Survive the Thanksgiving Holidays with these Travel Tips

November 18, 2015

In the kitchen, you hear crashing sounds and smell burning onions as your nervous brother and sister-in-law host their first Thanksgiving dinner. Grandma stands in pearl-clutching horror as she observes the latest tattoos of the younger generations. Grandpa, still too stubborn to get hearing aids, complains that everyone mumbles. Your mother runs around the house like a loose wheel and tells everyone where to stand; your dad says she means well. Aunt Mildred guilts you for arriving just before dinner.

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.

If home isn’t local for you, how will you get there this Thanksgiving? Will you fly? Drive? Still deciding? From getting the best airfares to surviving the airport to the best times to travel and more, read on: we’ve got you covered.

In 2015, as in most other years, the majority of travelers will drive to their destinations. Just 5 to 6 percent of travelers will fly this year. What sounds like a small number actually equates to hundreds of thousands of fliers.

How many fliers have yet to buy tickets? Here’s what you should know.

Book plane tickets early and check frequently to find lowest rates

To get the lowest airfares, it’s best to buy plane tickets for Thanksgiving travel around the second week in October (or about 50 days ahead of the travel date). As the turkey is being carved, Aunt Mildred will scold you for procrastinating on this one. But George Hobica might be able to help.

Reliable Source for Airfare Information

Visit Airfarewatchdog, George Hobica’s trustworthy site for airfare information.  Get the best airfares for thousands of routes thanks to the hard work of Hobica and his analysts. Aunt Mildred would approve.

How to Find Low Airfares

Hobica advises you to “sign up for free airfare alerts” and “search several times a day.” So, for those of you booking at the last minute, check Airfarewatchdog.

Are last-minute fares always more expensive?

Usually true—but not always. George Hobica says,“Especially for travel to foreign destinations, you can sometimes nab huge fare reductions at the very last minute—even for same day travel.” Hobica suggests you visit Google.com/flights/explore to find deals.

Best Days to Fly Out

Thanksgiving, November 26
Monday, November 23
Tuesday, November 24

If you leave home early on Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, November 26, book a flight that would get to your destination by late afternoon, just in time for the bird carving and guilt tripping from the aunt.

The data analysts at Kayak say that, in the United States, plane tickets for domestic flights are about 30% cheaper on Thanksgiving Day.

International travelers who depart on Thanksgiving Day can enjoy fares priced more than 15% less than average for this time of year, says Kayak. Leave as close to Thanksgiving Day as possible and return the next week (save up to 19% this way, says Kayak).

The Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving are ideal for travel if you’ve got the time and want to save money. Plane seats are especially hard to fill on Tuesdays.

Whether flying or driving, avoid travel on Wednesday, November 25

If you must travel on Wednesday, read on for our tips below.

Best Days to Fly Home

Thanksgiving night, Thursday, November 26
Tuesday, December 1
Monday, November 30
Saturday, November 28

If you arrived at your destination a few days before Thanksgiving, you might be content to leave for home on Thanksgiving night. Spend the money you saved on airfare for that Black Friday special.

If time is not an issue, fly out on Tuesday, December 1.  Travel at a leisurely pace and get lower prices (Kayak claims up to 31% cheaper airfare on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving). You might luck out and get a seat in an empty row (get three seats for the price of one and a nice place to sprawl).

Monday, November 30 is a good alternative. You’ll still avoid the crowds, reduce your stress, and get back to work by Tuesday, December 1st.

Saturday, November 28 is less ideal but preferable to flying home on…

Sunday the 29th: Worst day for flying & driving

Everyone and their aunt, uncle, and service animal will be heading home on Sunday. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is a perennially high-demand time for airlines and a high-stress time for travelers who drive.

If you’ll be driving…

winter driving

Best days to leave for your destination are the same as for flying.

Drivers, Beware the Wednesday before Thanksgiving

During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2013 (from 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 27, to 5:59 a.m. on Monday, December 2), there were 301 deaths from traffic crashes across the United States.

Thanksgiving Eve, or “Black” Wednesday, rivals New Year’s Eve as being one of the busiest bar nights of the year. The mix of crowded roads, binge drinking, and potentially bad weather make this a high-risk night to be on the road. In the United States, DUI arrests spike between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend.  Also, depending on where you are, you could get cited and fined for not wearing your seatbelt. Check the laws by state.

If you can’t avoid travel on the Wednesday, avoid driving during the peak time between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Caught in a winter storm?  The American Red Cross says:

  • Stay with the car. Do not try to walk to safety.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep
  • the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.
  • Keep one window away from the blowing wind slightly open to let in air.
  • Carry an emergency preparedness kit in the trunk.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.

More tips from the American Red Cross.

Survival Tips for Fliers

waiting at airport

1. Know your airline’s policies so there are no surprises

Our handy airline fees chart might help.  Or ask Aunt Mildred to check it out for you (don’t forget to thank her every day for the rest of your life).

2. Know how to deal with flight delays and cancellations

It sure pays to know the policies of your airline. If the worst happens and your flight gets delayed because of a blizzard or plane malfunction or something, at least you’ll know your options.  If your flight is canceled, you’ll get a full refund for the amount that you paid. If your flight is delayed and you opt to walk away, you might get a credit toward a future purchase (minus a penalty; for domestic flights, penalties of $200 are typical). Check policies before you book.

3. Check your flight status before you leave home

Ladies And Gentlemen, We’re Canceling Flight 909 Due to Severe Weather in Chicago. Not what you want, but it happens. Download airline-specific travel apps to your smartphone to check on your flight status. You can always delete the apps from the phone after the trip.  Airline apps can be more reliable than the terminal monitors. Knowing about possible weather delays earlier will help you adjust your plans. Fail to plan, and you may find yourself in Dooby’s Taxiola en route to the Braidwood Inn. Speaking of apps…

4. Get travel apps

No matter your travel need, there’s an app for it.

5. Arrive Early to the Airport

Allow at least two hours before your flight. Double check your terminal and gate number.

6. Use social media to get your messages across and questions answered
No airline wants bad PR. Tweet your questions to the airline. Be assertive, not aggressive. On that note…

7. Don’t forget that most everyone is more stressed during the holiday travel rush

Everyone’s routine gets disrupted, which is more stressful for some than others. Beware of air rage.

8. Sign up for the fast lane of airport security

Bypass the long security lines. Keep your shoes on and your laptop encased. Apply for TSA Pre-Check status and zoom through security.

9. Be tolerant of security

Try to remember the ultimate goal of security: to keep you safe. Get lippy with them, and you’ll just risk being detained.

10. Take time for fun & distraction

Since 9-11, it seems that the media would have us living in a continuously frightened and humorless state of mind during travel. Distract yourself and bring along your favorite entertainment, eBook, or whatever for the plane ride. Watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a John Hughes classic and a holiday tradition to put things in perspective. In many ways, you are much better off than Dell Griffith.

11. Avoid checking baggage

If your flight is canceled or delayed, you’ll have less to worry about if you carry on. An airline rep might be more motivated to help you find an alternative if you’re free from the hassles of checked bags.

Travel Gear to Bring

Chargers

Pack chargers for your mobile phones, tablets and laptops. In 2015, the majority of travelers are equipped with them. You might get a portable charger with a Mophie. Prepare the night before your trip and make sure all electronics are fully charged.

charger

Mophie juice pack air | Source: Mophie.com

Luggage Locks

Secure your luggage with a Tarriss TSA Luggage Lock.

Tarriss TSA Luggage Locks

RFID Neck Stash and Waist Stash

Wear your valuables underneath clothing. Always. Buy an RFID blocking neck stash or an RFID blocking waist stash to safely carry your valuables.

Tarriss RFID Blocking Neck Stash

Tarriss RFID Blocking Neck Stash

Thanksgiving without the usual hubbub would be like a car running with one of its wheels missing. Enjoy the energy of the holidays, stay safe, and all the best to Aunt Mildred.

Written by Katie Anton