The holiday season is officially here, along with all the happiness and headaches that can bring. Want to save time and stress on your next family vacation? Follow these essential family travel tips for the holidays, which will come in handy whether you're headed to grandma's house or flying somewhere for a tropical getaway.
• Avoid the Peak: The best travel tip for the holidays when it comes to flying or driving is to avoid peak travel times — you'll have fewer crowds and a lot less traffic. For Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 27 is going to be the worst travel day. If you can, wait and leave on Thanksgiving Day itself. Sunday is also going to be busy: Consider coming home on Saturday.
• Time it Right: Whatever you do, leave early — or late — in the day if you're driving. If you're flying, get to the airport even earlier than the recommended times. It's also a good idea to time your travels to your children's sleep schedules.
• Think Small: If you haven't booked a flight yet, look for smaller airports. See if there's a regional airport in your area instead of the main, international airport, where you'll usually run into higher prices and greater delays.
• Connection Rules: When you're flying, be careful about connections. Always try and fly direct. If you have to connect, don't book tight connections; make sure you leave extra time in your travel schedule for delays. Also look to connect through airports that have fewer delays. (A rule of thumb is that an airport in a warmer place will usually have fewer delays)
• Carry On: Another key family travel tip for the holidays is to pack light and try to pack a carry-on. But if you have to check bags, think about using the curb check. That tip you give to the agent to check your bags will usually go a long way in avoiding lines inside.
• Pack Snacks! No one wants a hangry kid. Stock up on healthy bites like granola bars, fruit and nuts. Some airlines provide small snacks, but you're better off buying proper food at the airport. If you're running short on time, check out the mobile app AtYourGate, which is like Grubhub or Postmates for the airport. In just 30 minutes, you can get food delivered to your gate from spots like Shake Shack, Panda Express and more. It's available at the following airports: San Diego, JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, Portland, Minneapolis, Boston, San Jose and Ontario, Canada.
• Bring Distractions: Don't forget distractions for the kids, like coloring books, crayons and games. And think about bringing a favorite pillow, blanket and stuffies to keep your kids calm.
• Lounge It Up: One of the best family travel tips for the holidays is to live that lounge life. A lounge can be a great resource when traveling with kids: You can stretch out, enjoy the quiet, have a meal, use WiFi and even have access to staff members who can help with ticketing in case of delays. The app Lounge Buddy can show which lounges you have access to based on your credit cards, airline status, etc.
• Navigate Airports: Another great app for the airport: iFly.com, which will help you navigate over 700 airports, showing you estimated security wait times (and better ones to use), weather delays, terminal maps, what's near your gate and more. The MyTSA app also has crowd-sourced waiting times.
• Get on the Phone: Speaking of delays, if there's a long line, get on the phone to your airline while you wait in line.
• Go Mobile: Don't print out your boarding pass: If you lose it, criminals can use the info to hack into your frequent flier account and more. (Another tip: don't use free airport WiFi or airport boarding stations, another trick with hackers.)
•Sort Your Seats: Want to make sure you're sitting in the best seats with your family? Use SeatGuru.com to find out most ideal seats on the plane.
• In the Clear: If the security lines are long and you don't have TSA PreCheck, consider buying CLEAR, which is available at 31 airports and growing. But be careful. It's expensive at $179/year — and it's not available in all airports. (TSA PreCheck is $89 for five years.)
• Traveling Internationally? We've got family travel tips for the holidays for those heading abroad too. Global Entry ($100 for five years) will help speed you through the lines in customs. And it includes free access to TSA PreCheck. Pro Tip: if you don't have Global Entry, you can use Mobile Passport, which will help get you through customs faster when you're returning from an international destination.
• A Free Tip: Studies have shown that because more people are right-handed they tend to use the right-hand security line. It's usually better to use lines on the left, which tend to be shorter.
• Check Your Status: Look into your airline status and see if you can get a credit card where it will award you points and therefore earn you status. Some airports have priority security lines for loyalty members with elite status. There are sometimes priority lines offered to passengers with premium-class seats.
• Bag It: Make sure you don't have any liquid in your bag. Sometimes bulky electronics (like a camera) can also look suspicious, so take them out of the bag. If you have to get your bag screened twice it can really slow you down. If you're carrying a baby bottle or nursing kid, give the security screeners a heads up before your bags go through the X-ray machine.
By Laura Begley Bloom