Thanksgiving travel—and everything that can go wrong with it—brings to mind the John Hughes’ 1987 film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Unlikely travel companions Neal Page and Del Griffith may never get home for Thanksgiving. They get bumped. They get delayed. They’re robbed of all cash and forced to use plastic to pay their travel expenses—until Neil’s Diner’s Club card catches on fire in a burning car (originally rented by Del with Neal’s plastic, of course).
Although your Thanksgiving travel is unlikely to bring you the hassles and hardships experienced by Neal and Del, there’s a chance that things won’t go as you’d originally planned. Read on for 25 tips on how to survive travel delays and hassles and how to keep yourself and your luggage safe.
25 Travel Tips to Survive Holiday Travel
1. Travel low key. Leave the expensive jewelry at home. Don’t be flashy. Also, part of being low key is blending in. If you’re visiting a destination for the first time, study ahead of time what to wear and what not to for various situations and venues.
2. Be alert to your surroundings. Plenty of crimes happen in broad daylight, even when you are paying attention. If you’re distracted, you will stand out and make yourself more vulnerable. Talking on the phone using ear buds at 2:30 a.m. while meandering along a dimly lit area is not advised. Change your behavior at night (same as you would in your hometown after dark) and don’t get lost in your head.
3. Beware of transition points in airports. Transition points in airports are favored spots for thieves because their victims tend to be distracted, turned around, and often at their most vulnerable. Talk about an easy score. Watch out at baggage claim areas, ticket counters, on escalators, and at other transition points.
4. Put tags and ownership information outside and inside your luggage. At the very least, make a giant X or something on your luggage so it stands out once it’s thrown on that carousel. Fluorescent duct tape makes a perfect X.
5. Keep all belongings in front of you in your field of vision when riding on escalators. Use any small bag that you can wear in front of you cross-body.
6. Wear a small bag over or underneath your clothes. Think of it as your secret hidden stash. You might try the RFID neck stash or money belt worn under the clothes will keep your items safe even when you sleep.
7. Use a phony wallet. We’ve written before about carrying a dummy wallet (as a decoy) while carrying a real wallet. This is one way to outsmart and get rid of a pickpocket. Place a few expired cards in the decoy wallet and a few bills of low value. Limit what you carry on your person. An RFID credit card sleeve and an RFID money belt are good alternatives which remove the wallet from the equation, not to mention protect your identity.
8. Bring a three-foot extension cord with multiple heads on it so your electronics are always charged. Today, almost everyone carries a mobile phone for safety and convenience, so be sure you keep it charged. The beauty of this extension cord is that you can charge multiple items at one time when there are few plugs to spare.
9. Take a photo of where you parked in the garage at the airport. You have enough to remember as it is. Another plus: you’ll exude confidence as you walk to your car since you’ll know where it’s parked. People who wander aimlessly around parking garages are easy targets for theft and other crimes.
10. Program your airline’s phone number into your phone. It’s a good idea since your flight could get cancelled. Stand in line with the other travelers, but know that you’ll probably get quicker service if you phone the airline. The people standing in front of you will likely still be waiting there long after you’ve been reassigned a new flight.
11. Be nice to hospitality workers on all levels; those with power can ding you badly in your travels. It’s depressing that the holidays tend to bring out aggression in some travelers. Respect the gate agent at the airport. Be patient with the front desk clerk. Be kind to the bus driver. If you have a complaint and need to get a supervisor, you’ll probably get to the manager sooner if you respect the people on the front lines.
12. Travel light. Although traveling light and carrying on is not always possible during the holiday season, you might find a good shipping company and ship ahead to your destination what you’d otherwise check with the airline or schlep on the train or bus. There’s always a chance your luggage could get lost and end up in any number of places: remember that, and you might just ship the big things ahead of time and carry on this holiday season. Wrap any gifts at your destination. Better yet, keep it simple and lightweight and give cash or gift cards this year.
13. Lock your luggage. TSA-approved luggage locks with SearchAlert can bring extra peace of mind; plus, the airport security staff can’t just snip it off and leave your baggage unlocked. The Search Alert feature lets you know if an agent has gone through your suitcase.
14. Store small valuables (such as jewelry) in a clear bag, and announce to the TSA agent that you are putting it through security when you put it on the belt. By drawing attention to your valuables for the brief time that they are out of your hands, you will send a message to security — and potential airport thieves — that you have an eye on them. Del Griffith would certainly draw attention to his shower curtain rings.
15. Get a Kensington lock to secure your laptop. Of course, it’s best not to even bring your laptop, but sometimes you have no choice. Also, don’t carry your laptop in a case that’s intended for a laptop, which will signal thieves.
16. If you nap on the plane, train, bus, or whatever, make sure your belongings are secured. This is especially true if you’re traveling solo. Wearing your belongings underneath clothing is particularly wise for the traveler who sleeps like a log.
17. If you sleep in the airport, make yourself as comfortable as you can. You might have a layover. You might not find it worthwhile to pay for a hotel room. Thus, you decide to bunk in the airport. You probably won’t get the best sleep since lights, noise, and other things will distract you. Plus, you’ll be sleeping with one eye open and on guard for the safety of yourself and your belongings. You might get a series of naps but probably not very restful sleep.
Be sure to bring a small blanket, ear plugs, and an eye mask. Turn your cell phone alarm to the vibrate setting and put it in your pocket. You might spread yourself across two seats. Failing that, you could try asking the airport staff for a fold-out cot. A cot will be much more comfortable than the floor. Wedge the cot in a quiet spot, stash whatever belongings you have on your person, and try to catch a few winks. Also, ask for a blanket since it will be chilly in the airport.
18. Turn to the airport’s security staff if you sleep in the airport. Security staff should know that sometimes travel doesn’t go as planned, and some people may arrive in airports at 11 p.m. and can be stuck there until 5 a.m. because nothing else is really practical. Well, chances are, security will point you in the direction of the safer spots to sleep, like a spot that is equipped with a camera. The security officer probably knows of other travelers who are staying overnight at the airport. The officer might direct you to sleep near those people; nevertheless, don’t let your guard down completely.
19. If you sleep at the airport, make sure you find out if you can leave your luggage overnight and retrieve your things from baggage claim the next morning. You might sleep near the baggage claim area since unattended luggage could mean your belongings will wander off. If you’re afraid your belongings will end up in a warehouse or something, you’ll have to keep your belongings with you somehow—a good reason to carry on and keep things light.
20. Airport sleepers, visit the website sleepinginairports.com to see how your airport rates for spending the night. Before the events of 911, airports in the United States had baggage lockers for this kind of situation. Not so these days in most American airports since someone could put a bomb in the lockers or something. However, you should research since your airport may have these lockers. Also, if you’re in a European airport, you might find a baggage locker.
21. Stay safe in train and bus stations. Del Griffith knew how to make the most of a bus station. Always selling, Del managed to unload $100 worth of shower curtain rings while awaiting his bus.
Train and bus stations, especially the latter, are often located in transient, higher-crime parts of town. They can range from mildly unpleasant to terrifying. The best way to protect yourself and your belongings is to be aware of what’s happening around you. Stay off your smartphone, the ultimate modern-day distraction that has made people sitting ducks for criminals.
22. As for your personal safety in train and bus stations, abide by your gut. Don’t be overly concerned with “hurting the feelings” of strangers. Make assertive statements, and do it loudly. Also, you might carry pepper spray; use grizzy spray to get further range than ordinary pepper spray. If you’re considering pepper spray, make sure it’s legal and know how to use it.
23. If you’re traveling by train, the good news is that most train stations have lockers where you can store your belongings for a few dollars. You might have a long wait between trains, and securing your valuables will help you relax. Remember that train stations, like bus stations, are a prime location where thieves conduct their business, so beware.
24. When riding the bus or train, remember that thieves hide in plain sight. A fellow passenger might get off at the next stop–with your things. Rather than using the luggage rack, which is never big enough anyway, use your luggage as a footrest. If you loop the strap of your luggage around your foot, it would take effort for a thief to get at it, and thieves prefer the easy scores. Try to pack light so you’ll be free to take your belongings with you if you want to get up and walk around.
25. Get travel insurance if you decide to travel with anything valuable. The practical, buttoned-down Neal Page would give you his blessing.
When you travel this Thanksgiving, plan to watch the film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles at your destination if you can. Follow our tips, and at least you won’t have to live it.