Travelling home for the holidays

Mary Novakovich

Travel writer

It’s the holiday season, and all you want for Christmas is to be with friends and family – no matter how far away they may be. But just getting there can be stressful, and who wants to jeopardise the joy during the festive season? Travel writer Mary Novakovich shares some handy tips to make travelling over the holidays as painless as possible, from booking your trip to arriving jolly and full of energy.

Planning ahead

holiday travel planning

The old adage still rings true: Don’t wait until the last minute to book your travel, especially flights. For most flights, you’ll find cheapest fares anywhere from 6 weeks to about three months out. But with most travel booking, it’s not an exact science, and it’s particularly unique during the winter holiday season. Try to avoid flying on the 22nd and 23rd of December, when prices shoot up, and seek more reasonable fares earlier that week. Christmas Day isn’t necessarily the bargain it used to be, and you can often find cheaper fares on the 24th. If you do fly on Christmas Day, bear in mind that some airports will have reduced services and shops – and the lack of public transport can make getting there a nightmare!

On the right track

train travel holidays

Trains can be a restful way to travel, especially if you consider no niggling rules regarding baggage sizes or carry-on allowances. Book as far in advance as you can to pick up the best deals. The key is to start searching about 12 weeks in advance – and if there’s an option to reserve your seat, take it! In fact, some services won’t allow you to travel without a seat reservation, but either way, you’ll have far less stress trying to race fellow passengers for an open seat. Make the journey part of the holiday by packing a picnic full of self-indulgent, festive, gourmet treats.

At the airport

airports during the holidays

For some travellers, airports during peak holiday season can be pure chaos. Try to avoid adding to the chaos by leaving too little time to get to the airport. You might not think you need two hours to check in until you spot the queues for security. Err on the side of caution and arrive with more than enough time to spare. Once you’re airside, escape the crowds by booking an airport lounge in advance. It’s worth it for the chilled-out atmosphere, free Wi-Fi, generous buffet and the chance to recharge your batteries – and your gadgets – before you board your flight.

If you’ve got to catch a flight before the sun even stirs in the morning, spend the night before at one of the new breeds of airport hotels located right in the terminal. Chains like YOTEL offer affordable style, and you wake up right in the terminal without having to worry about shuttle buses, taxis or transportation from offsite airport hotels that are always a little bit further away than you expected.

Weather vane

weather delays holiday travel

All your best-laid plans can turn to dust when the weather turns nasty. Airports located in regions that have typically snowy winter seasons are ones to watch, but it’s best to always monitor the weather reports prior to your travel date so you can factor in any contingencies. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is prone to delays and cancellations during heavy snow, and fog can create havoc with flights at London’s Heathrow. If you can’t avoid at-risk airports like these, try to build extra time into your schedule in case your flight gets delayed. Also ensure you understand your options in the event your flight is cancelled. No one wants to be stranded at an airport during the season of joy!

It’s a wrap

Its a wrap

While wrapping Christmas presents in advance might save you time, it’s a risky thing to do if you’re flying. You never know when the X-ray machine will flag up your bag and you’re made to undo all your work. Flat sheets of wrapping paper take up next to no space and you can do a sneaky wrap when you arrive. If you’re planning to shop at the airport, choose the boutiques that offer a gift-wrapping service. Or if all else fails, opt to ship gifts ahead of time. That way if you lose your luggage or your flight gets very, very delayed, your gift will still arrive on time. Then you just need to make sure you follow shortly thereafter…

Travelling with kids

Travelling with kids

When you’re flying with little ones in tow, it’s more crucial than ever to leave plenty of time to get to the airport. Save yourself an infinite amount of hassle by knowing exactly what the airline’s regulations include and exclude for small travellers. If your child needs baby milk and you’re worried about restrictions on liquids, some pharmacies allow you to order it in advance online and pick it up at the airport.

Keep kids entertained by filling their tablets with apps, games, audio books and podcasts – and don’t forget to pack child-friendly headphones and portable chargers. If you’ve got restless toddlers who have a habit of disappearing, clip a child locator with a GPS tracker to their clothing. Better still, invest in “ride-on luggage” you can pull around, both to keep kids entertained and transport them with ease once they wear themselves out. And don’t forget the wet wipes, regardless of your child’s age, they always come in handy.

Finding and keeping calm

Finding and keeping calm
Courtesy: Heathrow Airport

Everyone knows travel isn’t always a cup of tea. But there are foolproof ways to find and keep calm despite potential hiccups to your well-thought-out plans.

Want guaranteed silence no matter how you travel? Earplugs will be your saving grace to block out crying babies on flights, noisy chatter and general mayhem surrounding holiday travel hubs. Silence not your type of zen? Noise-cancelling headphones are an investment worth making prior to travel so you can simultaneously filter out background noise whilst also jamming to your favourite tunes. And don’t forget your neck pillow for added comfort, some snacks to avoid a hangry journey and an external battery to charge your electronics in case of unexpected delays.

And when it comes to quick tips for busy airports, train stations and more, travel pros will likely side with your mum on most of them. To help spot your luggage at the crammed airport carousel, tie on a bright ribbon or unique luggage tag. Carry all of your important items in your carry-on bag so if your checked bags don’t arrive at the same destination as you, you aren’t completely out of luck. Just in case, pack a couple bandages as well. Those new shoes may look stylish, but your poor feet may not appreciate them after a long day of travelling.

Finally, just breathe. Whether you arrive to your destination smoothly or bumble along disaster after disaster, you’ve still made it. And remember, travel blunders make for hilarious stories to tell around the dinner table when you arrive. So take it all in stride and you’ll be sure to roll in ready to enjoy the holidays.

With these tips on hand, you’re ready to brave the holiday travel crowd. Book your travel here

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