In my book, nothing ruins a holiday quite like long-distance travel. Thank God my mother agrees–she’s let me off the hook for holiday travel without an iota of guilt for over a decade now. And equal thanks to my mother-in-law for not guilting us into the long schlep. It’s one of the greatest holiday gifts they give us — the gift of peaceful days. So while we love and cherish our long-distance families, my husband and I will always prefer a visit during other times of the year.
Weather delays, overbooked flights, airport security lines, icy roadways, and crowded trains generate a level of stress we can all do without. Let’s couple that reality with the less tangible, but often equally real, pressure of being together for the holidays in perfect familial bliss. There’s a standard we can all meet!
Let’s not forget the challenge posed to married couples, either. Your family vs. mine? Thanksgiving vs. Christmas? And when we’re talking about second and third marriages in which children from divorce are traveling from one parent to the next, tension and tears have a way of growing exponentially. In fact, if I turned on the Lifetime channel right now, I bet there’d be a movie about this very subject.
When long-distance travel during the holiday season is fun and hassle-free (either to see family or get away to the beach or the slopes), it really is something of a Christmas Miracle. But miracles do happen, and in the case of winter travel some smart planning may actually improve the odds.
BADGE WORK UPDATE: ON MY WAY and TRAVELER
Meshing perfectly with the motto “Be Prepared,” tasks for these two badges ask scouts to brainstorm potential problems and solutions for situations travelers might face, as well as ways to stay safe in unfamiliar surroundings. I travel a good bit, I stand behind these Happy Traveler Tips, but it’s an incomplete list. Let me know what you think I’ve missed, and please note that these are domestic travel & safety tips only, okay?
- Long lines at security are the airline industry and FAA‘s gift to you this holiday season. I say suck it up and get there 30 minutes earlier than you normally would. If that irritates you wildly, remember that the only thing we’ve got control of in this situation is our own response to stressful travel. The way I see it, 30 extra minutes gives me peace of mind. See if it works for you.
- Book morning flights if possible. They’ve got a better track record of on-time arrivals and departures than afternoon and evening flights. Take my word on it.
- Don’t even think you’ll get those wrapped gifts through airport security. Wait until you get to your destination to wrap those presents, or better yet, ship them in advance.
- Let your smartphone be smarter than you. Travel apps abound in this digital age. Most major airlines now have free apps for iPhones, Droids and more that allow you to follow your flights and even store your digital boarding pass right on your phone. More on my favorite travel apps below…
- Jean’s top tip: In the (inevitable?) event of delay, try to think of the airport terminal as an odd playground. The bookstore/newsstand is now your library. There’s plenty to eat and drink (stay away from the DFW Chile’s and drink as much water as you can). Be nice to the airport employee who’s driving the cart through the terminal and see if you can hitch a ride (it’s pretty fun). If you’re really fried, look for an airport spa — yes, you read that right. My favorite is XpressSpa where I can kick off my heels and get a foot massage while reclining in one of those $3,000 massage chairs. Trust me–delays are a whole lot easier to take this way.
Over the River and Through The Woods
(Five Solutions to Happy Traveler Challenge #2: Driving)
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” — Mark Twain
- Your car should be roadworthy. Yes, it sounds insane to have to mention this, but when’s the last time you had the oil changed and the tire pressure checked (or perhaps you need to put on the snow tires)? Are the fluid levels right? Are your windshield wipers so old that your visibility is reduced to the size of a shoe when it rains? In other words, is there a visit to Jiffy Lube in your immediate future?
- This is not a wilderness adventure, and planning your route in advance is not a sign of weakness. Google Maps is your friend, and so is the MapQuest app for smartphones. Even better, GPS will get you where you want to go, often with a surprisingly sexy voice. GPS systems have come down considerably in price since they came out. I use a $10 iPhone app called GPS Drive from MotionX, and it got me buzzing around Atlanta without a single missed exit this year. And while we’re on the subject of smartphone travel apps, Gasbag will let you know where to gas up when you’re running on empty.
- Accidents and emergencies happen… are you certain your insurance card is in the glove box? Beyond that, you will never be sorry that you’ve got a small “emergency kit” in the trunk. Core items? A flashlight, water, blanket, flares, jumper cables, ice scraper. And get yourself a car charger for your cell phone.
- Lock the car and don’t leave valuables in it, even if you’re just bopping into the convenience store for a cup of coffee.
- Jean’s top tip: Do not (do not, do not) text and drive. It’s not just incredibly unsafe and illegal in many states, it’s the kind of thing that makes other drivers go “what an a$$hole.” Do you really want to be that person?
You Don’t Think You’re in Kansas Anymore
(Five Solutions to Happy Traveler Challenge #3: New Destinations)
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” — John Steinbeck
- Planning a trip is not rocket science. Just follow the wisdom of those who have traveled before you. Websites like Lonely Planet, Frommers, and Travelocity will not only guide your planning but provide consumer reviews from fellow travelers–great for learning the “must sees” as well as what to avoid.
- Free-spirits should consider a bit of a compromise. If you hate planning and prefer to “wing it” when you travel, you might be in for extra headaches during the holiday season. Consider a compromise for the sake of safety and sanity: plan your first and last day, including accommodations. You can figure the rest out as you go if that’s what brings you joy.
- There’s an app for that. If you’re hungry, try Urbanspoon. Need directions? Try MapQuest. And when nature calls, Sit or Squat will point you towards the closest public facilities.
- Learn from a pro. If you’re learning a new skill like skiing or scuba diving, do not skimp on the quality of your training. Make sure your instructor is certified, and check out the school’s safety record. If the classes seem significantly cheaper than competitors’ there’s probably a good (bad) reason for it.
- Jean’s top tip: Does your mother know where you are? If she doesn’t, somebody should, so tell someone back home what your plans are. Take a second copy of your itinerary in a separate bag when you travel, and store it in your phone, too. And if you really want to help your mother sleep at night, consider trip insurance for bigger adventures. You may never need it, but it’s not that expensive and can really help if your luggage is lost or you need medical attention.
- We’re all responsible for our own happiness. When it comes to family holidays, sometimes the journey isn’t nearly as stressful as the destination. You may love your family as much as I love mine (with all my heart), but when the holidays come, things can get weird in even the sanest of homes. We’re expected to be at our lovely best, and few of us are–including you, dear traveler. So, as a reward for your efforts, build something into your trip that you will truly enjoy. Could be a walk through an old neighborhood, could be coffee with an old friend, could be window shopping. No need to make a big deal out of it, and no one else has to come along, but you might be able to de-stress and connect to family by carving out some small time for yourself. If people complain, remind them that they can come visit you for Christmas next year. That will silence the room.
- Be prepared to entertain yourself–and your kids. You may have traveled more miles to get there than anyone else in the room, but that doesn’t make you the center of attention. You need your toys, and your kids will need their toys. Pack accordingly.
- For heaven’s sake, don’t drink too much. Let someone else in the family make of fool of him/herself this holiday season.
- Be prepared to meet their relatives. Yes, it’s bound to happen sooner or later — your significant other will want you to meet his/her family. And since the holidays aren’t hard enough, heck, why not do it at Christmas? What could possibly go wrong? Well, actually, you can minimize the trauma for everyone by remembering a few things (I’m thinking of my stepdaughter and nieces as I write this, btw). Follow these do’s and don’ts and you’ll have done your best:
DO thank your hosts multiple times: In advance of your visit, throughout your visit, and after your visit (consider putting pen to paper for an actual thank you note).
DO bring a small gift: if you draw a blank on this one and your significant other has no guidance, go for the traditional things like lovely soaps or candles, or something “local” for the kitchen like jam.
DO follow house rules. If unsure of rules, ask and observe.
DON’T text at the table, swear like a sailor, pick a fight, spread gossip. See tip above about getting drunk
DON’T take anything personally. If they love you, great. If you love them, even better. If it went horribly, you did your best.
Jean’s favorite tip: Enjoy reality. Revel in what’s right there in front of you. Ignore that Ghost of Christmas that tells you the way it “should” be, because the real Christmas miracle comes in appreciating what “is.” Wish I’d learned this one sooner than I did.
- Don’t announce to the world that you’re out of town. Hold your mail and newspapers, consider a timer to turn lights, television and radio on an off. And for heaven’s sake do NOT announce your departure on Facebook. The words “We’re off to Disneyworld, back in a week!” is an open invitation to robbery.
- Take a little first aid kit for emergencies. My husband used to laugh at me for this sort of thing–not anymore! My top picks: band aids, Neosporin, sewing needle, heartburn medicine, Advil, anti-diarrhea medicine.
- Trust your gut, and keep your eyes open in terminals or new destinations. That’s not paranoia–that’s common sense. It’s safe to say that busy places are safer than deserted ones, you shouldn’t have all of your money in one place, use a room safe if one is available, and don’t sport too much bling.
- Watch for signs of identity theft. If you’ve used your credit or debit card while traveling, double check your statements once you’re home to make sure all the charges are what they should be. FYI, most people believe they’re safer from identity theft if they use their debit cards, but that’s usually not be the case. Check with your card companies about your liability should your account be compromised.
- Jean’s favorite tip: Happy travelers listen and honor what their bodies tell them. They manage their energy, rest when they’re tired, eat healthy diets, drink loads of water, and take their vitamins. I’m a firm believer in the power of Emergen-C.
And here’s one final tip that works for safe travels and pretty much everything else: If you’re unsure about whether or not to do something, ask yourself: “What would my mother say about this?”
Think you’re the expert now? G’head and take the quiz!
Yep, I hope you read closely, gang, cause it’s time to lay the “Travel Safety Quiz” on you. It’s an open book test, which is to say you can refer back to this post if you like. And yes, in case you’re wondering, the quiz is a task for the “On My Way” badge. 🙂
And finally, here’s a list of travel sites I really enjoy:
Want to Plan Your Next Trip?
- Unusual Hotels of the World (you’ll get the travel bug but good)
- Lonely Planet (travel guide)
- Kayak (compare airfares, hotels, cars)
- FAA Flight Delay Information
- Backpacker (great tips)
- Boots ‘n All (great tips)
- Frommers (one of the original travel planners)
- U.S. State Department Travel Advisories (if you’re headed out of the U.S.)
Looking for a Last Minute Getaway?
Travel on a Budget?
- Hostel Bookers
- Priceline (name your own price especially good for hotels at the last minute)
- The Frugal Traveler (New York Times blog)
Wanna Meet the Locals? I mean, REALLY meet the locals?
Wanna take Fido?
Add your travel tips or favorite websites/apps to the list, and safe happy holiday travels to all!