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Top 10 Thanksgiving Travel Survival Tips
Thanksgiving is the heaviest travel time of the year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. So many people make plans to visit family and loved ones over the short period of time surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday that it can lead to complete chaos at airports, train stations, and on highways throughout the United States. If you want to save money, reduce stress, and stay safe during this busy travel time, keep the following Thanksgiving travel tips in mind. They could potentially save you a great deal of time and aggravation as well.
1. Make your travel reservations well in advance.
You likely know many months in advance - or simply by default - that you're going to have to travel somewhere for Thanksgiving. So don't procrastinate over booking those plane, train or bus tickets until the last minute. Booking in advance not only assures you better chances of actually get the tickets you need, but will likely save you money as well.
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2. Avoid the heaviest travel days entirely.
If possible try to avoid traveling on the Wednesday immediately before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday right after the holiday. These days typically see the heaviest travel over all. Of course, not everyone's job or school schedule allows them to take extra vacation days, as many only get off work for that Wednesday through the end of the week for Thanksgiving. But if you have flexibility, take advantage of it. Traveling out earlier in the week and/or staying later past Sunday at your destination could save you lots of aggravation.
3. Pack light.
Try to avoid having to check luggage if flying for Thanksgiving travel, or having to carry bulky bags on crowded, standing-room only trains. Don't bring more than what you absolutely need for those few days of Thanksgiving weekend. If you have gifts to give, consider even mailing them in advance so you don't have to carry them with you.
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4. Don't forget portable entertainment.
Flight delays, late trains, and heavy traffic on the roads are almost guarantees during heavy Thanksgiving travel days. Be sure you have something good to read, games to play, and/or music on your mp3 player to keep you both calm and entertained if stuck waiting around for long periods of time. With small portable tablets like the iPad and KindleFire so commonplace these days, it's easier than ever to keep entertained...just make sure your batteries are well charged!
5. Arrive at the airport extra early.
Despite expected delays, be sure to give yourself extra time at the airport when traveling for Thanksgiving. Parking lots may be very full, requiring more time to find a space and wait for a courtesy van. Check-in lines may be excessively long, as well as those for security check-points. Be sure to give yourself at least a full two-hours at the airport before your flight to be certain you won't be caught short on time thanks to lines and delays.
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6. Consider alternative driving routes.
During holidays like Thanksgiving, big interstate highways aren't always your fastest travel option. Heavy traffic or one bad accident can leave you stranded or delayed for hours. Study maps for alternative routes, or try programming your GPS to avoid highways and toll roads to see what the difference might be. If you are driving with others, have them follow the highway traffic via Google Maps on their smart phone to be alert of upcoming delays you might be able to avoid. (Some GPS devices today will also alert you to traffic delays and suggest alternative routes around them.)
7. Drive at extremely off-hours.
Another option for avoiding heavy traffic is to travel at off-hours - very late at night to the early hours of the morning. If you don't mind night driving, making your travel trek between midnight to 4:00 a.m. can allow you to breeze down highways that will be swamped otherwise. That said, be wary of road construction which may be scheduled for those late hours on major roadways.
Do you have to travel every year for Thanksgiving?
8. Drive even more defensively than usual.
One should always be an alert and cautious driver, but this is rarely more imperative than around holidays such as Thanksgiving. Everyone is in a rush, stressed out and distracted - a prime combination for careless driving, speeding and accidents. Those who have over-indulged in celebratory wine and other alcoholic beverages and shouldn't be on the road present another hazardous risk. Be safe and be alert while on the roads, aware of the increased dangers presented by others.
9. Be prepared for potential problems, and have a back-up plan.
Don't leave for the airport without having the numbers for your airline, travel agency, or on-line booking service handy. If you get bumped from a flight or have your flight cancelled, you want to be ready to beat the crowds all trying to get on a different flight as soon as possible. Know the names of nearby airports, so you can be flexible trying to find another flight (for instance, flying into Burbank airport in California instead of LAX.) Also keep on hand the names and numbers of nearby airport hotels in case you need to book an overnight room at the last minute. When traveling by air when weather can be an issue, I have sometimes preemptively booked a refundable room at a nearby hotel "just in case." It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared if trouble strikes.
10. Negotiate with your family over celebrating Thanksgiving on ANOTHER day.
Is it absolutely imperative for you and your loved ones to gather on this particular Thursday of the year? Or would everyone be all right with the idea of celebrating, instead, on the weekend before or after? Perhaps a better time can be enjoyed by all by gathering on a different day for the celebration instead. This can also be a solution for "split" families or young couples who want to spend the holiday with both of their extended families. Instead of cramming everything in to one day, spread the celebration out throughout the month. In that way, the true meaning of Thanksgiving can in fact be amplified, instead of being lost in the holiday travel rush and madness.
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© 2014 Nicole Pellegrini