The 5 Biggest Holiday Travel Pitfalls You Need To Avoid

Imagine this. You've planned a holiday trip to France with five children and six cousins. The night before departure, the oldest child deliberately eats the youngest child's cheese pizza. The youngest, naturally upset, inadvertently spills milk and ruins dinner. A tipsy uncle calls him "a little jerk" before his mother exiles the kid to the attic, where he sleeps through the next morning's chaos. 

The whole family oversleeps, making them late for the international flight. The family haphazardly packs their bags and rushes to board their airport shuttle. After running through peak holiday crowds at an airport, the family barely catches their departure to France. Unfortunately, the youngest child is left home alone to fend for himself against two burglars.

While sometimes it's hard to avoid travel hiccups like these, a little preparation can help. By avoiding common travel planning pitfalls, you can ensure your holiday vacation is a kid-in-tow success. And it may be important to be extra vigilant this year, as experts predict a very busy holiday season, per Business Insider.

Not booking your holiday vacation early enough

While playing roulette with last-minute deals may pay off sometimes, gambling with holiday travel is dicey. When it comes to hotels, maybe, but you probably needed to book your flights yesterday. According to an article by USA Today, the best time to reserve November and December holiday flights is before mid-October.

If you've already missed the boat (or plane), spend a few days or a week monitoring airfare. While airfare will remain high after mid-October, the fares can also be volatile. Day-to-day prices can change, so eagle-eyed planners may find a last-minute deal. That said, cavalier travelers should put limits on their deal-seeking. Once the travel crunch really sets in, holiday fares typically spike. A lot of flights will also hit capacity.

Hotels are different. Leading up to the holidays, prices will typically increase. Every hotel's primary goal is to maximize its capacity rate. If they don't fill up, you're likely to find last-minute hotel deals, no matter the time of year. That said, this approach will really depend on your destination.

Not researching your destination

If you're visiting family, you'll probably be familiar with your surroundings. But if your family is snow-birding for the holidays or visiting a popular holiday destination, it's wise to perform a deep-dive on the location. The holiday season can create unforeseen circumstances. While this may sound obvious, assumptions can derail your holiday express.

For example, you're planning to attend the annual Holidazzle event in downtown Minneapolis this year. It's not the busiest holiday destination, so you're sure downtown will offer plenty of last-minute hotel deals. Excited for the dazzle, you sit down to book your hotel one week before arrival. To your surprise and dismay, downtown Minneapolis hotels are absolutely and completely booked. Frantically Google-sleuthing, you soon discover the NFL's Minnesota Vikings are playing this year's Christmas Day game. With plans plundered, you can only find accommodations in the suburbs, a 30-minute drive from downtown. Now you're researching car rentals. 

While this is a pretty specific example, research always helps. If traveling overseas, do you have the correct international plug adapters for outlets? What's the weather forecast? Are there any visa requirements? What's the best way to reach your hotel from the airport? As you research your destination, you can also begin to create the absolutely perfect holiday itinerary. 

Creating the absolutely perfect holiday itinerary

Itineraries are tricky. On one hand, itineraries help you to manage time, plan effectively, and ensure everyone experiences everything a vacation has to offer. On the other hand, it's impossible for everyone to experience everything a vacation has to offer. 

Vacations, especially family vacations, can be a whirlwind of different opinions, preferences, and priorities. While creating an itinerary can help you plan, an overly crowded list of must-do's can lead to a stressful time.

According to Forbes, clinical research shows that a (pleasant) vacation can lower blood pressure, enhance cognitive function, and improve sleep. In a nine-year study, researchers followed 12,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease. Those who took more yearly vacations were less likely to die from any cause, including heart-related illnesses. But a stressful, rushed vacation to check off an itinerary is both physically unhealthy and mentally exhausting. It completely misses the point of a vacation. 

By approaching a must-do list like a "could-do" list, you can enjoy and survive a democratic family trip. After all, spending quality time with loved ones is the cornerstone of a family vacation — especially during the holidays.

Spending too much time with family

Okay, the holiday season is a time to celebrate the spirit of togetherness, and vacation is a time to create memorable experiences. Ergo, a holiday vacation is the perfect time for creating memories with loved ones. And it is! But let's be reasonable. If you're traveling to visit family for the holidays, try to be cognizant of space, the ends of ropes, and last nerves — yours and there's.

According to a survey of 2,000 Americans traveling to visit family for the holidays, respondents had about a four-hour average threshold for spending time with family before needing an escape. However, in a reasonable dichotomy, 95% of these respondents also felt it was important to spend the holidays with family. 

Family is family, but by allowing a little space for ourselves and others, we can usually avoid any mid-vacation meltdowns or blowups. Remember, it's the holiday season with family, after all. For auld lang syne, my dear.

Forgetting it's the holidays

This is two-fold. First, it's important to remember that it's the holidays. Relax, celebrate, be merry. Second, and a bit more practically, the holidays also mean large crowds, skeleton-crew operations, fully booked accommodations, store and restaurant closings, and unpredictable weather. Because of these travel conditions and diminished options, if something goes awry, you should probably get travel insurance.

While you may typically forego travel insurance, you may want to this go-round. Flight delays and cancellations are always a risk, but with the holiday recipe of crowds, lingering COVID-19, wintry weather, and booked-to-brim hotels, travel insurance could help you navigate the storm. 

Insurance could mean a hotel room if you miss a layover, a full reimbursement for a holiday-priced flight, or compensation for the gifts in a lost bag. In other words, insurance may be the difference between a travel hiccup and bah humbug. It can also be especially helpful when frantically returning from France.