I’ve made travel my living for more than three decades, and so I feel your pain when it comes to traveling during the holidays.
It’s a time we all want to be around our families, but by the time we survive the hassle of getting home, the mental and financial costs often outweigh the benefits of any quiet time left with the fam.
But I’m here to tell you that we’ve overblown a lot of the mystique and stink around holiday travel. If you are a savvy shopper and an astute observer, you can make holiday travel a lot less painful, maybe even pleasant.
My best advice is to get past the myths of holiday travel. Let’s debunk the top 5 complaints I hear all the time.
MYTH: The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year.
FACT: Actually, last year it was August 8. There are rough days to travel around the holidays, including Wednesday before Turkey Day and for December 23, one of the busiest air travel days of the year.
But the reality is, if you pick your spots right, the days before and after holidays are actually some of the best times to travel all year.
MYTH: Hotel prices are outrageous during the holiday season.
FACT: Pricing can be unexpectedly affordable during the holidays, as studies show that around 50 percent of holiday travelers stay with family.
So the hoteliers are ready to give you deals. Business city destinations offer leisure travelers great deals during the holidays, because all their clients are home with family. High-end hotels reduce their rates up to 50 percent in cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Boston.
Social media is your friend here. Check hotel social channels and you’ll often see last-minute sales around the holidays as they realize they have more inventory than anticipated.
MYTH: New Year’s Eve is the most dangerous day to drive.
FACT: The several days before Christmas can be more dangerous. AAA studies have shown Dec. 23 was the most dangerous day to drive for years. All the people thinking they’re getting an early jump on Christmas traffic see it’s crowded and road rage ensues.
We’re not saying New Year’s Eve isn’t dangerous. But increased checkpoints by local authorities on local roads have taken more of the trouble drivers off the highways. Take advantage of the perception here. If you’re skipping the reveling in favor of getting back home, consider driving in shifts with rested drivers after 10 p.m. New Year’s Eve. You’re sure to beat the rush just 12 hours later.
MYTH: Christmas Day is always the cheapest day to fly during the holidays.
FACT: Not reality. The airports are quieter on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but there are even better days to travel. Personally, I’ve always seen Dec. 27th as the quietest day at the airport. TravelZoo chooses Dec. 21, Dec. 23 and Dec. 29 as the cheapest days to fly.
If you combine those facts with some savvy shopping, you can come out even better. Throw out the old belief that Tuesday was the best day to buy tickets. The Airlines Reporting Corporation says Sunday (13 percent better prices than Tuesdays) and Saturday (11 percent better) are the best days to buy.
MYTH: The TSA will not let you travel with wrapped packages.
FACT: We get it. The TSA has made themselves an easy target for ridicule. But I actually find TSA agents as a whole to be some of the most helpful and friendliest staffers of any leg of my travels.
The TSA has relaxed its rules and now allows travelers to bring wrapped packages through security checkpoints.
Bonus tip: Kids aren’t subject to normal screening. Kids under 12 can now keep their shoes on during screening.
Separate the facts from the myths and you’ll make holiday travel much less of a headache. As for the squabbles with siblings and in-laws once you’re home, sorry, you’re on your own there.