It’s been a few years since I’ve had to travel very far for Thanksgiving — that's the beauty of having your future in-laws so close — but I still vividly remember the stress of traveling before and on Turkey Day. Luckily, there are quite a few Thanksgiving travel hacks you can employ to make sure you arrive at your destination still relatively sane.
Growing up, I’d spend Thanksgiving with my dad’s family in Arizona. Usually, my dad, sister, and I would pile into the car, and drive across the desert to be with them. But starting in college, I was kind of on my own travel-wise, which meant I had to book my own flights, get myself to the airport, and ride the friendly skies solo or with my sis. Needless to say, I’ve learned a few tricks when it comes to traveling before Thanksgiving. Most of my travel hacks are just good to remember any time you’re flying or driving anywhere — but they’re also particularly useful for Thanksgiving and the holidays when a lot more people are traveling.
My most important hack is more a mental preparation than anything else: It’s going to be a long, busy day of traveling for you, but just remember that your family, friends, and all that glorious food are worth it!
As for my other tips? Check them out below.
1. Book a bundle
Most of us probably stay with family or friends over Thanksgiving, but if your folks are all booked up and you have to stay in a hotel, make it a package deal. Booking your flight, hotel, and car rental through a company like Orbitz can save tons depending on when and where you’re going.
2. Travel on Thanksgiving
You've (hopefully) already booked your flight a while ago, but if you haven't, here's an idea. I know this might seem crazy, but flights on Thanksgiving can be up to 30 percent cheaper than normal, since most people like to arrive the day or two before. But if you have a short flight or your family eats late, you can take an early flight, and then stay through the weekend. The same goes for driving — most people will have traveled the day before, so traffic should be more manageable if you hit the road day of.
3. Leave really early, or really late
If you don’t want to travel on Turkey Day, you’ll need to get a very early or very late start. Literally millions of people will be driving or flying this Thanksgiving — so you’ll want to plan your road trip or flight outside of peak hours. Additionally, if you can get either Tuesday and/or Wednesday off, this will probably help maintain your traveling sanity. I know a 5 a.m. flight or start time sounds like the worst, but you’ll be happy for a less busy airport and less traffic on the road, believe me.
4. Try an alternate airport
Thinking about flying out of your big, mega, international airport when your destination is just a few states away? Think again. Do your research when it comes to smaller, municipal airports in your area before booking your flight. Chances are they will be less crowded, even if you have to make a connecting flight along the way.
5. Pick your route
For years, I’ve taken the exact same route to visit my family over the holidays, and I know familiarity can be comforting during stressful holiday drives. But in a recent visit, I took a totally different route — and it might be the solution to my holiday traffic fears. Check a few different routes ahead of time to see average drive times and traffic reports so you’re not caught off guard.
6. Skip major food and gas hubs
As easy as it seems to stop at big travel centers or clusters of fast food joints, it can actually hold you up considering everyone else is stopping there too. Instead of making a pit stop in a major city or junction, find a smaller town or hub along your route to use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, or fill up. The lines will probably be shorter, which means you can get back on the road quicker.
7. Pack a power strip
Plugs at airports can be hard to come by during holiday travel days. Become everyone’s best friend (and your own device saver) by packing a power strip in your carry-on. That way you can charge all your devices, and make a few people’s days a little brighter, too.
8. Wear a scarf
Not only can a scarf dress up most outfits, but it’s also an incredibly versatile travel accessory. A good scarf can keep you warm on a chilly flight, be used as a makeshift pillow, cover up your travel hair, or cover up the coffee stain you acquired during some turbulence.
9. Apply for TSA Pre-Check status
If you want a bit of a leg up even before you get to the airport, you could try applying for TSA Pre-Check status. Basically, you get to go through an expedited security line, and you don’t have to take off your shoes and light jacket, or take out your laptop or liquids from your carry-on. Nice!
10. Check in beforehand
Most airlines allow you to check in 24 hours before your flight, and you should definitely check in as soon as possible. Some airlines, like Southwest, use your check-in time to determine your boarding order — and since Southwest doesn’t assign seats beforehand, this could be the difference between the last seat on the plane, or a primo aisle seat up front. Checking in ahead of time also allows you to skip the check-in counters if you don’t have any bags to check, and head straight to security, among other things.
11. Wear slippers
If you don’t snag TSA Pre-Check status, you’ll still have to take off your shoes — so make sure you wear the right ones. There is nothing worse than standing behind someone who decided it was a good idea to wear the Converse that lace all the way up to their knees. Flip-flops are a good option, but I recommend slippers (not bedroom slippers — ones that look like actual shoes), since you can slip them on and off, and they’ll keep you warm on your flight.
12. Go to the left
This is sort of a weird one, but it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work. For some reason, most people tend to gravitate toward the right or center when it comes to lines, so choosing the left line at the airport check-in counter or security might mean a shorter line for you.
13. Put your 3-1-1 bag and laptop up front
Don’t waste time digging through your entire carry-on in order to get your bag of approved liquids and your computer out for the security screening — have them both up front. Most carry-on bags have two pockets on the outside of the bag, so place your liquids and laptop there for easy access. After you get through security, you can store them inside your bag.
14. Pack provisions
Airport food is so expensive. Actually, most things at an airport are expensive, so make sure you pack a snack or two. You can bring food in your carry-on, but there are some restrictions, so make sure you adhere to the rules. And while you can’t bring water through security, you can bring an empty bottle to fill up on the other side.
15. Avoid salty foods
Eating salty foods makes you thirsty, and being thirsty makes you consume a lot of liquids, and consuming a lot of liquids… well, you see where I’m going with this. So unless you want to stop to use the restroom or get up from your seat every 20 minutes, pick a less thirst-inspiring snack.