Holiday travel will be harder this year. Here are some hacks.

·5 min read

Traveling for the holidays is always tricky. But this year as Americans prepare for trips as COVID restrictions ease up, navigating roads and skies might be a little harder than usual.

Recent AAA data shows an estimated 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, from Wednesday, Nov. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 28. Similarly, the TSA is estimating that airport volumes will get close to 2019 levels over Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

Those planning that long-delayed dream vacation abroad during the holiday season might also get hit with sticker shock. In a press release, Delta said it has seen an increase of 450% in international bookings in the six weeks prior, and they expect many international flights to reach 100% capacity for several weeks.

If the idea of holiday travel seems a bit more daunting this year, don’t fret. Travel experts have shared some tips with Yahoo Money to help you navigate the crowds — and potential cancelations — with ease.

Don’t fly on Wednesday or Sunday

Wednesday and Sunday are the most popular days to fly around the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Organizing for Dummies author and travel expert Eileen Roth. Avoid those days if at all possible, by plane or car.

“If possible, leave on Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday before 3 p.m. the latest,” Roth told Yahoo Money. “Anything after 4 p.m. will be heavy traffic, whether you are driving or at the airport. Realize that returning on Sunday will also be heavy traffic, by car or plane.”

If you want to save a little more money and you have some flexibility, flying the day-of is one way to go. Sara Rathner, a travel and credit card expert at NerdWallet said November flight prices can be 40% higher than they were in October. Skirt the price increase by flying on the actual holiday.

“You’ll also deal with fewer crowds, but you run the risk of missing the festivities if your flight is significantly delayed,” Rathner said.

Be prepared for delays and cancellation

With staff shortages recently causing hundreds of flight cancellations at major airlines like American and Southwest, CEO of Insanely Cheap Flights Steve Oliverez said to be prepared for disruptions to your travel plans.

“Have a backup plan,” he said.” Airlines are having to adjust to the huge resurgence in travel demand and there have been some bumps in the road. Have a flexible plan in case there are unforeseen delays or cancellations.”

Rathner also suggested building flexibility into your itinerary if possible and look for more ways to insure your trip and plan ahead for any hiccups.

“Before you book, review the cancellation policies of airlines, hotels, and rental car companies. Use a credit card with travel protections to pay for your bookings, so you have some coverage in the event your trip is canceled or substantially delayed,” she said. “And if you’re taking a once-in-a-lifetime holiday vacation, consider a separate travel insurance policy.”

“Build in extra time to deal with traffic, crowds, long security lines and delays. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she added.

Book flights four to six weeks in advance

The window for Thanksgiving travel planning is closing quickly, and we’re nearing the Christmas holiday just as fast. If you’re hitting the road in December for travel, book those flights now, Oliverez said.

“It's usually best to book flights four to six weeks ahead of time, but booking earlier is even more important when it comes to busy holidays,” he said.

Travelers wearing protective face masks and face shields to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hug after departing a flight at the airport in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 24, 2020.  REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Travelers wearing protective face masks and face shields to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hug after departing a flight at the airport in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 24, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt/Reuters)

Cash in on travel points and loyalty plans

Have credit cards that let you rack up travel-related rewards? Now is the perfect time to use them, Rathner said.

“Typically, you get the most value out of points and miles when you redeem them for international travel,” Rathner said, “but it’s OK to treat yourself to discounted holiday domestic flights if that’s what works best for you and you don’t have plans to leave the country any time soon.”

Keep up with local mask and vaccine requirements

Because requirements vary from place to place, you’ll have to stay up to date on the latest regulations as you travel. Jen Moyse, TripIt’s senior director of product, suggested keeping your vaccine card or proof of negative COVID test handy at all times.

“Make sure your whole travel party has proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test on them at all times in case a border, location, or venue you hope to visit requires one,” she said. “I’ve had a few vaccinated friends tell me about being turned away from events, meetings, and restaurants when they forgot to have their vaccine card with them. At the least – snap a picture of it on your phone.”

Don’t forget to breathe

Between the long lines and unavoidable delays, stress is bound to happen. While it can be tough to keep the difficult moments from spoiling your holiday, Christine Scott-Hudson, a licensed psychotherapist, suggested a simple breathing exercise to keep you feeling relaxed.

“You can stimulate your vagus nerve by taking deep, long breaths,” she told Yahoo Money.

Scott-Hudson said your vagus nerve is the activator of your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling your heart rate, helping you digest food, and getting a good night's sleep.

“Allow your diaphragm to expand your belly as you breathe. Let your exhale be twice as long as your inhale to help you relax. Breathe in through your nose, and breathe out through your mouth,” she said. “Your deep, long breaths stimulate your vagus nerve and spark your PNS to release acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of general well-being and safety.”