Traveling for the holidays can be easier. Here are a few tips to help avoid a few of the headaches and roadblocks along the way to see friends and family.
November 30, 2004 -- Hopefully you booked early, got a good rate and are traveling with some flexibility. If not, you'll be like most of us. You may have already checked in and printed out your boarding passes. Many airline websites let you do this at home. If not, try to find a kiosk at the airport to check in and avoid the lines. If you don't need to speak with airline personnel, don't sweat the lines. Try to use public transportation or get a ride to the airport. Parking lots tend to fill up quickly around the holiday travel season. To reduce the airport shuttle fare, see if you can leave your car closer to the airport, with a friend or even at your workplace.
The Transportation Security Administration provides expected wait times (http://waittime.tsa.dhs.gov) for the security checkpoints at various airports. This does not include time for parking and airline check-in. The TSA also has an accepted lock list for your luggage. If you do not use one of these locks, you run the risk of your bag or lock being cut open by screeners. This is also the place where a sense of humor or temper has to be kept buried inside you. Any inappropriate jokes or statements are taken seriously and subject to both civil and criminal penalties, and could cause you to miss your flight.
Every morning, airports around the country start fresh with planes on the ground. The earlier your flight, the more likely it will be on time. Other airports and storms haven't had a chance to create havoc with your holiday. And if you are on the west coast, try to go even earlier. Remember that eastern airports have a head start on messing up your schedule.
Plastic compression or space bags really do work. They compress your clothes down and let you carry more (and maybe unnecessary) items with you, as long as you don't leave a stray piece of metal or zipper hanging out to puncture it. Try to wear several layers of clothes once in the airport so you can take off or add something to be comfortable. Jonathan Stocker of AllStays () recommends carrying a calling card to avoid high priced pay phone and hotel charges. "Hotel and airport phone rates vary wildly so a calling card is the best bet. Cell phones don't always work when you want them to on the road. If crossing country borders, we recommend carrying a color photocopy of your passport and credit card phone numbers in your money belt or tucked away in your luggage, somewhere apart from your original. It helps during troubles or if yours is lost. It's also good to print out any emails and confirmations of reservations of both flights and hotels. If over the phone, with us or any travel service, write down the date, time and name of the customer service person."
To make the screening process a bit smoother this holiday travel season, you may want to empty your pockets, take off your jewelry, your belt and your shoes and put everything into your carry-on as you head into or stand in line. You may also carry a ziplock bag that you can fill ahead of time and drop into the smaller basket at the metal detector. This is handy for keys, change, or anything you want to have immediate access to on the other side of security. Laptops and video cameras have to be removed from cases and placed in plastic bins as well. If you are selected for further screening or pat-downs, you have the right to request a private area. This may not please the screener personnel but it is your right.
You may want to check into shipping your packages ahead of time. It's often easier and safer to mail them ahead of time than it is to carry them on or risk loss and damage in cargo. You may also want to look at large merchant websites that have branches in other countries. You could order gifts direct from an international version of Amazon.com within your destination country and save on some shipping charges. If you do carry them, bring all gifts unwrapped to an airport. It is rather sad seeing a beautifully wrapped package opened at the airport, unless you intended to give it to the screener inspecting it. You may wish to use holiday bags or boxes to help hide a gift but still have it be accessible.
Drink water early in the day of your holiday travel flight. This gets you well hydrated ahead of time. Keep drinking fluids throughout your travels or as much as convenient. This helps to keep your mucous membranes from cracking which opens you up to more germs. Turn off the air vents or direct them away from you. This is recycled air and you don't need it and it's germs blowing directly on you. Most airlines have cut back or eliminated pillows and blankets. This is just as well since you don't know where they've been before you got them. Use your own travel pillow and clothes. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you and use it often. Ideally, use it after touching any public surface or money and before touching your food, your face or rubbing your eyes.
Rental companies assume about 20% in no-shows. So they overbook. Try to get to the counter as soon as possible. Have a family member get your luggage while you go to the counter. Get there ahead of other travelers or you may wind up without a car on a holiday's eve.
Book early and bring your printed confirmation with you. Just in case. "Hotels should always honor reservations, but if a mistake occurs, it could affect an entire holiday. Bring your proof of reservation or pre-payment with you," say Jonathan (). Whatever travel website you used, mark down their service phone number along with the number of the hotel so you can call them to help sort it out. Being prepared for anything helps for a smooth holiday." Look for bargains at hotels in business areas, suite hotels and extended stays. Holiday travelers often overlook these classes of hotels and they may offer a great deal with business clients staying home this time of year.
AllStays.com, online since 2000 and based in Arizona (US), lists all kinds of lodging, from motels to luxury hotels, from primitive campgrounds to bed and breakfasts, haunted hotels and spa resorts. AllStays also links directly to official websites to make sure you have the real scoop on the latest and most accurate information from around the world.
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