Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Travel Tips: No Longer as Simple as Over the River and Through the Woods

I’ve learned holiday travel tips the hard way — by missing flights, enduring extremely long delays and fighting back fears (and sometimes tears) that I won’t make it back to my family! Since I have yet to experience a smooth trip home for the holidays, I thought I’d share with you some of this new found wisdom. In my experience, reaching your holiday destination can be an adventure and exercise of one’s charm and wit!

Always remember that a relaxing holiday is aided by careful planning and a positive attitude. This is especially important if you will be flying to see your loved ones during the crowded travel season. Holiday air travel is expected to be even more difficult this year than in the past as many airlines have cut flights and raised fares, due to the current state of the economy.

Annie’s Top Five Travel Tips:

1. Book your flight early and try to make flight arrangements during the week. Airlines often raise rates on the weekends because that’s when most people want to fly. Try to avoid peak travel days as much as possible—several of the largest U.S. airlines have increased surcharges for travel on the busiest days to $20 each way, up from $10. If you have any travel questions, the Washington Post Travel Section recently added a live chat and Q & A section.

2. Choose non-stop flights if you can. The worst, most brutal delays occur in connecting airports, where you have no home, friends or family for support. I almost spent last Christmas in an Arizona airport, due to an unexpected West Coast white-out. Special “Annie” Tip: If you miss your flight and don’t make it for Christmas, send your mom the prettiest flowers you can find! I actually had to do this and my mom placed the flowers at my place setting at the dinner table. Above all else, guilt from my mother has made me a smarter and more careful traveler.

3. Delays are far less likely for morning flights and at the beginning of the holiday weekend, with each successive day getting a little busier, more difficult and more expensive. For the Thanksgiving holiday, the Air Transport Association of America said the holiday's busiest travel days are expected to be on November 20, 25, 29 and 30. What’s the bottom line? Travel off-peak whenever possible.

4. Be prepared for anything! This year, Google is offering free Holiday Wi-Fi at 47 airports to help ease the frustration of holiday travel. Be sure to give your cell phone a full charge the night before. Creating a special soundtrack for your trip can help to keep your mind on the excitement of the holiday. Mine always includes Simon & Garfunkel's “Homeward Bound” and John Denver’s “Country Roads.” And, last but never least, pack a sweet, seasonal treat, like snicker doodles, candy canes or sugar cookies to maintain the holiday spirit (even if you run into travel mishap)!

5. If you get stuck in an airport, don’t hide behind a book. Talk to people. Every traveler has a story to share. Remember: your destination is not always a place, but a new way of seeing things.

Holiday “Clause”: If you’re living in Manhattan and flying home the day before a major holiday, it would be far easier to scavenge your way through the Macy’s Day Parade than battle the crowds trying to get to the airports!

My first trip home after moving to Manhattan was over Thanksgiving. I arrived at my Delta departure gate 2.5 hours early—I’ve always been a planner—but still missed my flight! There were so many people and so many flights departing from the same gate that the commotion and confusion was just too overwhelming!

Many others missed that same flight, including my fellow “estranged travelers” in this picture. We bonded after realizing we could not get on a later flight for two days. A college professor, marketing coordinator, Rutgers student and Sarah Lawrence student made a split-second decision to rent a car and drive 7.5 hours to Pittsburgh. We took turns driving, getting to know one another and telling stories for the duration of the “surprise” road trip. We shared a deep appreciation that the same force was driving each of us—doing whatever it took to celebrate with our friends and family. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Wishing you the blessings of warmth and good cheer this Holiday Season as you embark on your journey! Good luck!

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