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Traveling During the Holidays? Here’s What You Need to Know Ahead of Time

A family gathers at Christmas

It may only be October, but the holidays are just around the corner. While we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, anyone who is planning on traveling for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or another holiday in the coming months should start planning that trip now. From snagging the perfect flights to checking those travel documents twice, here’s what you need to know in order to have a holly-jolly journey, all while saving money while traveling during the holidays.

Book Flights ASAP

An airplane taking off from a runway

The best time to book a flight depends on a lot of factors. The airline industry has changed drastically in recent years, making it more difficult to know when you should make the final decision on a flight time and date.

That being said, if you’re traveling domestically or internationally for the holidays, you should be booking your flights as soon as possible if you haven’t already. Flights around the holidays tend to be booked out quickly, as most people plan these trips well in advance. Airlines also know that demand will increase and will subsequently increase prices as those dates approach and travelers become more desperate to make sure they can get to their destination.

If the flights you want are already outrageously expensive, try comparing different airlines using a service like Google Flights or Expedia. If you have airline miles, consider booking with those.

If all else fails, see if you can be flexible on either side of your vacation. Leaving a day later or coming back a day earlier could save you hundreds of dollars, especially if you’re buying multiple tickets.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, for example, is one of the busiest (and often most expensive) travel days of the year. Consider flying back on that Saturday or Monday instead. Play around with dates on your travel booking site of choice before you make your final decision.

If you’re thinking, “How early should I get to the airport during the holidays?”, it’s probably earlier than you think. Whenever you decide to fly, make sure to get to the airport earlier than normal to account for long security lines. This means at least three hours before an international flight and at least two hours before a domestic flight.

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The Same Goes For Accommodations

A family inside a hotel room
Unai Huizi Photography/Shutterstock.com

While you’re more likely to score a last-minute hotel deal than a last-minute flight deal, you’ll generally save yourself more money and stress if you book your accommodations early as well. This is mainly due to selection—hotels and Airbnbs book out well in advance around the holidays, and you don’t want to find yourself with minimal options as you approach your date.

Hotel prices tend to be higher over the holidays and weekends, so you may not find a significant deal by arriving or leaving later or earlier like you would with flights. However, it’s always worth experimenting with dates that would work for you to see if you can save some money.

Whatever you end up wanting to do, don’t leave booking your accommodations to the last minute, or you may find yourself needing to commute 45 minutes on Christmas morning to see your relatives.

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Check Your Passport and Other Documents

A person holds their passport on top of their suitcase.
Atstock Productions/Shutterstock.com

Flying internationally for Christmas? Check your passport now! Hopefully, you already have one, since it can take eight weeks or longer to receive your passport after applying for it.

While renewing a passport isn’t as involved as applying for one, it can still take several weeks for the process to be completed. And after many delays from the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Department is still dealing with backlogs, so you should plan for a passport renewal to take up to 12 weeks.

If you’re reading this in early October or later, you probably don’t have that kind of time. The final option you have is to make an appointment at a passport agency or center. According to the U.S. Department of State, you only qualify for this type of service if “you are traveling internationally within 14 calendar days or need a foreign visa within 28 calendar days.”

There are only a handful of passport agencies in the country, so this might not be an option if you live far from a big city. However, if you have a once-in-a-lifetime international trip planned with your entire family and realize at the last minute that your passport has expired, it may be worth the extra effort.

You should also keep in mind that many countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months after you arrive, or they may not let you cross the border. If you are traveling domestically, you should also double-check that your driver’s license and/or other forms of ID are up to date to avoid any potential issues with flying or driving.

ACdream Passport Holder

Keep your important documents organized.

Buy Tickets For Shows and Museums

A bucket of popcorn sits next to two movie tickets.

There are many special events happening around the holidays, no matter where you travel. If you have your heart set on attending a certain show, museum exhibit, or other event, make sure you buy those tickets soon.

While tying yourself to a specific date or time can mean less flexibility, it’s better than realizing the event is sold out when you want to go. Some events won’t get booked out, of course, and you don’t need to do this if you know you won’t have an issue. But if you don’t know what ticket availability will look like closer to the date, it’s best to buy yours now.

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Think About TSA Precheck

A man goes through airport security
Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

Flying during the holidays can be rough for many reasons, one of those being the crowds of people with the same idea as you. One way to make the airport much less stressful is to sign up for TSA Precheck. Once this government program considers you a trusted traveler, you can go through security faster each time you fly.

Just fill out an application, wait for a background check, complete an interview, and say goodbye to long lines and thorough checks. For $85, you get a five-year membership, allowing you to keep your jacket, shoes, and belt on, plus you can leave your laptop and liquids in your bag during security screening.

Once you complete your interview, it typically takes 3-5 business days to get your approval notification. However, depending on where you live, it can sometimes take a while to schedule an interview, so this is also a process you don’t want to leave to the last minute.

Another option for skipping long airport lines is to use Clear, which is a service that uses biometric data instead of checking photo IDs to identify travelers. This allows passengers to skip long security lines and reach TSA screening points faster.

After using a Clear kiosk, if you have TSA PreCheck, you can head straight to the PreCheck lane, skipping the regular line and saving time. If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, you’ll still get to use a faster line for regular screening. The main advantage of Clear is the time it saves.

Not only will skipping the lines help you save time in the airport, but it can also help you avoid catching a nasty cold on your way to Grandma’s house. Less time in line with people = less time breathing their germs.

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Get through security faster.

As the holiday season approaches, proactive steps like booking flights in advance, securing accommodations, and considering time-saving programs can make a huge difference in your experience. Whether you’re wondering how early to get to the airport during the holidays or how to avoid getting sick while traveling during the holidays, planning for your trip now will lead to a fun and festive time later on.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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