10 biggest holiday travel mistakes & how to avoid them

It’s about that time. Holiday time, which is either one of two things for most people: the most wonderful time of the year or the most dreaded time of the year.

I’m in the most wonderful time of the year camp, except for the cold weather in New York part, which I am not at all into. But even if you like the holidays, the travel that comes with it isn’t always the travel that has us counting down days on our calendar and getting excited about all of the things we’re going to do. And that’s because sometimes we go into holiday travel with the wrong approach.

So let’s clear all these mistakes up now, in October, when there’s still plenty of time to wrap your head around how you’re going to change it up this year.

1. Waiting too long to book your travel

I tend to be the let’s-wait-and-see-if-the-ticket-gets-cheaper type, because it usually does. Except for when it doesn’t. If you already know where you’re going and more or less when you’re going, just book the ticket. Give yourself enough time to set an alert on Kayak for travel deals to your destination and you can jump on the plane ticket when you see the price go down. Too-expensive airfare just puts pre-stress on the whole holiday vibe and nobody has time for that. Do your best to get a deal. If you don’t know, here’s every hack you need for finding the best airline ticket deals.

2. Traveling on the same days as everyone else

It’s safe to assume for Thanksgiving that most people will want to travel on the Wednesday before and head back on the Sunday after to max out on the holiday without losing precious vacation days (and you know how I feel about wasting vacation days). The problem with that ideal travel scenario, however, is that everyone. is. doing. it. If you’ve got wiggle room, extra vacation days (if so, I want to be like you!) or a boss that will let you work from home on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Monday after, then you’ll save a lot on airfare and avoid the masses trying to fly on the other days—which brings us to our next mistake.

3. Letting logistics stress you out

If you’re a traveler you already know that the actual traveling part of travel can sometimes just suck. Flights get delayed or cancelled, you have to sleep in random cities (or in the airports of random cities) and the airport staff and other travelers tend to err on the side of rude. The thing is, though, these are the facts, the things you already know will happen, so it’s worth taking a deep breath knowing what you know and taking it head on without getting all worked up. Besides, getting worked up is only going to make everyone more annoying. Including you. Chill.

4. Not having a backup plan

Provided you do chill and everything still goes awry, do you have a holiday travel plan B? I mean, if worst comes to worst and a snowstorm grounds you on a Wednesday night with no hopes of getting where you’re going in time for turkey, will you sit in the airport cursing the helpless and unfazed flight staff or could you re-invite yourself to the Friendsgiving you would have been at if you decided to stay home? If it’s Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanza/Just December, and you’ll be getting home a day late and missing out on your tickets to see the Nutcracker, did you get ticket insurance so you can see the next day’s show or will you be crying in the airport? No one wants to be crying in the airport. Find backup plans, get insurance on things you might not normally get insurance on just so everything isn’t ruined when travel plans inevitably get shaken up.

5. Starting your shopping too late

The thing is, holiday shopping usually isn’t that fun. But I really think that’s because we’re trying to spend a bunch of money all at once, usually at the last minute and we have no idea what to get anyone. Shopping late also means you’ll either have to pack and tote everything with you or shop when you reach your destination, which will be even more last minute. Don’t do that. I keep a running list on a note in my phone of things that could be good gifts for people because sometimes ideas pop up when it’s not the holidays and you won’t remember if you don’t write them down. I try to start my shopping around now, buying gradually so I’m not spending all of my money at once, and so I have more options for things that might take long to ship or need to be customized. Plus it gives me time to have some of them shipped straight to where I’ll be celebrating the holidays so I don’t have to pack and carry it all. *Pro tip: buy gifts and goodies for people on your travels throughout the year, and then you’ll have cool things to give them from cool places and less of the holiday shopping stress to deal with.

6. Wrapping gifts in advance

The TSA makes lots of rules and sometimes breaks them (like telling you to buy expensive TSA-approved suitcase locks so they can open them to check your bags and then cutting the locks off anyway), but digressing aside, you’re not supposed to pack wrapped presents. If you do, they may unwrap them to see what’s inside (since their x-ray machines can’t see through wrapping paper…?) To me, more than just unwrapping gifts you took time to painstakingly make pretty, wrapped presents in a suitcase is like a waving flag to steal something. I’m not saying everyone at the TSA is untrustworthy, but things get swiped all the time and I’m not going to put flashing red signs on the best things to steal in my suitcase. Besides, since you’ve now learned all about not shopping too late, all of this can be easily avoided.

7. Overpacking

This is a mistake you shouldn’t make at any time of the year, but during the holidays, this travel flub might prove even more annoying. First of all, it’s going to be crowded and dragging overweight bags or too many bags through thick crowds of people who are probably all trying to do the same thing is not going to be cute. Also, you may be toting gifts, and if the airline attendants happen to be sticklers for the exact weight limit and yours goes over that, what are you going to do with Uncle Robert’s present if your carry-on is already jam packed with stuff? And if your bag is overpacked to begin with, where are you going to put the gifts you get when it’s time to go home? Pack right. Take just what you actually need, not what you think you need. I’ve found that choosing an outfit for each day I’ll be away helps me not to take too many extra clothes. (And here are more packing tips from me if you need them).

8. Not taking any time for yourself

I know this isn’t an easy one when there’s family all around and meals to prepare and Christmas trees to cut down, and so on, but not taking any time for yourself or to do something that you want to do is part of what can make holiday travel un-fun. Even if you’ve traveled home for the holidays, that place is still a destination. Is there something new that’s popped up that you haven’t tried yet? A favorite place you’ve always visited? Go there. Do something. And it doesn’t even mean you won’t let your cousin tag along, but if it’s something that you wanted to do, you’ll still be getting a good travel experience out of your time away.

9. Letting inquisitions about your life upset you

If you’re not married and getting up there in age, chances are very high that auntie Shirley is going to ask you why you’re still not married, what you’re doing with your life, what you’re doing wrong, whether you’ve tried Bumble/Match/Whatever newfangled dating site she’s seen an ad for on TV. You know she will and deep down inside you also know she’s not trying to ruin your day or your life and that she loves you and probably wants your mom to have some grandbabies. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to tell her and when it comes, smile and take it all in stride.

1o. Eating everything in sight

OK, to be fair, this one isn’t exactly a mistake. The holidays are about eating and enjoying all the deliciousness that seems to be popping up everywhere you go. It’s fabulous. Until it isn’t. Which is when you realize you’ve put on 10 extra pounds and then you get all in a funk and start planning a New Year’s weight loss resolution you won’t stick to. I think holiday travel eating is about balance. I say eat everything you want but maybe don’t go for thirds. Maybe skip one of those slices of pumpkin pie you were going to have at midnight when you’re feeling peckish. Also, maybe don’t skip every single workout for the entire month of December. Make some time for it. Running usually works because your gym or your yoga studio can’t travel with you, but your sneakers can.