The end-of-year holiday travel season is a notoriously busy and expensive time to travel. In the US alone, about 47% of Americans plan on traveling for the holidays in 2022. Despite financial concerns and high travel prices, people are eager to get back on the road and rest before the end of the year.
If you plan to spend the holidays with out-of-town family and friends, the stress of the trip can be daunting. Fret not, with these 10 holiday travel tips you’ll travel like a pro, make it to your destination with a smile on your face, and be fully ready to celebrate!
1. Choose your destination wisely
No one ever goes there? You should go!
Are all your friends heading to Saint-Barthélemy? Don’t. Seriously, traveling to the most popular destinations means guaranteed chaos & holiday madness. Unless you’re stuck traveling to a precise location to see someone, in particular, avoid top holiday destinations like the plague. Avoiding the classic holiday trips will ensure you have space to breathe and quietude on your side… And we promise you’ll be more rested when you head back home.
Consider vacation packages
You may not be an “all inclusive” type of person. We get it. But if there’s one time in your life to try vacation packages, the holidays are a perfect time. Why? Because most companies make deals that you simply cannot refuse. From travel expenses to accommodation, car rental and sometimes even food, the package deal is so appealing that you’ll most likely spend less on your trip than you would while staying at home.
2. Outsmart the crowds with your travel plans
Travel on unpopular days
During the holidays, most people have similar vacation dates, which means many of them travel on the same days to get the most out of their time off. This also translates into expensive fares and a higher density of travelers. In fact, in the US, the Tuesday and Wednesday before, and Sunday following American Thanksgiving are three of the busiest travel days of the year. For Christmas, it depends on which day of the week the holiday falls on. January 2nd is also a busy travel day.
To avoid some of the holiday craze, figure out when people are most likely to travel. Generally, people will schedule their travel dates to ensure they “waste” the least vacation time, which generally means they’ll leave before weekends or try to make a bridge between holidays and weekends. If you can, work your holiday travel schedule around these popular days. You’ll pay less for your ticket, and won’t face as many crowds.
Choose alternate airports
If it’s an option, book your tickets through an alternate airport, a smaller one if there is one not too far away. These tend to be less crowded than main airports, which means fewer delays and sometimes, even cheaper travel options! What’s more, parking or rental cars at the departure or arrival airport might be less expensive as well.
Also, if you absolutely need to fly, avoid connexions if you can. With the holiday craze, delays are frequent and chances are that you’ll end up stressing out to catch your second flight, or worse, missing it altogether. If you must, plan enough time between your flights.
Travel early or late
Another great holiday travel tip is to travel on days on which people gather to celebrate, as most people would rather wine and dine with loved ones than take the bus, train or plane. Consider traveling on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or the likes.
If that’s not an option, your best bet is to travel early in the morning or late. Why? Because most people don’t enjoy early departures, since it means heading to the airport, train or bus station in the middle of the night. Most people (and especially families traveling with young children) will book flights at a less ungodly hour and hey—you may just have fewer crying children onboard, too!
Travel by bus
So of course, buses tend to be a little more crowded during the holidays, since many people travel back home to spend Christmas with their loved ones. But, compared to airports, bus stations are an oasis! So, if possible, take the bus to your holiday destination and enjoy well-deserved peace and quiet.
Give yourself a few buffer days
Delays during the holiday season are inevitable. Often, weather and traffic jams cause cancellations and extended trips. If you need to attend a holiday gathering, wedding, or an event that you know you can’t miss, don’t leave it down to the wire. Give yourself a buffer in between when you plan to arrive and when you need to be there.
3. Arrive early
Traveling by bus
If you travel by bus, there are multiple reasons to arrive early, most importantly:
- You won’t have to rush and worry about missing your bus. No extra stress needed this time of year.
- To make sure you know where your bus will pick you up. Not all carriers pick up passengers at a bus station or terminal. Some bus stops are in parking lots, gas stations or on various city streets. Don’t forget, the exact pick and drop off locations are available on your confirmation email and in your Busbud account.
- If you’re in line early you can secure your preferred seat, as not all carriers offer assigned seating.
A note on bus travel…
Each bus provider’s rules and regulations are different. For example, some carriers will let you board with a ticket on your phone, or just a confirmation number, while some bus companies require a printed ticket. The last thing you want to do is run around searching for a FedEx Office near the bus stop to print your ticket.
While you’re at it, you can take a look at the major bus companies in the US and how they compare. Read the Busbud confirmation email carefully. It contains all the information that is pertinent to your trip such as exchange and refund policies. What if you get caught late at work and need to hop on a later bus, is that allowed, or do you forfeit the fare? Read up to be prepared!
Traveling by plane
Getting to the airport ahead of time usually means you won’t have to wait in line for too long. Yes, you’ll have more time to kill before hopping on your flight, but at least you’ll be waiting close to your gate—perhaps sipping a drink—rather than spending your time lining up with a hoard of anxious people. And (since you’re early) even if there are major delays at security, you won’t be running for your life hoping you don’t miss your flight. Another holiday travel tip: check in online if you can. This usually ensures you won’t have to wait in line to get your bag tags.
4. Make backup plans
Whatever you’re planning, the most important holiday travel tip to follow is to have a backup plan for everything. Everything! Travel plans, travel itinerary, travel dates, travel accommodation, travel bag, travel entertainment, planned activities, etc. Make a plan A, B and perhaps even C, so whatever happens with plan A, and even plan B, you can still make it to your destination.
5. Pack smart & ship your gifts
Dealing with gifts
The less you pack, the better. It might be tempting to stock up on gifts for friends and family, but trust us, it’s a bad idea! (Yes, you can blame it on us when you show up empty-handed.) Seriously, don’t risk getting caught at customs with fresh cheese or truffle oil. Or worse, don’t risk having to clean your suitcase after a delicious bottle of wine exploded in it.
If you’re traveling home with presents, consider shipping them. Our pro tip, use Amazon’s gift-wrapping option and send the gifts directly to your destination! Your packages will be there when you arrive, and you won’t have to worry about carrying a heavy suitcase or having fragile gifts flail around the cargo hold of the bus during your holiday travel.
Now, if you can’t avoid bringing gifts, consider the following rules:
- If you fly, don’t wrap your gifts ahead of time as you may have to unwrap them at security.
- Make sure breakable items are well secured.
- If you’re bringing food or booze, check the local regulations to make sure you’re not breaking any laws.
Light packers, prevail!
If you can, travel with small carry-on-sized bags to avoid any further delays to claim your baggage and to be able to keep an eye on your belongings wherever you go. The less you have, the less you have to worry about.
6. Charge devices and download ahead of time
You’ll find that some bus companies offer onboard Wi-Fi, while others don’t. However, there are no guarantees on the quality of the connexion—it might not support streaming services or could be slow due to everyone on the network.
If you download before you go (movies, TV episodes, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.), and make sure you’re at 100% battery, you’ll have a library of entertainment at your hands during your holiday travel season.
If you have one, pack a portable charger so you never run out of juice! If not, jot down important phone numbers for when you arrive at your destination so you don’t end up panicking if your phone is out of batteries. If you are traveling with someone, read up on games to play on the road.
7. Be prepared for anything!
BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks) + BYOW (water)
No one wants to be the hangry person on the bus stuck in hours of traffic. If you have a longer route, there might be rest stops, but it’s not guaranteed. Also, the food selection at highway rest stations can be limited, not ideal if you’re health-conscious or on a restricted diet.
Pack light and easy snacks that are high in protein and nonperishable to keep you feeling great on your journey; almonds, trail mix, granola or protein bars, or jerky. Also, make sure to pack plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you’re flying, pack a leak-proof stainless steel bottle, isotherm if you have one, and simply empty it before passing through security. You can then fill it up (for free!) and avoid purchasing and repurchasing plastic bottles to stay hydrated.
Embrace the mom essentials
Mothers generally have large purses filled with various useful items—embrace that mentality during your holiday travels. Think hand sanitizer, packs of tissues, ibuprofen, mints, cough drops, or even packets of Emergen-C/Airborne. If you’re stuck on a long bus ride in traffic, you never know when you might get a runny nose or headache. Not to mention that the change of weather, a decreased immune system from stress, and germs from other travelers are a recipe for illness, so protect yourself.
8. Keep calm and smile
If you go into your holiday trip prepared for bumps in the road, lengthy travel times, and an abundance of crowds, you’re more likely to keep your cool throughout the journey. Stay Zen during the trip, by downloading meditation apps like InsightTimer or HeadSpace.
They offer tons of free guided meditations. You can also try doing some seated deep-breathing exercises or easy stretches. Modify a few car yoga poses to work in your bus seat. Just try not to bother your seatmate.
In any case, no matter what happens [insert incident here], breathe and remember to smile. This will not only ensure you enjoy your trip, it will also encourage people to be nicer to you. So keep cool and keep your smile on. After all, it’s the holidays… Spread the love!
9. Remember, it’s the holidays
If you’re planning some major touristy activities, check—and double-check—opening hours. Perhaps even call ahead to make sure the places you are planning to visit are really open. Indeed, although regular opening hours are usually posted on websites, the holiday hours are not always updated and you might end up being disappointed.
If you’re planning a lovely meal out in a delicious restaurant—again, it’s the holidays! Many people may have had the same idea and you might end up starving if you don’t reserve beforehand. In some cases, reservations need to be done weeks ahead.
Celebrations are in the air and people are going out!
- Note that in some cities, public transport can work on a Sunday schedule during the holidays (which means that there are fewer vehicles on the road and they tend to be more crowded).
- If you’re more of a taxi person, consider that there may be long waiting times at night, when people have been drinking at parties.
- If you’re driving, don’t drink! It might seem like an obvious one, but it is always good to keep it in mind.
10. Prepare for peace of mind
Depending on where you live, you might be a little worried about leaving your homestead. Holidays tend to see a spike in burglaries, as lots of people are away. Don’t be shy to ask friends or family to pop by regularly, switch on a few lights and water the plants. Or even better, rent out your place and make a few extra bucks while you’re gone.
Ready for your holiday adventure?
Traveling on a bus can save you time and money by avoiding overcrowded airports so book your bus tickets on Busbud in advance. With these holiday travel tips, you can make the most of your journey, and arrive full of cheer!