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Holiday travel always begins with the best intentions: spending time with family or getting away from it all and spoiling yourselves. Without the right game plan and a little focus, however, what started off nice enough can rapidly descend into hellish hours of heart-pumping stress. That’s why we’ve created a quick holiday travel guide to help ease the stress during the heaviest travel season of the year.
We can’t make any promises, but these are our tried and tested tricks we have adopted not only since beginning this nomadic life in April 2010 including how to book a flight, packing tips, advice on hiring a housesitter, what not to wear when traveling, and some bonus iPhone apps perfect for travelers. Enjoy!
1. How to book your holiday flight
Book your flights on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon
Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon are the best time to buy your plane tickets, as airlines tend to drop their prices on these days of each week, raising them again on the weekend when most people have the time to research vacation plans.
Be flexible with your travel dates
Likewise, it matters what day you choose to fly. For example, Fridays and Sundays are usually the most expensive days to fly. Check out a comprehensive guide on finding a cheap flight in Fare Compare’s article Cheapest Days to Fly and Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets
In fact, the more flexibility on departure and/or return flights, the better. Flights on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will be the most expensive of the season, but what you may not know is that certain dates or specific flights are, for whatever reason, much lower than others. That’s why playing around with various dates can help to save you anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars.
Be flexible with your destination
Many of us will be making the trip home to see family, and for those people the destination is fixed. However, many families and extended families travel together during the holidays, whether that be somewhere with sun and sand or on a ski holiday. If the destination itself can remain flexible, your family can search according to the best deals rather than being locked down to a certain location. Hunt around sites like Travelocity or Expedia if you’re based in the U.S. or lastminute.co.uk in the UK and hook into some of the destination specials which can include hotel and airfare to somewhere you may consider a random location. Now we’re not saying book your holidays in Boise, Idaho (no offense Boiseans) just because you find cheap airfare, but keeping your mind open to new destinations can result in snapping up some great hotel + flight deal combos.
Consider a nearby airport hub
If you are daydreaming about a Christmas break in Paris or Bali, don’t get disheartened when flights directly to those destinations are above your budget. Instead, consider flying into Duesseldorf, Germany, or London, England – major airport hubs that sits just a train ride or cheap discount flight away from Paris. Along those same lines, if flights to Bali are too expensive, consider a flight to Singapore and jetting over on Air Asia to Bali for an additional $40.
Don’t wait until the very last minute
Be flexible, not lazy. The dirt cheap last minute holiday is not a myth, but not entirely last minute, either. The best priced vacation packages are available 2-4 weeks before a departure date, when tourism providers (hotels, airlines, tour companies) start to get jittery about filling seats/beds. These great last minute deals usually don’t apply around Christmas, however, so to find any great Christmas flights or packages, don’t put it off. There are some great package deals available again in January, if you can wait.
2. Hire a housesitter
Worry can ruin any vacation, so if you have a house and/or pets that need taking care of, consider ‘hiring’ a house sitter. We’ve done several housesitting gigs, and can’t make it more clear what a win-win situation this is. Become members of sites like housecarers.com or mindmyhouse.com (it’s free for home owners, house sitters pay an annual fee – presumably to weed out anyone not serious).
The process of finding a house sitter is simple – we tell you everything you need to know about housesitting here – and before making the final choice on your house sitter, set up a video-call on Skype. You can get a good feeling about a person when meeting them ‘in person’ over a Skype call. Then, when you’re on vacation, just knowing that someone is on hand for minor emergencies, your house looks lived in (no break-ins), your plants are watered, snow is shoveled and your pets are being taken care of allows you to truly relax and escape.
The best part is that house sitters agree on free accommodation in exchange for taking care of the house/pets – making this free service much cheaper than a kennel!
3. How to Pack for your holiday escape
Get Packing Cubes
We LOVE our new packing cubes, and can’t imagine traveling without them. These inexpensive little travel buddies compartmentalize your travel life. We fit more clothes and minimize the time we spend searching for little things, knowing which packing cube holds which type of gadget. Plus, we’ve cut our packing/re-packing time down considerably.
If you want to save time at the airport, not deal with lost luggage or just want to avoid ever-increasing luggage fees – consider traveling with a carry-on only if possible. If you just can’t squeeze everything in to your carry-on (lord knows we couldn’t), shipping a bag or two with UPS or FedEx in the United States might work out cheaper than checking a second or third bag – which can cost $165 or even more depending on whether your flight is domestic or international. We’ve never used Send My Bag, but they promise to ship one piece of luggage domestically within the UK for 16GBP, or abroad for as low as 29.99GBP. If Christmas gifts are what is going to weigh you down, we say purchase your gifts on Amazon.com.
4. How to simplify the day of your trip
When your actual departure date finally arrives, play it cool. We never understand getting all dolled up for the airport, but especially during the heightened security of the holiday season, it just makes sense to choose your clothes and accessories carefully. You might just be cutting your own time at security down by seconds, but you will also be keeping stress at an absolute minimum.
- Wear slip-on shoes
- Wear a jacket that is easy to get on and off, and avoid too many layers.
- Wear pants that do not require a belt
- Along with any 100ml toiletries, pack your earrings or jewelry in a little bag to put on after you’ve been through security if you just can’t fly without it.
- Do the same with any spare change you have.
- Keep tickets / passports in an easy-to-reach but not obvious pocket of your bag, and keep laptops handy too.
Make sure your electronic devices are 100% charged and ready to go: your phone, your Kindle, your laptop and whatever other devices you need to use. Due to flight delays plan to use as you travel need to be fully charged. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out where to charge your devices. If there is a place, it could be a challenge to get a spot if everyone is delayed. Being fully charged is a great way to start at least.
Arrive early at the airport
Even if you’re a travel pro who slides in and out of airports on the regular, during the holiday season, arrive at the airport a full three hours in advance. Airports are considerably fuller, and you’ll need time to get through long security lines and early arrival might help you avoid getting bumped on an overbooked flight.
Talk to as few people as possible
In other words, check-in online and if possible, get your boarding pass sent to your smartphone. Most airlines offer online check-in nowadays while others actually charge you extra when checking in at the desk. Checking in online avoids you getting bumped off the flight, lets you pick your seats and ensure that you and your travel partners are seated together.
Book your airport parking in advance
Airport parking garages tend to fill up quickly over the holidays – make sure to book your airport parking spot in advance! It’s not only the safest way to make sure you’ve got a spot, but it’s also cheaper! Many other airports offer advance booking services. This cuts down on both time and stress to make your holiday travel easier.
***Bonus Tips*** Handy iPhone Apps for your holiday travels
Your smart phone can be your best friend while you travel. We use ours more than we ever thought we would when starting our travels in April 2010. Below are a few useful travel apps for the holidays and beyond:
This free iPhone app promises to help you locate the nearest medical center – no matter where you are in the world. Using the GPS on your phone or by manually entering location information, uses can find the closest care center within minutes for specialty areas such as trauma, stroke, eye, pediatric, cardiac and burn injuries. We haven’t had to use this app yet (thankfully) but see just one major catch: this app features only the most advanced, state-of-the-art emergency cafe facilities with a proven track record, which limits the number of locations and could possibly cost a bundle.
Free Wi-Fi Finder – Free
This one is great for travel abroad and helps travelers avoid roaming fees and hidden charges by finding you the next, nearest free wi-fi by using your phone’s GPS so you can log-on and get in touch with friends, family or even work (even during the holidays…).
FlightView – $0.99
This is not the absolute best flight status tracking app, but the best deal for ease of use/minute by minute updates. You can track both in-air and upcoming flights, gate assignments, flight delays and cancellations with this app, plus save flight itineraries, add your own notes, see weather radar (U.S. only) and email flight status updates to friends and family directly through the app.
AllSubway HD – $0.99
This great app has downloaded maps of 137 subway systems of the world’s greatest cities. No need to go online, you can zoom in close to look at stops and connections throughout the entire map. Links to fares and times online also available.
XE Currency Exchange – Free
No matter where we travel abroad, we never go anywhere without this free currency exchange app. Keep track of the current exchange rate so you never over spend while on holiday.
iExit Interstate Exit Guide – $1.99, Roadside America – $2.99
We wish we had known about these two apps on our Great American Road Trip from New York City to New Orleans this summer!
For US travel only, the iExit app tells users about each of the upcoming rest stops along the highway, including restaurants, bathrooms and gas stations, which the Roadside America app promises that road trippers will never miss that giant ball of string again. Users can look up what quirky all-American road-side attraction is within a quick road-trip stop from their location.Both of these require internet access so may be limited for international users.