20 tips for traveling during the holidays

There are many celebrations this season and millions of people will travel to enjoy them with loved ones. Unfortunately, holiday travel means more people taking to the roads, rails and skies. Higher prices, crowds and bad weather await travelers this hectic season.

Want to make your journey a little smoother? Try these tips to dial down those travel headaches:

Book early. Stop procrastinating or hoping prices will drop. Those last minute deals only work when you can be flexible with time and destination. Also, because there’s high demand, providers won’t be forthcoming with discounts or be willing to negotiate. Experts warn that your best bet to get the transportation and accommodations you want is to book as soon as possible.

Avoid the busiest days. If possible, steer clear of peak travel days like Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Eve and Day. That’s when airports, bus terminals and train stations are at their busiest. They’re also the days when many people are on the road, meaning traffic slowdowns and an increased risk for accidents.

Travel early. It pays to be a morning person. Early flights are less like to face delays — especially if you’re travelling via an airport in a bad weather zone. If you do run into trouble, there’s more opportunity to hop on a later flight rather than waiting until the next day.

Be careful with connections. The more connections you have to make, the greater the chance of delays and missed flights. Experts recommend looking for non-stop or direct flights, and allowing plenty of time between connections if you do have to transfer.

Read up on policies and restrictions. You can avoid many mishaps by visiting your airline and airport’s websites well in advance of your trip.

Book ahead as much as possible. Need a parking spot or a car rental? Tickets to a popular show? Expect everything to fill up quickly during the holiday season, so book ahead to make sure you get what you need. As always, shop around for the best price and be sure to read the fine print.

Give yourself plenty of time. Remember winter weather? Don’t pack that itinerary too tightly or you might risk missing your flight or that big event. Allow extra time to get to your destination, whether it’s the airport or a loved one’s home.

Skip the line-ups. During peak travel times, airlines recommend using their online or mobile check-in services and printing up your boarding pass at home, at an airport kiosk or downloading it to your mobile device. You can even tag your own bags at a self-serve kiosk if available.

Avoid the bump. Many companies overbook anticipating that not all passengers will show up — and as a result, you can get bumped from your plane, train or bus. The American Society of Travel Agents says you can avoid this issue by arriving early, getting an advance seat assignment and checking in online.

Stay informed. One of the benefits of living in the information age is that we get plenty of warning when something could affect our travels — like a major accident, travel advisory or severe weather.

Pack light. Lots of travelers, bulky winter attire, sports equipment, and presents… all of this can add up to a lot of baggage. Save yourself some trouble by keeping luggage to a minimum. Leave the luxury items at home, and aim for neutral clothing items that work well together, for example.

Pack a phone list. Don’t leave home without your essential numbers! In case something happens, you may need to call emergency services, your doctor, insurance company, travel providers, travel agent and loved ones at home and at your destination.

Wrap gifts when you get there. While you won’t have your arsenal of wrappings and ribbons, you’ll avoid damage and hassles when heading through security. Another option is to order online and let the retailer send the packages instead. Many companies offer free shipping promotions this time of year — just keep an eye out for the “order by” deadlines.

Get plenty of rest. Yes, it’s hard to do during the holidays, but travelling when you’re not alert and aware can pose many hazards. You’re more likely to make mistakes, get into a car accident or even get taken advantage of by a crook.

Look after your health. Food poisoning, colds and flu, stress and exhaustion are common health issues this time of year. Keep your hands clean, stick to your regular exercise routine and diet and take steps to avoid illnesses.

Take extra safety precautions. Unfortunately, holiday season is also a busy time for crooks so take extra precautions with your luggage, cash and important documents. Be especially careful at transportation hubs, on public transit and in places where large numbers of people gather.

Pack emergency supplies. Winter driving can be hazardous, and you’ll want to be ready if you get stuck somewhere. An emergency kit with a shovel, windshield washer fluid, sand or kitty litter, blankets, candles, extra clothing and footwear and a first-aid kit can help you cope with an emergency.

Pack some entertainment and snacks. Delays are inevitable, but boredom hunger can make them seem endless. Depending on what’s permitted, load up on some healthy snacks and some things to do while you wait — like music, games and a DVD player.

Consider insurance. A lot can happen while you’re away. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance can help you recoup the costs if you need to cancel or rebook.

Be patient and polite. You might not feel very merry, but being polite and courteous to transportation providers and your fellow travelers will help smooth the way — even if they don’t reciprocate. You’re more likely to get better service if you keep your temper.