Thanksgiving travel

Photo by Scott.

The days surrounding Thanksgiving rank as some of the busiest travel days of the year, so if you’ll be heading off to spend the holiday with family, you’d best be prepared to deal with the chaos.

Whether you plan to drive or fly, there are a number of things you can do to make sure the trip goes more smoothly. Read on to learn how to avoid getting bumped off your flight, how to save on gas, and more.

Thanksgiving travel tips for drivers

You might be surprised to learn that about 90% of holiday travelers plan to drive to their destination this Thanksgiving, and that the average journey will be nearly 600 miles long. Throw in the potential for bad weather and that means a lot of congestion on the roads. Stay ahead of the pack by doing these five things to prep for your journey:

1. Check your car thoroughly before departure. It doesn’t take long to check your oil, tires (don’t forget to check the spare), wipers etc., but it could save you from a time-consuming breakdown on the road. Here’s a good checklist (including visuals) to work through before a long road trip.

2. Stock up on emergency supplies. It’s hard to predict when you’ll get caught in a freak snowstorm or other emergency, so pack things like a blanket, flashlight and first aid kit. It’s also not a bad idea to have a few snacks and drinks on hand in case you find yourself stuck in traffic for hours on end. Here is a really comprehensive list of what to carry in a roadside emergency kit.

3. Fill up your tank ahead of time. There’s no point wasting precious time on the day of departure waiting in line at the gas station along with hundreds of other drivers – fill up the day before. If you want to know the cheapest places to fill up along the way, this gas calculator can help you plan your stops.

4. Plan your route carefully. Check road conditions and map out alternate routes in case the one you had planned on is congested or snowed under.

5. Drive at an optimal speed. If you want to save on gas, it’s worth knowing that there’s an ideal driving speed that maximizes your car’s fuel economy. It varies according to the make and model of your car, but in general, speeds higher than 50mph guzzle more gas. Every 5mph over 50mph is equivalent to paying roughly $0.24 extra per gallon of gas – so do the math and decide whether a shorter journey time outweighs the higher gas cost.

Thanksgiving travel tips for flyers

Flying home this Thanksgiving? You’ll be sharing the skies with 24 million other passengers so get ready to face some packed airports. Here are six tips to help you run the gauntlet:

1. Check-in early to avoid getting bumped off the flight. Airlines routinely overbook flights since it’s normal for some passengers to no-show. But what happens when everyone who booked a seat does show up? Passengers are requested to give up their seat voluntarily and if not enough people do, some passengers get bumped off the flight. If you don’t want to be that person, make sure you check-in as early as possible. Most flights will allow you to check-in online 24 hours before departure, so don’t delay – the passengers who checked-in last are the most likely to get bumped.

2. Bring your own boarding pass. Gone are the days of joining long lines at check-in just to get a boarding pass – if you’re traveling carry-on only, there’s no need to go to the check-in counter at all. Just print off your boarding pass at home when you check in. Don’t have a printer? No problem. If you have a smartphone, consider using an electronic boarding pass, which allows you to pull up your boarding pass on your iphone.

3. Arrive at the airport early. Even though you’ll be traveling domestically, make sure you get to the airport early – at least two hours before your flight. Remember that the increased crowds mean everything from check-in to security will take a lot longer than usual – and if you don’t allow enough time, you might miss your flight. If you want to be really thorough, check out this list of the busiest airports over Thanksgiving to see if you’ll need to arrive super early.

4. Check the flight status. While you want to get to the airport with enough time to make your way through security, you also don’t want to get to the airport too early and spend hours in a stressful and hectic environment. Before you leave home, go to Flight Stats and see if your flight is delayed. You can also sign up for email alerts or download an app like FlightTrack so you can check your flight’s status on the go.

5. Know what food is allowed onboard. If you’re traveling with edible gifts, make sure you check the rules about whether the item is allowed as a carry-on. Some holiday foods like pies and cakes are okay to take on the plane, while others, like cranberry sauce, are not. Read the full guidelines about traveling with food to avoid having your home-cooked products confiscated.

6. Stay away from germs. Confined spaces like aircraft cabins are a prime place to pick up bacteria that lead to illness. If you don’t want to spend your Thanksgiving weekend nursing the flu, check out these tips on how to avoid getting sick when flying.

Want even more advice? Read my tips for stress-free travel during the holiday season.

What do you think? Do you have any other advice for travelers about how to stay sane during the hectic holiday period?