How savvy travelers prepare for a holiday weekend

Nov 20, 2019

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It’s nearly turkey time! Your trips are booked, your paid time off has been requested, your bags are packed and the long weekend just can’t come soon enough. So, what else do you need to do before hitting the road (or the skies) for the holiday?

Whether it’s getting to the airport three hours early to clear high-traffic security checkpoints, or downloading Google Maps offline to help you navigate the way in low-reception zones, the following tips from TPG editors, writers and other travel pros will help guarantee you a perfect holiday getaway, whether you’re leaving town for Thanksgiving or flying home for Christmas.

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Before you leave

Having a perfect holiday weekend starts long before you lock your front door for the next few days — so keep these best practices to keep in mind.

Know the busiest days for travel, and plan accordingly

Thanksgiving Day falls on Thursday, Nov. 28 in 2019. The American Automobile Association (AAA) anticipates that nearly 50 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving. With a record 49.3 million travelers potentially hitting the road this Thanksgiving — the highest number since 2005, and 2.8% more than in 2018 — you can expect congested roadways all over the U.S.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) predicts similar spikes in traffic, and anticipates screening nearly 27 million passengers and airline workers between Friday, Nov. 22, and Monday, Dec 2. That’s a 4% increase over the comparable 2018 holiday window, which holds the current record for busiest Thanksgiving ever for air travel.

Within the holiday week, the day before Thanksgiving, predictably, will be the busiest travel day. This year, the day before Thanksgiving falls on Wednesday, Nov. 27. The TSA anticipates more than 2.7 million passengers and crew expected that day alone, while AAA predicts that Wednesday trips may take as much as four times longer than usual, as commuters mix with travelers.

Let your banks know you’re leaving town

With more than a million miles of air travel under his belt, it’s safe to say that TPG contributor Brian Biros knows a lot about how to plan a good trip. Biros suggests giving your bank a heads-up before you head out, even if it’s a destination you’ve been before. “Play it safe and take a few minutes to call the number on the back of your credit cards,” he advises, and also make sure you bring only credit and debit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction and ATM fees. 

Novelist Hope Tarr agrees, telling TPG, “I always call the credit card company of whatever card I will be taking overseas to advise them of my travel dates and itinerary, so overseas charges aren’t flagged as suspicious. This has been my practice since a 2013 trip to Australia when Visa froze my card after I made purchases at a Melbourne post office.”

But don’t let the bad guys know you’re not home

In this day and age, many people Instagram their every move as a way to keep friends and family posted during trips. But you know who else loves knowing when you’re eating-praying-loving your way through Italy or Bali? Thieves. In extreme cases, insurance companies have even been known to reject homeowner claims when there’s self-uploaded social media evidence they were away from home.

We’re not saying you can’t Insta-story your latest adventure — just be smart about it. Lock the doors and windows; arm your security system if you have one; let a responsible neighbor know to check in on your place every day or two; and turn on your “smart” lights. TPG travel editor Melanie Lieberman always asks a friend or a neighbor to park in the driveway when she’s driving out of town.

Check your passport expiration date

Discovering that your destination country won’t accept your passport is one of the quickest ways to thoroughly ruin any good vacation vibes. It may surprise you that you can be denied entry even with a valid expiration date — some countries will not allow you in if you have less than three months before your passport expires, or if you don’t have enough blank pages in your passport. And renewing your passport on super-short notice may not be as painfully complicated as you might think.

Don’t forget chargers cables and adapters

These days, you can find your way just about anywhere in the world with Google Maps, which is even available offline. Unfortunately, Google won’t do you any good if you don’t have any juice in your phone, and you can’t charge up if your device is incompatible with local outlets. I have a universal adapter that works in almost every country around the world, and I keep it permanently stashed in my travel bag so I don’t have to buy a new one each time I visit a foreign destination.

And Megan Robertson, TPG’s production coordinator, uses a travel organizer she calls her “little green football” to keep all of her cables, cords and adapters sorted on the go. “It holds a specific organization of adapters, car charger, camera stuff and phone charger, passport and other on-the-road needs,” she said. “It actually saves me tons of money since I never need to buy an adapter on the road.”

Don’t forget data safety, though: Digital crime is on the uptick, and may come from somewhere you don’t expect. Learn all about juice jacking here, and how you can prevent someone from stealing your most valuable information from a single innocent phone charge in public.

If you’re driving, tune up your car

The last thing you need is a flat tire or a coolant leak during a long road trip. “I always leave the day before everyone else does, or early that morning,” travel writer Penny Sadler told TPG. “To prepare, I pack the night before [and] I fill the car with gas as many days before departure as possible to avoid waiting in lines. Also, any needed service or maintenance, [I] take care of that a couple of weeks in advance. Basically, I just try to have everything ready to roll early in the morning!”

Clean your house to make coming home more comfortable

Coming home from vacation is always a bummer, but returning to a mess is doubly so, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to turn-down service and freshly ironed sheets. “I always like to leave my apartment clean before I travel,” Sasha Perez said. “It’s just nice to come back to a clean apartment [and] fresh sheets.”

TPG fact-checker, Alyssa Haak, also makes a point of cleaning out her fridge before big trips, either by preparing kitchen sink meals or trashing old food. (Just don’t forget to take out the trash before leaving home!)

“Before I leave for any travel, not just holiday, I make sure I have toilet paper, water and something quick and easy to prepare for food when I get home,” said George Gensler, a writer and columnist. Gensler told TPG that a frozen meal or can of soup already available makes coming home that much easier, especially for those late-night returns.

Label your belongings

Darren Murph told TPG he prints out stickers with his contact information and labels everything he brings on his travels. “This has saved my AirPods, a water bottle (three times) and a hard drive with wedding photos,” he said. “I even put them on the little charging blocks that come with your iPod, since those blocks are so easy to forget in a hotel room or plane.”

Stay healthy

TPG director of travel content Summer Hull said she always hopes her kids don’t spike a fever or start puking everywhere before a big trip, especially over the holidays. Unfortunately, it still happens often enough — a sad reality of life with small kids. In order to keep them as healthy as possible for travel, she said she’s even, “kept them home from preschool leading up to a holiday to stay away from grubby germs.”

Related: The 7 best starter credit cards

During your trip

Sometimes, even the best-laid travel plans can go awry, so savvy travelers don’t stop being proactive after take-off.

Keep valuables safe and accessible

For her family of four, Emily Kanders Goldfischer — London correspondent for Luxury Travel Advisor — keeps passports close at hand, all together in a single Ziploc bag. “This is easy for when you need to keep pulling them out for security [and] gate check,” she told TPG. “They don’t get lost in my purse.”

And Mitchell Stoutin, TPG’s director of engineering, sets himself up for success by clipping his car and house keys to a designated spot inside his carry-on bag. “I won’t be using them while away, and I don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle,” he said. He also leaves his airport parking ticket hidden inside the car so he doesn’t have to worry about losing it during his trip.

Take control of your comfort

Planes are notoriously cold, hot and generally uncomfortable by turns. There’s not much you can do about the central ventilation, but you can adapt by bringing your own comfort: Cozy socks, noise-canceling headphones, a sweater or travel blanket, eye masks and even sheet masks for inflight hydration. (Hey, if it’s good enough for Chrissy Teigen, it’s good enough for us.)

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Scaring children

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Use apps to streamline your experience

Ruksana Hussain, a Los Angeles-based travel journalist, uses the GateGuru app to see what amenities are available near her terminal and gate. “It saves me time finding food or specific services,” she told TPG. The TSA app is another good tool that will help you figure out how much earlier you need to arrive at the airport in order to make it to your gate on time.

Related: The worst part of Thanksgiving travel isn’t actually the airport

When you return

Do your laundry right away

Don’t get me wrong: I hate doing my chores at the best of times, let alone at the end of a long trip and travel day. But I’ve found the benefits of washing my clothes as soon as I get home far outweigh the fairly minimal discomfort of being responsible. I wake up the next morning feeling more prepared to return to my daily routine, and it’s always nice to be greeted with fresh piles of clean, folded clothing — rather than heaps of dirty laundry. To make things a little easier, I separate my lights and darks in two separate laundry bags when I travel, so I just shake them out and start the machine as soon as I get home.

Back up your photos

If your phone and camera aren’t already synced to the cloud, it’s a great idea to download and back up your photos, videos and other digital souvenirs as soon as you return home. Mishaps do happen, and memories can be lost very easily with one accidental slip of the wrist or a device malfunction.

Do you have any travel tips, best practices, rituals or tricks that we didn’t mention here? Share them with us in the comments below!

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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