While there’s no place like home for the holidays, there’s no denying that the journey to get there can be stressful.

When all you want is a cup of cocoa by the fireplace, even a short flight in a busy terminal can feel like an incredible journey. As the owner of an adventure travel company, I take more than a dozen flights each year. I’ve learned that while holiday decorations won’t do much to combat the grumpy travelers and delayed flights in overcrowded airports, a little planning will.

Here are five recommendations to help you keep your holiday spirit intact while traveling:

1. Book the FIRST flight out.

Schedule the first flight out. Don’t worry — you can sleep when you get to Grandma’s. Most delays occur later in the day and are often a result of planes absorbing delays from incoming planes, other airports, etc. But airlines get a chance to start-over each day and get back on schedule!

2. Arrive early (+ bring your patience pants and holiday cheer).

This is the moment to follow the advice we always hear but balk at: Arrive early, like 2-3 hours early. There is no point in fighting or denying that the airport will be busy and lines will be long. So rather than fighting it, trying to rush through it or being annoyed by it, just embrace it.

Arrive in advance, buy a few magazines, find a quiet corner, grab a glass of wine or two and just exude calmness. You’ll be in a much better place when you get on that plane, promise. 

Image via Michelle Kim

3. Go on the offense.

It’s highly probable that something could go wrong during your holiday travel. Anytime you merge increased traffic, tightened security and extreme weather there will be a risk of delays, cancellations and more. So go on the offense vs. showing up at the airport and waiting to hear your plans have changed.

Try to solve problems or get your questions answered on multiple fronts. While waiting in line to speak to a ticketing agent, simultaneously call the airline customer service number and go online to try and change your flight. Think of unexpected hiccups as being on The Amazing Race. Ready, set, GO!

4. Be mindful of gifts.

Many people are traveling with gifts during the holidays. But keep in mind that even though they’re gifts, all contents of your luggage are subject to TSA rules and screening. For example: That plastic sword for your nephew can still be interpreted as a weapon.

Homemade jam, spreads and spiked eggnog you made the night before, while super thoughtful, are still subject to liquid limits in carry-on baggage. I recommend you leave all gifts unwrapped while you travel. Wrapped gifts, in both your checked and carry-on luggage, are subject to inspection which could mean the gifts will be unwrapped. (And no, TSA will not be a good elf and re-wrap your gifts.) For extra TSA tips and some much needed comic relief, follow them on Instagram.

Image via Michelle Kim

5. Spread goodwill.

Traveling back home can create a lot of stress for some people. While I’m not a therapist, I’d guess this stress and anxiety contributes to the seemingly added chaos at the airport during the holidays.

While we can’t sort through all those issues in this post, I challenge you with this: Find opportunities while traveling to spread some extra goodwill. Buy coffee for the person behind you in the coffee line. Go out of your way to tell a ticketing agent “thank you” for working instead of being home with their family. Help someone lift their luggage into the overhead bin, etc.

Cheers to thriving and “living big” this holiday season! YOU GOT THIS!

Have a secret for navigating busy terminals / bus lines / highways during the holidays? Share in the comments!

Feature Image via Madeline Heising

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32 comments

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  7. These tips are really very helpful for me.. Especially No 2 Tips(Arrive early), I think it is the most important thing in traveling. When you’re early you have a lot of time to communicate with the locals and you have got information like transport facilities, hotels and guest rooms from them.

  8. When we visit someplace and go outside a new place then 8 days are not enough to know about that place. So make your big plan when you want to visit some new place.

  9. I also hate headaches!! I’m glad you got to go on your girls trip and it looked like a lot of fun!! I’ll also have to look into a detox bath because, well- it sounds relaxing and good right about now.

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  11. Hello, These tips are really very helpful for me.. Especially No 2 Tips(Arrive early), I think it is the most important thing in traveling. When you’re early you have a lot of time to communicate with the locals and you have got information like transport facilities, hotels and guest rooms from them.

  12. Wow, excellent post. I’d like to draft like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article. This post has encouraged me to write some posts that I am going to write soon. Thanks for picking out the time to discuss this, I feel great about it and love studying more on this topic. It is extremely helpful for me. Thanks for such valuable help again.

  13. Beautiful! I am thinking of popping over to Switzerland myself in a few months during my stopover in Europe ? One day I hope to get back for some winter activities!

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  15. Wow, excellent post. I’d like to draft like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article. This post has encouraged me to write some posts that I am going to write soon. Thanks for picking out the time to discuss this, I feel great about it and love studying more on this topic. It is extremely helpful for me. Thanks for such valuable help again.

  16. I’m just glad it was something we could handle. I have two credit cards I use for everything. One is my American Airlines AAdvantage card, and the other is my Chase card. I actually might have just stuck with the AAdvantage card, but it charges foreign transaction fees! That’s why I think Chase is such a great card for travelers. Those foreign transaction fees can add up!

  17. Hi. These tips are really very helpful for me.. Especially No 2 Tips(Arrive early), I think it is the most important thing in traveling. When you’re early you have a lot of time to communicate with the locals and you have got information like transport facilities, hotels and guest rooms from them.

  18. I couldn’t agree more. Winter travel is highly under-rated. Seeing the northern lights is definitely a goal for me.

  19. Hello, These tips are very helpful. Especially No 2 Tips(Arrive early), I think it is the most important thing in traveling. When you’re early you have a lot of time to communicate with the locals and you have got information like transport facilities, hotels and guest rooms from them.

  20. These tips are very helpful. Especially No 2 Tips(Arrive early), I think it is the most important thing in traveling. When you’re early you have a lot of time to communicate with the locals and you have got information like transport facilities, hotels and guest rooms from them.

  21. I make a point to stay in the city of my flight the day before. (Our closest airport is 2.5 hrs away.) This allows me to have a bit of a getaway, decompress, and enjoy a change of scenery. (Not to mention, catch a flight first thing in the morning.)

    When dressing for airplanes, I make sure to wear layers, super thick socks and a blanket scarf to keep things cozy. I wear a favorite pair of pull on Chelsea boots to get through security quickly.

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