In addition to finding the gifts and wearing Christmas sweaters with panache, learning how to survive holiday travel is one of the best skill sets any of us can develop this month.
Is it possible to learn to enjoy hours in a car or plane? I’m not sure – but it is possible to hate them less.
How to Survive Holiday Travel
Here are my best suggestions for how to survive holiday travel, honed by 30+ years of multi-day, interstate Christmas road trips.
Bring awesome snacks
Travel makes most people cranky, as does low blood sugar. Let’s not add fuel to the fire.
Pack snacks that will balance your blood sugar and help you stay hydrated. Cucumber spears, celery sticks, and cherry tomatoes are full of water, easy to pack, and pair nicely with some store-bought hummus. Clementines are super portable, easy to peel and will make your car smell good.
Homemade trail mix and string cheese will keep your energy up and we all need to eat these cookie dough energy balls. (Spoiler alert: super healthy, not actually cookie dough, really delicious.)
Wear the best, most awesome travel outfit
Let’s talk about shoes or boots that slip off. Let’s talk about layers so you can cover up or uncover as the temperature dictates. Let’s talk about big, snuggly cardigans and a huge scarf that can be used as a pillow or blanket.
And what about elastic waistbands? Or a knit fit-and-flare dress THAT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A WAISTBAND? And let’s leave the jewelry and belts in our suitcase because that stuff sets off the metal detectors (and sequins screw up the body scanner!)
Make yourself comfortable
You’ll never successfully turn your car or airplane seat into a spa (trust me, I’ve tried) but you can make it a jillion times more comfortable.
What if you brought:
- the world’s most perfect neck pillow – or just your favorite ‘real’ pillow!
- a little blanket to stay warm
- ear plugs
- cozy socks so you can slip off your shoes
- hand sanitizer
- peppermint gum – it’ll help your ears if you’re flying and freshen your breath/wake you up if you’re driving!
- face mist – after hours in transit it makes you feel so much fresher!
Remove opportunities for stress + miscommunication
You now what I mean. The gps cuts out five miles away from the cabin you rented; your phone dies; the hotel loses your reservation.
Of course, you can’t prepare for every single contingency, but you can drastically reduce the likelihood of various mishaps.
- Double check that you’ll have phone and data service if you’re going somewhere rural or remote
- Make sure you have AAA if you’re driving
- Confirm all your reservations
- Print out addresses, reservation numbers, phone numbers in case you lose your phone (this has happened to me!)
- Buy a portable phone charger
- If you’re flying and checking luggage, make sure your essentials are in your carry-on
- Think about what didn’t work last time you made this holiday trip – and plan/pack accordingly
- If you have special dietary needs, talk to your hosts ahead of time – this script will help!
Most of your travel will consist of sitting – at the gate, on the plane, in the car – and sitting is not terribly fun. Pack a light, fun novel or a little book of crosswords or suduku. Make sure your phone or tablet is loaded with movies and podcasts.
I actually like to use travel time as an opportunity to disconnect from technology and do a bit of old school people watching or a play a game of Would You Rather? If you’re in the car, play license plate bingo or name that tune.
Channel some travel zen
We all know that getting wound up by the snow-delayed flight or the heavy traffic is pointless. It’s also worth remembering that in travel, and often in life, things will take twice as long as you expect and cost a good bit more. So give your budget and your schedule a bit of wiggle room and you’ll be a lot happier.
It’s also worth remembering that the annoying guy causing a scene at baggage claim? He’s not trying to be malacious, he’s just stressed out and tired, like everybody else. And the baby that’s howling behind you? She’s not on a personal mission to give you a migraine.
Take a few deep breaths, imagine yourself tucking into some mashed potatoes alongside your favorite aunt and try to remember that getting there at 5:45 instead of 4:30 is not going to be the end of the world as we know it.
Failing that: download this free, calming music. Put your headphones in and ignore everything/everyone.
Use your travel time to do something you love or have been meaning to do
If you can’t stomach the idea of sitting idly on a plane for three hours, you can certainly use your time to read A Very Important Book you’ve been meaning to get to, plot your plans for 2016, write your Christmas cards or work on your novel.
One of my favorite things to do on any return flight is write a list of my 100 favorite memories from the trip while they’re all fresh in my mind. It’s slightly more rewarding than reading the inflight magazine.
Find a little pocket of space or time
I don’t know about you, but for me, just being in an enclosed space with lots other people is exhausting.
Consider not carpooling to Hannukah with your cousin who pushes your buttons. Head to your departure gate way, way early before anyone else gets there. If you can afford it, book a hotel room instead of sleeping on the pull-out sofa in your grandma’s basement.
If you’re feeling really fancy, splash out on a one-day pass to your airline’s first class lounge. Allegedly, they’re deliciously quiet, serene, decadent places!
Are you traveling far this holiday season? How do you survive holiday travel?
P.S. How to survive holiday dinner