To Grandma’s House We Go!

Make your holiday family travel plans a breeze by following these easy tips for easing seasonal travel woes.

It’s the time of year when we break out the hot chocolate, put our feet up by the fire, and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Or, if you’re like me, it’s the time of year when you pack your minivan to the gills and head out on the road and cover multiple states in two weeks.

My band of holiday nomads will depart the Great Middle West the week before Christmas to hit three states and an equal number of households. We’ll eat kielbasa and sauerkraut in Cleveland, enjoy gingerbread cookies in upstate New York and then we’ll head to Alexandria, Va., for beef tenderloin.

Ah, the holidays. How I hate thee.

Seriously, I start to get anxious about our hectic travel schedule in October. For me, Halloween is less a holiday and more the beginning of what I like to call the Season of Hate.

On the other hand, last year our travel schedule was in jeopardy due to health issues, and the idea of staying home by our sad little selves for the whole holiday week made me more than a little weepy.

So if you’re like me, you go to great lengths to spend the winter holidays with family. Lucky for you, I’m an expert on how to get home and back again in one piece. Following some simple strategies can help you stay sane during this most insane time.

Flying Tips for the Holidays

We opt to drive 2,200 miles instead of flying because purchasing plane tickets for such a complicated itinerary would not only be incredibly expensive, it would also be incredibly confusing. I already have a hard enough time keeping track of where we need to be and when we need to be there.

However, plenty of folks do hit the airports, and our friends at AirTran Airways offer up a series of handy-dandy tips to help get you home for the holidays with minimum stress.

What’s that? No, they can’t stop your Aunt Annie from swilling the sherry. But they do advise getting to the airport early.

Sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how hard it can be, especially if you have kids. My advice? Build an extra hour into your planned departure time. So, if your fight is at 7 a.m., and the airline advises arriving at 6 a.m., you really need to be there at 5 a.m.

I know, I know. It hurts. But you know what hurts more? Missing your flight because you got stuck in the security line behind the dude who gets pulled aside to unwrap all the gifts he stashed in his oversized carry-on.

Don’t Pack Wrapped Gifts and Other TSA Rules

That reminds me—please, for the love of Pete (who is Pete, anyway?), do not wrap gifts until you get to your destination. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines dictate that those gifts you painstakingly wrapped in handmade hemp paper and tied so prettily with raffia will be unceremoniously unwrapped.

Speaking of TSA guidelines, AirTran kindly reminds us that passengers are allowed to put liquids, gels or aerosol sprays in carry-on baggage, but only if those substances are limited to 3 ounces per container and fit inside a 1-quart clear plastic bag.

The agency also advises that you leave your carving knife at home. Blades of any kind are prohibited. Oh, that TSA. Taking the fun out of everything. Oh, wait! You can bring your lighter on board, if you like.

I’m not even going to comment on that one.

Packing Light for Road Travel

If you’re like me, and you’re skipping the airport, you are certainly free to bring as many sharp objects with you as you like. But remember—it’s a long ride and you have limited space. Do you really want to sit on top of a suitcase all the way to San Jose?

Remember that you’ll be bringing home more than you left with, especially if you have kids and those kids have grandparents. Our van tends to look like a Toys-R-Us delivery truck on the way home from the holidays.

Be smart and pack light (read our Packing for Road Trips article to learn about packing light), especially if you’re staying someplace with a washing machine. We’ll be on the road for 14 days, and I will pack enough clothing for one week. Also, pack items that can be easily mixed and matched, making up a number of different outfits from just a few pieces of clothing.

Another good way to save space is to roll your socks and pack them in your shoes. I know! Genius, right?

Rent Baby Gear

Of course, if you’re traveling with very small children, you’re going to have a huge amount of gear no matter what. One easy way to avoid the space crunch is to consider baby-gear rentals at your destination, or send bulky stuff like portable cribs ahead of time. [Read our article about Baby Gear Rentals for Family Vacations to learn more.]

The best way to avoid the stress of holiday travel is to stay home. But what fun would that be? Who would criticize your parenting skills? Who would give you an ugly sweater? Who would get drunk and share unpleasant repressed memories?

Happy holidays from me to you, and here’s a toast to my favorite date on the calendar: Dec. 26. 

Themes: Family Travel