10 Great Hacks for Holiday Travel

“The major advantage of domestic travel is that, with a few exceptions such as Miami, most domestic locations are conveniently situated right here in the United States.” – Dave Barry

These tips are designed for domestic travel. For several years I worked as an airport marketing manager and traveled to nearly every U.S. airport. The good. The bad. And the Hope I Never Go There Again. These are my best hacks for having a fun, safe, well-planned adventure traveling over the hectic holiday weeks.

The very first action to take is to MAKE A LIST. Unless you have a photographic memory, a list will keep you focused, organized, and less likely to have a Home Alone experience. As you think of even more things, jot them down on your list. Using a CVS bag for a shower cap can be unattractive and definitely unromantic.

Do not let this unplanned moment happen to you. If you decide to make a surprise visit to Auntie Em in Connecticut to show the kids an old-fashioned snowy Christmas, you run the risk that Auntie Em DID have a plan and is sunning herself on a Miami Beach.

Whether you’re flying, driving, or taking a train, it’s much easier, and definitely more affordable, if you make your reservations ahead of your trip. With airfare, the game has changed due to so many online competitors like Expedia and Travelocity. A recent study by CheapAir.com, an online travel agency, found that the optimum low fare time to buy airline tickets is around 50 days before you travel.

The busiest day for travel is December 23, according to Condé Nast, and December 27 may be equally as hectic. I’m flying to NYC this Christmas from Phoenix. I would rather spend my money on my time in New York than on plane fare so I’ll be having a cool Yule in airports on December 25. But–such a deal. With any luck, I won’t be squeezed into a middle row seat or be writing my memoir while I wait for my luggage at bag claim.

The point here is to make a plan and follow it.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”―Susan Sontag

☑️Travel Trivia
▫️Buying two one-way tickets may save you money.
▫️Fly a Boeing 767. They have fewer middle seats than most airplanes.

✅Planning App

This ingenious app will organize all of your travel details by forwarding all of your details to one email address. Everything appears on one dashboard and it sends notifications. Too cool.
Mostly on a plane, but even in a car, pack lightly and efficiently. The seasoned air traveler, unless you are going to Morocco, packs everything into a carry-on and does not check a bag. This can be done if you stay with similar color clothing so that outfits are easy to assemble. I am a believer in rolling clothes to save space. I will also separate some items and put them into air-compressed plastic bags with a zip lock. Put the heaviest items at the bottom of your suitcase for easier rolling. Did I mention wheels on suitcases as a must have? Do not be tempted to bring a pair of shoes for every day. Boots and pair of flats might just work. My friends say I dress like I am in mourning, but I always stick to basic black. With just a few pieces, I can make them work for days. I wear my boots and a heavy coat in winter (doubles as a great blanket) to make a roomier suitcase.

☑️Packing Tips
▫️Never pack something you have not worn before
▫️Preplan outfits for you and family
▫️Adding dryer sheets make your clothes smell heavenly, are great static removers for both your clothes, hair and take up no room in your suitcase.

If you have been clever enough to pack everything into a carry-on suitcase, it is imperative that you are in an early boarding group because overhead space will be at maximum capacity during the holidays. I try to make myself as comfortable as possible on the plane. In the winter, I end up taking my boots off during the flight, so it is important to wear your good knee highs. Over the knee, if you are single and wearing a skirt [wink.] I carry an overly-large, simple black bag. Inside is my purse and some travel essentials. Again, this will work for plane or car. My essentials are:
▪️hand lotion and sanitizer/lip balm
▪️sleep mask
▪️neck pillow
▪️ear plugs
▪️light snacks
▪️travel size water spray
▪️phone/tablet/charger cords
▪️medications in their original bottles

My son believes hell is a long line with no book. My hell is a long wait with nothing to do. I love being active if I can’t sleep on a plane. In addition to my Kindle, I am bringing my knitting for some serious wait time on the plane or in the airport. It is hard to believe you can bring projectile weapon knitting needles on an airplane, but not four ounces of shampoo. If you do need to check luggage, it is also prudent to bring a few pieces of clothing on board with you in the rare case you arrive sans baggage.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” —Oscar Wilde

☑️Plane Tips
▫️Download your airline’s app for up-to-date info or use one of many travel apps
▫️Alcohol, caffeine, and heavily processed food will dehydrate you and make jet lag worse.
▫️You can get better in-flight (the ever disappearing) food by ordering a kosher or vegetarian meal.
▫️If you have to use the bathroom frequently, skip the window seat.
▫️If you need a cab, skip the line at arrivals when you land and grab your cab in the departure area.

“What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?” ―George Carlin

This tip alone is gold for airline travel. It stands for Transportation Services Agency Known Traveler Number–a shortcut through security checkpoints. I came across it reading how Lauren Conrad packs for travel. Smart girl, that Lauren. She says she always uses a TSA KTN. Huh, what? After minimal research, I found out that you can merrily skip by those long security checkpoints by applying for TSA pre-boarding approval. It was so easy. Their outsourced enrollment centers are everywhere and they use appointments. You bring a passport and driver’s license and answer a few security questions. Nope, this girl has not been incarcerated. I actually cringed when asked. Obviously, only low-risk passengers are eligible to receive expedited screening. Finally, your fingerprints are taken, and the fee is $85 for a five-year pass. I received my KTN by email and provided it to Southwest Airlines on their website. It will appear printed out on my boarding passes. At the airport, you go to a TSA KTN checkpoint and there is no need to remove shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops or 3-1-1 compliant liquids. It seems I am always behind people with metal parts or tied shoes so this is heaven for me. Hate to wait.


Because I am flying Southwest Airlines, who uses the A-B-C caste system boarding, I also splurged $15 to be a first boarder. I need my overhead bin space to maintain my Girl Pro Traveler status. I am sure Lauren does this, too. Well, Lauren probably doesn’t fly Southwest. But if she did.

☑️A Few More Plane Tips
▫️If you get motion sickness on the plane, ask for a drink that is half ginger ale and half club soda.
▫️Stay hydrated on the plane. This is why I bring a small water spray–refreshing for your face. Drink lots of water and avoid alcoholic drinks. If you need a drink to fly–you should probably drive.

✅Travel App

There is a free version of this powerful GPS app that will provide you gate location, flight info, restaurants, wifi areas, and so much more. The pro version, at $4.99, is a great investment for the frequent flyer.

Hipmunk is a flight and travel app that will help you find the best deals in hotels and flights.

Do your homework online to look for activities you are interested in such as museums, tours, historic building areas, restaurants–everything you might like to do. This will not become your schedule but will be a handy list of options during your stay. It is important to leave room for spontaneity in your schedule. Over-scheduling activities will leave you exhausted. Phone numbers and hours of operation can be very helpful, especially if you are traveling with children. When you do decide on an attraction, going early usually means shorter lines and less people.

☑️Important Tip
▫️Leave detailed information of your travel schedule, destination phone numbers, and your plans with family and/or a trusted friend.

My budget flight on Christmas Day leaves me with an extended time between flights at the Nashville Airport–fortunately a very cool place. You can Google all kinds of things about airports before you leave or use your iFly app to get information such as gate location if you have a flight change, airport layout, restaurants, newsstands, or free charging and wifi areas. One of my favorite airport book chain stores, Paradies, has a used book section. It’s definitely one of my regular stops. I also love airports with stores offering local products. Portland/PDX has an amazing Made In Oregon store selling their unique marionberry jam. They also have a few of their infamous Powell’s bookstores selling both new and used books.

“The only way to explain how some people dress for the airport is they think no one else will be there.”―Andy Borowitz

☑️Airport Tip
▫️This is where the app iFly really comes in handy. You will be able to find ANYTHING in over 700 airports.
▫️Buy a day pass to a swanky airport lounge if you have an extended layover.

Use Google, Kayak, Expedia, or your apps to find the best hotel for you at the best price. Once I have made a reservation, I usually call the hotel directly to inquire about both room and facility amenities. Hair dryers are standard now, but if there is a coffee maker I will usually bring my own coffee. If you like your daily workout or a swim, ask if these are offered. To me, free wifi is an expectation.

☑️Hotel Tips
▫️When speaking to the hotel, ask about couples-only perks like room upgrades and free spa treatments, says Mary McGrath, founder of the Travel Bug Vacation Planners. And clue in a concierge: “Hotels will usually try to make your stay extra special if they know there’s an anniversary, honeymoon, or a birthday,” says Johnny DiScala, founder of travel site JohnnyJet.com.
▫️If you’ve forgotten something, check with the hotel before running to a drugstore. Most housekeeping departments carry toothbrushes, combs, sewing kits, shower caps, and disposable razors that they will give you free of charge.
▫️Tip your hotel housekeeping staff. A good rule is to leave them about $2 a day.

“Hey, people who travel with their bed pillow. You look insane.”―Jim Gaffigan

Talk to locals for restaurant or sightseeing recommendations. Walk whenever you can. The first time I visited London I took the Underground everywhere. I had no conceptual relationship of where anything was. But I did learn how to Mind The Gap. Try to be in the moment and not photograph your every move. Definitely, do not overpost on social media. Your friends will just think it’s braggadocio, anyway. Make memories, especially with your family, whenever you can. But do take one really great group photo if you are traveling with family. Think next year’s holiday card! Travel is exciting and an incredible way to learn about people, customs, and regional areas–treasure that moment.

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” ―Jerry Seinfeld

▫️Travel journals are a great way to document your trip, make notes, save photos, ticket stubs, and small souvenirs.

The easiest way to pay for anything when traveling is by using credit cards for hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and attractions. Use your debit cards to get cash when you need to replenish your budgeted amount. Carry a minimal amount of cash, including many small denominations for tipping purposes. When you need cash, it’s worth a bit of research to Google your bank and find convenient ATMs without fees.

Remember your mother’s advice. Do not talk to shady strangers, walk alone on empty streets after dark, or leave valuables in your hotel room. Better yet–leave the family jewels at home where they are insured. Do not get drunk at bars with people you do not know. Watch the Investigation Discovery channel for a week before you leave.

▪️Put your hotel name, phone, and room number into your phone. It’s very easy to get disoriented in a new city. You can Google your way back easily this way.
▪️Always pack a hat. In this season–a warm cap or wool hat.
▪️Bring a small first-aid kit with a few bandaids, Tylenol or Ibuprofen, a decongestant, and a hydrocortisone cream.
▪️Save time to buy souvenirs. The airport gift shop does not count. Buy local.
▪️And, finally…never eat at a McDonald’s. You can do this at home.

“Los Angeles is where you go when you want to be somebody. New York is where you go when you are somebody. Miami is where you go when you want to be somebody else.”―Billy Corben

Photo Credit: PICS by MARTY Flickr via Compfight cc

Dori Owen

Dori Owen blogs on ArizonaGirlDiary.tumblr.com, is a columnist on FeminineCollective.com, a contributor/editor for The Lithium Chronicles, created the Facebook page Diary of an Arizona Girl, is an author on AskABipolar, was featured in the books FeminineCollective RAW&UNFILTERED VOL I and StigmaFighters Vol II, and is a zealous tweeter as @doriowen. She's a former LA wild child who settled into grownup life as a project manager, collecting an MBA and a few husbands along the way. Dori spent her adult years in Southern California, with a brief stay in Reno, and has now returned to where she ran away from in Arizona. She is a shown artist, writer, and her favorite pastime is upcycling old furniture she finds from thrift stores. She lives with her beloved rescued terrier, Olivia Twist, and the cat who came to visit but stayed. The love of her life is her grown son in Portland, Oregon who very much resents being introduced after her pets. But she she does love him the most.

  1. doriowen

    I’m so glad you liked this, Jackie….yeah, long gone are my days of jumping on a plane with just my big black bag. The Tragically Hip, LOL. Now I’m so over-prepared it’s crazy. I do love plane travel, though, and I love exploring airports. Is this strange??? xoD.

  2. Susan P. Blevins

    Dori this is wonderful! It made me chuckle, and I learned so many tips. I’m going to forward it to all my traveling friends, and make a copy of it to keep with my passport. Yes, I’m a dinosaur, I like paper copies of things!

    You are the best!
    Love and hugs, Susan xo

  3. Jacqueline Cioffa


    SOOOO many great tips and tricks, apps, yippee. Early boarding, who knew Lauren was so savvy? lol. My travel days consisted of a carry on, boots, and a bag arriving 30 half before the flight. And booking Christmas day, genius. I hope you have a smooth, easy flight and travel experience and wonderful time in the big city. Look out, big apple Dori is coming prepared.
    Also, the hotel tip thing I was never sure about that – thank you

    LOVE this quote -“Los Angeles is where you go when you want to be somebody. New York is where you go when you are somebody. Miami is where you go when you want to be somebody else.”―Billy Corben

    xx Jackie

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