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7 Ways You’re Making Holiday Travel Unnecessarily Stressful (And Expensive)

holiday travel

The one item you can’t pack in a suitcase – and the item travelers need the most this time of year – is in short supply during the holidays. You can’t pack it in a suitcase, tuck it into your carry-on or purchase it from the airline attendant. It’s patience.

For whatever reason, we get stressed during the holidays. We overindulge in eating, drinking and shopping, making the season unduly taxing. Travel is one of the biggest culprits. But avoiding these seven mistakes can go a long way to creating an atmosphere of serenity and love this time of year.

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Mistake #1: Travelling between the 21 and 26 of December

The most expensive flights over Christmas are from Dec.21-26. Generally mid-week flights are slightly less expensive, but since Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year, deals are especially scarce.

An analysis by Kayak, a popular travel engine, found that departing and returning on the weekends before and after Christmas costs as much as 24 percent more. The 21, the last Saturday before Christmas, and 28, that Saturday after Christmas and before New Year’s, are two of the most expensive days of the year to travel. These two days also the busiest travel days of the year, which means longer line-ups, full parking lots and slower service.

The last cheap travel period ends December 18, at which point it becomes such a popular time to travel that airlines have no incentive to discount. Christmas day is the exception – Kayak’s analysis showed that travelers can save as much as 20 percent by traveling on the big day and returning New Year’s Day.

Mistake #2: Booking your fare anytime after late October

Typically four to six weeks in advance is the best time to book a fare, but the holidays constitute an exception. Kayak’s analysis showed that the best time to book for Thanksgiving and Christmas was from September to mid-October.

If possible, book a flight departing early morning or late evening. Airports are the least congested at this time of day. (If you’re missing out on sleep, that’s actually a good thing!) There’ll be less staff working at this time, so check-in at home if you can. Another perk is that flights are more likely to be on time at this hour.

Mistake #3: Not taking advantage of planes, trains and/or buses

Flying between major cities is generally the least expensive option. Considering jumping on a bus or a train to a popular hub, which may even be in another country.

For example, a flight from Shanghai to Luxembourg on December 18 costs about 4,200 CNY, but a flight one the same day from Shanghai to Paris, just a three hour drive away, is just 3,100 CNY. Even with the added cost of a train, bus or car rental, it’s still cheaper to go by way of Paris.

Mistake #4: Packing a suitcase full of gifts for your loved ones

Order gifts online and have them sent directly to the recipient. Wrapped gifts are a huge red flag for security and you’re not guaranteed to find them intact upon arrival. Gift bags are a good alternative, but they add considerable bulk to your luggage. And you’re carrying on, right?

Make Amazon your friend this season. They send gift-wrapped items with personalised notes directly to their destination.

Mistake #5: Giving yourself exactly the right amount of time to get to your flight

Give yourself LOADS of extra time. The stress piles up at airports this time of year. Parking lots fill up. Shuttle busses arrive late. Line-ups for checked baggage get insanely long. Leave yourself an obscenely cushiony window to arrive at the boarding gate on time, at least an hour or two more than you normally would, particularly if you have winter weather to contend with.

Assume that there’ll be a few hiccups and love every single one. It’s Christmas! You’re traveling! Don’t forget how lucky you are.

Be friendly with everyone you meet, especially airport staff. Airline employees have quite a bit of power, so be mindful of that. Take the time to say, “How are you?” and “Gosh, things must be crazy this time of year! How ya holding up?” These people are dealing with stressed out travelers all day long. Show them some love.

Mistake #6: Checking the luggage

It’s tough to carry on at Christmas, particularly when traveling to cold climates. But packing light and skipping the line-up can be a huge timesaver this time of year. It saves cost too, since many cheaper airlines have begun charging for checked baggage.

Be aware that you may have to gate check your carry-on if the overhead bins are full. This is especially common if you’re late boarding or sitting at the front in economy class, since planes board from back to front. Work around this by booking a seat at the back of the plane and arriving on time for boarding. Just in case you do have to gate check, be sure to pack a smaller bag inside your bag, with flight essentials like books, snacks and a cell phone charger.

Mistake #7: Checking in with an agent at the airport

Many airlines allow passengers to check in and print boarding passes at home. Often you can even show it on your smartphone. Even if this isn’t the case, there’s probably an automatic terminal for checking in and printing boarding passes. At any cost, skip the live agents.

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