by Kristin Harmel, Novelist & Travel Expert
The holidays: they’re supposed to be a time for relaxing, but somehow, for many of us, this time of year is full of go-go-go travel without a moment to catch our breath.
Whether you’re visiting family or trying to escape them for a bit, there’s an easier way to travel. Here’s how:
- When you’re laying out your holiday schedule, make a plan and stick to it. Many of you – like me – generally prefer to enjoy a trip as it comes. But when it comes to the holidays, so many unexpected twists and turns can pop up that having a handle on your schedule will make everything easier. So sit down and map out all your obligations. If you’re driving, leave ample room in your schedule for holiday traffic, especially on Dec. 22, 24, 25 and 26, and if you have multiple locations to hit, decide now when, where and how you’re getting there. And remember: You can’t please all the people all the time. In other words, don’t expect to show up at six families’ houses in four different cities in two days. Choose where you’re going, explain and apologize to the others, and move on. If you spread yourself too thin, you’ll have a miserable holiday.
- If you’re flying, pack light and carry on, if you can. The U.S. Postal Service is actually quite inexpensive if you plan ahead; it’s much better to buy your gifts and ship them to your destination ahead of time. Ditto for shipping presents back home. Otherwise, you might waste valuable time waiting for your baggage to come off the carousel, and most airlines charge a fee for checked bags anyhow (with the notable exceptions of Jet Blue and Southwest). And remember all the quick-through-the-airport rules: No bottles over 3 ounces, everything liquid must fit in a quart-sized zip-top bag, wear shoes that are easy to take on and off. Carry your coat on, pack no more than two pairs of shoes, two pairs of pants, three shirts, and a dress or skirt. The more you pare down, the easier it will be to get ready and to get from place to place.
- If you’re driving, start off with a full tank, pack snacks and drinks (such as baby carrots, chips, cookies, water or a thermos of coffee), bring entertainment (a playlist, an audiobook, DVDs for backseat passengers, etc.), and have a traffic app like Beat the Traffic handy on your smartphone to avoid traffic jams. Looking for a fun way to pass the time as a family in the car? This list from Disney and FamilyFun.com might just make your road trip fun.
- Before you hit the road for the holidays, don’t be afraid to give yourself a bit of R&R. Christmas is still a couple weeks away, and my house looks like Santa’s workshop gone wrong. It’s filled with books, toys, gifts, wrapping paper and a to-do list a mile long. For me, being at home this time of year isn’t necessarily going to be relaxing. If you’re anything like me, this is a great time to plan a staycation. Why now? Why stay-cate when you have a ton of travel coming up? Because it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it will help you maintain your sanity. And darn it, don’t you deserve a gift for yourself? First of all, figure out what’s most relaxing or refreshing for you, and plan around that. It doesn’t have to be an expensive weekend; you can stay one night in a hotel and do something you love without breaking a hundred dollars. Find a great hotel rate with Priceline or Hotwire. On Priceline, you can bid for the possibility of 60 percent savings or go for an Express Deal, which is up to 45 percent off the standard rate. On Hotwire, the equivalent is the Secret Hot Rate; you pay for a hotel of a certain star level, save a ton of money, and find out the name after you’ve booked. If the hotel is nice enough, you may even choose to just stay in and order room service and a movie. Or order a pizza and bring your own wine!
- Even if you’re not interested in a hotel stay, have a mini-staycation by going to a great local event – a Broadway show, a sporting event, a concert, the ballet, whatever – without breaking the bank by scoring last-minute tickets on StubHub.com. Or if you’re in a holiday celebration mood, check out what your area has to offer to get you in the holiday spirit. Maybe it’s seeing the Nutcracker or doing a Christmas lights drive. In Orlando, for example, head over to Epcot for the magical Candlelight Processional, to Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or to Universal Studios for the Macy’s Holiday Parade. In other parts of the country, google your city’s name along with “Christmas party” or “Christmas event” to see what’s going on. And for a simple dinner out, check out Living Social, Groupon and Restaurant.com for some awesome deals at nice restaurants in your area. You can stick to your holiday budget while still indulging yourself – right there in your hometown.