By Valerie Grubb

Fall has arrived, and that means the holiday seasons will be here before we know it! For many of us, the holidays involve traveling to a relative’s house. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, travel during Thanksgiving and Christmas increases by 54% and 23% (respectively) compared to the rest of the year, and “visiting friends and family is the single biggest reason Americans travel during the holidays.”

How to Survive Holiday Travel - Valerie Grubb-web

Family gatherings can be wonderful, but getting to them (and back home again) can be a stressful experience, particularly if you travel by plane. If you’re planning to hit the road during the upcoming holiday season, keep in mind these tips for surviving the trip.

1) Start your planning now.

According to the travel booking site Hipmunk, Thanksgiving travel may cost you less than travel around Christmas and New Year’s Day—an average of $186 less, according to its 2014 analysis of flights to 30 major airports. So before you commit to visiting family for either holiday, check out prices for the two time periods to determine which better suits your wallet. And whatever you decide, book early: solo travelers and even couples can sometimes take advantage of last-minute deals, but if your travel party has more than two people in it, you’ll have less flexibility, so booking early is definitely your best option.

2) Be flexible with your travel plans.

Depending on where you live, it may be cheaper to fly mom and dad to your location rather than for you to travel to where they live, so check prices for flights to both destinations. In addition, flights to remote locations or those serviced by only one or two airlines command a higher price, so be sure to consider airports located within a couple hours’ drive of your final destination (and don’t forget to factor in the cost of a rental car when evaluating this option).

3) Get to the airport super early.

Air travel is stressful at any time of year. But when you’re in the company of thousands of people who fly only during the holiday season and aren’t familiar with travel regulations, it’s wise to give yourself an extra hour (maybe two, if you’re traveling internationally) to get from the check-in counter to your gate. Be prepared for long lines and delays as the travel novices argue with the TSA about trying to carry liquids in excess of what’s allowed, take lots of time untying their shoes and removing several jackets, and are just generally confused by the entire process. Arrive early to preserve your sanity.

4) Bring snacks.

Hunger can make anyone testy, so bring food in case the airline runs out of food items for purchase (a not-infrequent occurrence these days, unfortunately). A good rule of thumb is to bring any food or drink that you absolutely need (such as food for young children and anything needed by someone with dietary restrictions) so you aren’t inconvenienced—or worse—if the airline doesn’t provide it.

5) Bring entertainment for everyone.

If possible, try to fly during your family members’ usual sleeping hours so you don’t have to worry as much about keeping everyone entertained during the flight. That’s not always possible, of course, so always pack entertainment options for all ages in your group. Don’t rely on in-flight movies and seatback magazines to hold their attention for the entire flight; bring your own media devices, reading materials, and other diversions.

6) Pay attention to the luggage.

If you bring the minimum amount of items you need so you don’t need too many bags and if you follow all the TSA regulations for what you’re allowed to bring, you’ll keep both your baggage fees and your stress level down. If you’re traveling with young children or older adults, at some point you’re likely to be hauling their luggage as well, so do what you can to ensure that they pack appropriately (and minimally!) so you can get all the bags through the airport easily—and without straining your back!

7) Pause when you’re feeling overwhelmed, angry, or upset.

No matter how much you love your family, being around anyone for an extended period of time can still be stressful. When you feel your hands clench and the hair on the back of your neck stand up, focus on taking deep breaths to help you disconnect from the stress. Start by counting to four as you inhale and to five as you exhale, then increase those counts to as high as you can go (without passing out!). After just a few minutes you’ll be steadier and ready to get back to spending quality time with your loved ones.

8) Tune out electronic devices and tune in to your family. Even if spending time with the family is something you usually endure more than enjoy, be present at those moments. These times are a great opportunity to reconnect with the people you love and show them that they really are important in your life. (And if you’re not especially fond of some family members . . . well, consider your participation in “quality family time” your holiday gift to them!)

Above all else, remember to have fun! It’s your vacation after all, so make the most of your time off work! Enjoy your impending holidays.

About the author.

A true renaissance woman, Grubb is passionate about traveling the world and spending time with her family. Originally from Indiana, Grubb currently lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Planes, Canes, and Automobiles is her first book. TravelwithAgingParents.com.