Tips For Stress-Free Thanksgiving Travel

If your Thanksgiving plans include traveling, whether by plane or car, you need to know how to cope with the imminent nightmare and chaos. After all, millions of people are going to be doing the same as you. If your travel plans in the past have gone terribly wrong—or worse, if you have a history of not planning at all, then it's time to make a major change.

Book flights right now

The earlier you book your flight, the bigger the chances you'll save more money. The best time to book a flight is on Tuesday night or Wednesday early morning, travel agents say. The heaviest travel days are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Sunday and Monday after. High demand means high prices.

Choose alternative airports

Low-cost carriers usually fly into smaller airports, which can offer tremendous savings on your travel. You're going to deal with fewer crowds. That has tons of advantages – little chance of delays, major problems or lost luggage – because the staff won't be so busy. If you're going to Chicago, fly into Midway instead of O'Hare; pick Maryland instead of Washington International, and Oakland instead of San Francisco.

Fly early morning or late night

There are a handful of benefits to flying at night—typically lower rates, fewer delays, less crowded airports and the potential to sleep through the flight—but what many people don't realize is that there are also fewer delays during the morning. After analyzing 6 million flights, experts recommend avoiding flights between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. to dodge delays that get worse as the day goes on.

Travel on Thanksgiving Day, never the day before

The lightest day is Thanksgiving Day itself because everybody wants to be at their endpoint by then. Right now, for example, a round-trip ticket with from Newark, New Jersey (an alternative airport to JFK or LaGuardia) to Fort Lauderdale on November 23 at night and coming back on Tuesday, November 28, is $160. The same one-way ticket, but the day before, is $260.

Download movies for the flight

Charge all of you electronic devices and download all of the movies, shows, videos, music and games you know you'll be watching, listening to or playing. You can't count on the airport or airline's Wi-Fi, which is often not free and slow. Don't waste a minute being annoyed; it's not good for your health.

Buy travel insurance

Thanksgiving travel is famous for long delays, bad weather and canceled flights. Travel insurance will reimburse you if you need to change your flight or cancel your trip altogether. It also covers any items that may have been lost during delays. It usually costs around $20 per trip.

Sign up of PreCheck

On a typical travel day, TSA PreCheck and similar programs may help you save a few minutes, but during some of the busiest travel days of the year these programs are life-savers. Keep your shoes on, and don't worry about removing your belt or coat—make it to your gate that much sooner.

Write down important phone numbers

Important phone numbers such as those of travel insurance, airline customer service, car information (if you're driving), people who are expecting you, etc. are crucial to have nearby so you can call in case of an emergency or extreme delays. Don't always count that your phone will be charged or will have service. You'll need help if you're in trouble and you don't want close family and friends to be worried if you don't show up on time.

Check in online

Spend as little time at the airport as possible. Head straight to the security check line and save about half an hour, or more depending on the line, to print out your boarding pass. Make sure you print your boarding pass if you have to. Not all airlines give you the option to board the plane by scanning your ticket. Sign up for flight alerts to be notified if there are any changes to your flight.

Plan your pick-up

Don't spend extra time at the crowded airport figuring out how to leave it. Book a pick-up in advance, if no one will be there to drive you. This is especially convenient during the holidays. Don't fall into the trap of greedy cab drivers who may charge you a lot more than the regular fare.

Look for longer layovers

Delays are to be expected when you're traveling around Thanksgiving. If you have to connect to a different flight to reach your destination, make sure you have at least two hours of layover time. Flights are independent of each other. If the first one is late, the second will not wait for it.

Pack light

This may be a struggle for some but if you are trying to avoid unnecessary stress, travel with only a carry-on bag. You're only going away for a few days? Do you really need five pairs of shoes, two coats, three jackets and six sweaters? If you already checked in online, you will be able to bypass check in at the airport and make your way to security in no time if you have just a carry-on.

Don’t check your bag

Many factors don't depend on you when it comes to air travel. The only aspect of which you have full control is your carry-on luggage. Don't check bags because then you'll have to spend more time at the airport and away from friends and family waiting for it at the carousel. Besides, checked bags often get lost. Also, save money on baggage fees.

Reserve parking in advance

Why would you want to look for parking at the airport during the busiest time of the year? And what if there is no space left? Reserve a parking space in advance, just park your car and go to your terminal. Most airports offer short- and long-term parking for around $20 per 24 hours and no hidden fees.

Map your route (if driving)

Some apps show current road conditions, others don't. Be sure to download one that is updated all the time. Make sure you're familiar with road closures and construction along the way. Have a Plan B in case you have to change your route because of huge traffic jams or accidents ahead of you. Keep a paper map in your car, just in case.

Plan your stops (if driving)

Depending on how long the drive to your destination is you may not want to take snacks from home because they may go bad. You may also get there without having to stop for bathroom breaks. But in case you're going to be on the road for 2+ hours, have a plan and know where the gas stations and food courts are. They can be 20 miles apart or more; this is a long time if you have to use the facilities or if the kids are hungry.

Bring chargers

Keep chargers for all of your electronic devices nearby. Beware of the fact that GPS and route-finding apps burn up your battery very quickly. The same goes for games and other big apps on smartphones and iPads that keep the kids entertained.

Bring snacks

Flights and long travel days open you up to getting sick—especially during cold and flu season, so it pays to prepare. Have a healthy snack before you leave so you don't need to buy food at the airport, which is often expensive and too processed. Bring cut fruits, carrots or granola bars to keep you full and energetic during your travel adventures.