, the less you have to mess with, the better off you'll be.
Mishandled baggage reports show that the problem with bags that went astray peaked in 2007 and has steadily declined since then (with a slight uptick in 2012). That roughly corresponds with increasing baggage fees that have caused many people to reconsider checking luggage. Even with fewer bags, there are still misconnects (1.78 per 1,000 passengers in 2012), and if yours, carrying your personal sleigh full of toys, is one of them, it will be a blue, blue Christmas.
Flights are expected to be crowded during the holidays, which means you'll have plenty of company through security. The Transportation Security Administration is now randomly choosing passengers to receive expedited screening to make better use of those lanes set aside for that purpose.
• Do yourself a favor and buy your liquids when you get there, don't wear a belt when you travel, and wear slip-on shoes. (If you have expedited screening, called PreCheck, you probably won't have to worry about any of this because you usually get to keep your belt etc. on and liquids and laptop in your hand luggage. The only thing you have to worry about after that is the newbies who don't know the PreCheck rules.)
• Consider buying early boarding for at least one adult. That way, that person can be on the plane waiting for the others, perhaps having carried on one bag and one personal item to get them out of the way. Because most flights no longer serve food (or they charge for food), be sure to bring snacks and entertainment to avoid piling up onboard food, beverage and entertainment charges. Rules about the use of electronics on the aircraft are changing, so check with your carrier to learn about timing for using your personal on-board entertainment options.
• If you're not flying, spend some money to have the car checked out. Fluids should be topped up, especially that critical windshield wiper fluid, and you should pack blankets, drinks, snacks, music and games for young travelers. Try apps that will keep you apprised of treacherous weather, accidents and unexpected road closures. Make lodging reservations in advance. If you can't or haven't, consider an app such as HotelTonight, which now allows you to make a reservation as early as 9 a.m. for discounted rooms for the day of your stay. If you haven't made lodging reservations in advance, stop in plenty of time to avoid encountering no-vacancy situations on busy travel routes. An app that can help with what's ahead on the road: http://www.iexitapp.com, which tells you what's coming up on the interstate, such as hotels.
• If you need a place to stay for the duration, consider rental condos and vacation homes for a holiday stay so the family can spread out, avoid busy restaurant crowds and dine at leisure. Just be sure to confirm and clarify the method with which you will gain access to the residence well in advance. Your crew will be tired, so arriving with a clear check-in plan is advisable. Among those that can help you find a holiday home: Homeaway.com, FlipKey.com and VRBO.com.
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