Traveling this time of year is stressful. More than 46 million Americans traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday this year according to AAA. Based on statistics from last year’s Christmas season, double that amount will be “en route” for December and January. With fuel prices way down, it just might be a record year for travel. There are bound to be weather issues, crowds and unexpected surprises during the journey, but it don’t let that ruin the trip. Here’s real advice from some seasoned travelers, including me.
Tips for the Plane Ride
Take zippered plastic bags–fill them with a change of clothes for you or your kids and later, they can transition to laundry bags or to contain wet things or trash.
Carry on your essentials—your toothbrush, one or two days’ worth of medications and a change of clothes will hold you over if your checked baggage is lost.
Travel Wipes – Lots of them. For you, for your kids, for dubious-looking surfaces along the way.
Tips for the Car Trip
Window clings are great for the car (or plane) window and kids can color the surface safely.
Stickers to Count down the Time—this is brilliant! My friend Christie puts stickers on the visor, one for every 30 minutes their family will travel, then removes them as the time passes. Great visual for kids to manage the “are we there yet?” syndrome.
Always have an Activity Bag. I have seen numerous parents traveling by car and plane who may have remembered diapers and the pacifier but expect their kids to sit quietly for hours! The Huyse family has a “go bag” with activities, books and toys that the kids have never seen before. The Pfitzenmaier family wraps them in foil, so the unwrapping becomes part of the fun. These don’t have to be expensive, just new to “them.” This is true for adults too. Don’t forget books, crossword and Sudoku books to keep your brain engaged.
Tips for the REALLY LONG Plane Ride
My family has a ton of personal experience with this phenomenon. With half of our family in Australia, we’ve made the trip from the US to Australia (and the reverse) more than a dozen times. It usually involves 3 or more airplanes and 14-24 hours of travel (the beaches are WORTH it!). This involves a different set of coping skills entirely.
Quick Change Artist — My husband takes a full change of clothes plus a wash cloth, towel and soap in his carry-on. At the halfway point of the longest flight, he takes a “bush shower” (washed up in the sink). The timing of this activity is essential. If you wait until the flight attendants are serving breakfast, it’s too late because the line for the restrooms is LONG.
Books for Gifts – On one trip, I got a bunch of paperbacks from a used bookstore, read them on the plane, and then left them with people who hosted us during our trip. That was before e-readers, of course.
More Carry-on Essentials – For longer flights, you need more stuff. Ear plugs, eye mask, neck pillow, especially if you are traveling coach.
Take off your shoes – On really long flights at higher altitudes, your body actually swells. Taking off shoes and wearing slipper socks is far more comfortable.
Strike a pose – Check out the stretching exercises in the flight magazine and make sure you get up and move throughout the flight.
Packing and Organizing Before You Leave
There are plenty of resources for better packing and organizing, including a lot of video demonstrations which you can see at this link. But some of the best advice is always from friends. Here’s what mine had to say:
Learn to Chant – Lisa Lauf says every time you get to a checkpoint, a plane, etc., say to yourself “phone, computer, wallet, passport” so you don’t forget something (there’s probably a story there).
Clothes Make the Trip – Beth Graham packs “from the floor up”—shoes, socks, pants, underwear, shirt, etc. Also rolling is the universal anti-wrinkle treatment for clothes. Wear your bulkiest shoes so you can get more into your suitcase.
Travel Documents – lots of people recommend travel wallets which can be very useful. For a family, a snap shut plastic file folder will work too. Print out your maps and other confirmation numbers in case your cell service or wifi is spotty.
It’s about those Bags – Make sure they have wheels and if you can bring two, do it in case you take a side trip!
Don’t Forget – an extension cord, umbrella, scarf, coat. Oh and where you parked at the airport – write that down or take a picture with your phone so you can find your car when you return.
Pack Your Smile – If you do a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the experience. Merry Christmas and happy travels this season.
Many thanks to friends and colleagues who contributed ideas for this story, including: Kami Watson Huyse, Jennifer Duplantis, Julie Pippert, Alysia Cook, Katie Hornstrom, Debi Aronson Pfitzenmaier, Jennifer Hatton, Christie Goodman, Patty Constantin, Lisa Lauf Rooper, Jennifer Navarrete, Sheila Payson, Kristie Guthrie, Beth Graham, Taylor Williams and Melody Campbell Goeken.
Photo of Christmas and the Alamo by Nan Palmero. See more of his work on Flickr.