The holidays are the busiest travel time of the year. Students from colleges across the country are headed home to spend time with their families and friends. Young families also make the trip to visit relatives. The holidays are supposed to be a happy time of year when work and school take a back seat to leisure activities. Unfortunately, late November and December are the most stressful time of year for air travel. At airports, crowds are heavy and lines long. Poor weather can add to the stress level by increasing the chances for flight delays and cancellations.
There are ways to avoid the overly-stressful atmosphere that descends on terminals around the country during the holidays. Here are some tips for making this year’s airplane trip less of an ordeal.
First, all airports will be busy, but some will be busier than others. Major airports, the LAXs and JFKs of the country, will be packed during peak flying hours (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.) on busy travel days before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas. If there is a viable secondary option (like Chicago Midway, as opposed to O’Hare), it might be worth considering. That said, if you choose to fly during the peak times mentioned above, there is bound to be more of a crowd than usual.
Another option is to opt for a red-eye flight. On the two days before Thanksgiving and the days before the Christmas-New Year holiday, the best option for avoiding the long lines at check in and security is to fly as late as possible. The airport will be busier than it normally is during the overnight hours, but it will be far less chaotic than it is during the daytime and evening. On peak days, thing should slow down at around 10 at night until 6 or 7 the following morning.
To really avoid the crowds, you will have to fly several days before or after the holiday. This is not an option for people on a tight schedule (students with a limited amount of time off or employees who can’t get more than a few days vacation), but it is the only way to truly avoid the rush. The only other option is to try and fly on the holiday itself. Most people are sprinting to get home so that they can spend the time with their family and friends. They want to arrive before the festivities begin. People who can delay the party a little while have a better chance of avoiding long lines and delayed flights. For this reason, both Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day are good times to fly.
If you cant beat the crowds to the airport, at least you can prepare yourself for the onslaught of humanity. If there was ever a good time to carry-on all your luggage, the holiday travel season is it. While other passengers are waiting in slow-moving lines, you can simply make your way to the security checkpoint. At the very least, you can check your bags online before coming to the airport (most major airlines allow you to do this). You might even consider shipping a box of belongings (or holiday gifts) to your destination instead of checking a bag. Also, you can be liberal with your carry-on requirements. Pack your carry-on suitcase and use your under-the-seat baggage allowance to fill a small backpack with additional items. The worst thing that could happen is that the airline could ask you to check one of your bags when you board the plane. You may be charged a checked baggage fee, but you will have already boarded the plane, escaping the long lines at the ticketing and baggage check counter.
Also, carry-on-only fliers will be able to speed by the chaotic baggage claim area once they arrive at their destination.
Checking-in online before you go to the airport is another way to save time. All major carriers allow passengers to print boarding passes online up to 24 hours before departure time. Also, consider taking public transportation to the airport. Even if traffic on the way to the airport is not heavy, the parking lots and passenger drop-off areas are going to be grossly overcrowded.
No matter what, you’ll have to arrive at the airport earlier than normal during peak holiday travel days, even if you take all the streamlining measures possible.
Europe is one of the most desirable destinations for travelers from the American side of the Atlantic. It can also be one of the most expensive destinations in the world, especially for when the Euro is strong against the US Dollar, as it has been for the past few years.
For American travelers who don’t want to give up on their European ambitions but who don’t want to spend their life savings on a dream vacation, the colder seasons are a good time to visit the continent. Airfares, package tours and hotels are much cheaper in the fall and the winter than during the summer. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Ski destinations in the Alps, for example, are pricier in the colder season. And, because the holidays are a popular time to visit the great urban destinations on the other side of the Atlantic, Christmas and New Year airfares and hotels reach summertime prices.
Though there are fewer winter deals this year compared to previous years, it is still possible to travel to Europe for reasonable prices during the winter time.
Here are some places to look for good deals as the weather gets colder.
Lufthansa is one of the best airlines for off-season deals. The German carrier offers great deals not only to Europe, but also from North America through Europe to destinations in the Middle East and Africa. This year’s fares include a $270 one-way fare between New York and London. Lufthansa is also the obvious choice for travelers who want to visit Germany. They regularly have the lowest prices between the US and German cities like Munich and Berlin.
American Airlines is one of the best airlines for package tours. Many of AA’s European vacation packages include great hotel deals. When it comes to airfares, American is able to hold its own in terms of price when it is compared with the other major trans-Atlantic carriers. Fares to Europe start in the $250 range. However, it is important (especially for frugal travelers) to be aware of the additional expenses like fuel surcharges and taxes that are sometimes not quoted in the price.
Continental Airlines will have some of the better deals for travelers who want to cross the ocean in luxury. The carrier’s BusinessFirst prices will be especially low for fliers who are traveling from the Continental hubs of Newark and Houston. Destinations include Rome, Amsterdam and London.
United and Delta both have economy class specials from their hub destinations in the US. United is one of the better airlines for Midwestern travelers, with sub-$300 one way prices from departure points like Denver and Chicago.
Around the world airfares can be a good choice for people who want to visit more than one destination and get the most miles per dollar value out of their travels. Though these multiple-stop tours can be more of an involved journey than some travelers might want, they are a great value for adventure seekers. Some of these airfare packages offer travel on three continents for less than $2,000. For example, a current fare, starting at $1,495 includes stops in one European city and a city in East Africa, and a return fare to the East Coast of the US.
True round-the-world fares (from the East Coast through Asia and the Middle East to Europe) start at less than $2,000 with more stops and a less-straightforward route adding several hundred dollars to the overall price tag. For those who have their minds made up to travel to Europe and don’t have interest in the rest of the world, airfare packages that allow travel through many of the continent’s best destinations start at around $2,000. Another option could be a Eurail pass (starting at $300), which, when combined with a standard $600 trans-Atlantic airfare could prove a better deal than an all-air package, although train travel will be bit slower.
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Icelandair are decent choices for travelers who want to go to Northern Europe. Scandinavian has been steadily increasing its service of the past couple of years. Major SAS destinations include Stockholm and Copenhagen (from D.C., New York and Chicago). SAS also has connecting flights to destinations in Asia like Dubai and Bangkok.
Weather plays an important part in the travel industry. It can often be the deciding factor in the quality of a vacation. In some extreme cases, storms or poor conditions can actually cause would-be vacationers to cancel their trip or at least reschedule for a different time.
How is it possible to keep weather from destroying your well-planned vacation? It is not completely possible, but arming yourself with information can be a huge step in a positive direction. Here are some tools for becoming a weather savvy traveler. From knowing the climate at your destination to keeping your eye on the weather for your flight, these tools can take the weather worries out of your travels.
There is really nothing that you can do about storms or weather events that cause delays at airports. During the colder months, for example, flying in the Northern half of the US and in many airports that are located at high altitude can often mean that your flight will be delayed because of snow and ice.
If this is the case, keeping tabs on your flight status is important. You can keep up to date with the status of flights on the day of your flight by using the FAA airport status page. This map uses color coding to show the average delays for flights flying out of major airports in the US. In addition, each major airline has a flight status application on its web site. Fliers simply have to plug in their flight number and they can check for updates as the time for take-off approaches. If there is bad weather in the region, you can check frequently, as schedules can change by-the-minute as the air traffic controllers and runway maintenance people adjust to poor weather conditions.
Climate data can give you a broad picture of what the weather is like at your destination even before weather reports are available. This can help you avoid unpleasant weather and choose the best time of year to visit if the dates of your travel are flexible. Even if they are not flexible, climate data can give you a picture of the weather situation at your destination so that you can be prepared and pack appropriately. For example, you might expect that your winter trip to the US Southwest (say, Phoenix or Mesa, Arizona) will mean warmer weather. While temps are still pleasant in the part of the country during the day, the mercury can drop to near freezing at night time. Your hot weather desert clothing, shorts and light cotton shirts, will not keep you warm. Sources like Wikipedia and Weather.com can at least give you monthly temperature averages, which give you an idea of what to pack.
iPhone applications like Flight Tracker and Airport Status can help fliers keep up to date on their status of their flights. There are plenty of applications out there that can do similar tasks, but these two are the “right price” at only $0.99 each. Airport Status can give fliers up-to-the-minute delay information for airports. It does not have exact information for flights. Flight Tracker can give minute-by-minute updates of arrival and departure information for domestic flights in the US. There are plenty of other options when it comes to keeping track of flight information. But most are more expansive than the two apps mentioned above and not worthwhile because all the information that your would need can be found on airline web sites or be seen through the two $0.99 applications.
WeatherBug is one of the most proven applications for both computers and smart phones that can give accurate weather forecasts. It is a good choice for getting accurate information on the weather at any location, including your arrival and departure points. Again, there are more sophisticated applications and sites out there, but for pure weather information, without any time-wasting extras, this is a solid choice for both your laptop and your smart phone. If you really want to kill some time, download some game applications.
Tourists are sometimes considered easy targets by thieves. Even if they are not targets for violence, their bags, pockets and valuables are often being eyed by petty criminals. There is little use ruining a trip by worrying excessively about the security of your belongings. Paranoia isn’t going to increase your security. But, by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to lower the odds of becoming a robbery victim.
Putting locks on your luggage can be the first step. But sometimes locks are more of a hindrance than an asset. Customs officials and airport security personnel may have to break them in order to do the required searches on checked baggage. If you forget a code or lose a key, you may have to break the lock yourself. Since breaking the lock or cutting through a suitcase is a possibility, these devices offer little real protection. That said, even a basic lock can cause thieves searching for a quick score to overlook your bag and search of something easier to grab.
Money belts, pouches in various shaped and sizes, can be worn inside clothing and can be used to hold money and important travel documents. These are good for traveling from place to place, but not for using while shopping or sightseeing. They can be difficult to access. You would probably draw too much attention to yourself by unzipping your pants or pulling up your shirt to get at your cash. It would be more secure to simply carrying the money in a pocket. Some money pouches, worn around the neck inside the shirt, can be useful if you wear a button-down shirt and can reach through the front of the shirt, between buttons, to get at the cash. It is better to carry small amounts of cash in your front pocket, perhaps keeping more money in a money belt and taking it out in private (in your room or even in a bathroom stall) and putting it in your pocket little by little as needed.
Or, you could opt for plastic. People are often surprised how easy it is to access their money at an ATM, even while traveling in developing countries. ATMs can be found in almost every city in the world. If you have a bank with worldwide reach, you will be able to get to your money almost anywhere. It might be worth setting up a basic checking account at a global bank if you don’t have overseas ATM service. Without a pin number, thieves won’t be able to access you cash. Or at least, you will be able to cancel the card before they figure out how to use it.
Prepaid credit cards, offered by major card companies like Visa, are an alternative to traditional cards. These can be used like credit or debit cards and hold a predetermined amount of money. Thieves who can get a hold of these cards won’t be able to access all your funds, just the portion that you put on the card. What about traveler’s checks? They are still a possibility, but since it is becoming easier and easier to access your funds with plastic, travelers checks have become less useful.
But what about those times when you are on the road without ATMs or room safes. Perhaps you could go old school, using duck tape to fasten your valuables to the inside of a toilet tank or under a bed or desk. This is risky (what if you forget it) but will protect against someone who plans to sneak into your room at night and grab what’s available (not unheard of). Bicycle locks that fasten a suitcase to something sturdy (plumbing pipes, heavy furniture) can supplement a lock on the bag’s zipper. On the high end, there are mesh coverings made of un-cut-able material that can deter anyone trying to cut a bag to get at what’s inside.
Sometimes your best efforts to tip the odds in your favor won’t be enough to protect you. If the worst-case scenario becomes reality, it is best to be prepared. Having copies of your passport, travel documents and other important papers can greatly help when it comes to reporting your passport and airline ticket stolen and obtaining replacements quickly. If you really want to be secure, you can scan the documents and upload them to your online storage account or email them to yourself. This will give you access from any computer with internet service.
To be such a simple task, parking when flying can be one of the more challenging aspects of flying. If not planned far enough in advance, it sometimes can be the difference between making a flight and missing one. Many frequent travelers have a parking horror story that either involves narrowly making it for a flight or missing one altogether. Typically the bigger the airport, the more questions you’ll have to answer. Do you pay the extra money to park at the airport? Do you pay for cheaper parking to take the metro? Should you do park and fly to catch a shuttle to the airport? These questions ultimately come down to whether it’s more economical and efficient to park at the airport, versus parking at an off-site location.
The question of whether to park on-site at the airport often depends on the airport. For example, at some regional airports, it’s a no-brainer to park on the grounds. These are usually a short walking distance from the terminal and often only a few dollars a day. Plus, these cities rarely have off-site parking options like park and fly.
For large International airports around the world, such as JFK, Heathrow and LAX, the question of whether to park at the airport or not becomes a little bit more tricky. Even before questioning the parking fees associated with parking at International airports, there are questions such as availability. LAX for examples has less than 8,000 economy parking spots available at the airport. Considering the thousands of people that fly in and out of Los Angeles each day, this isn’t many open parking spaces. On a Wednesday afternoon, this may be a formiddable solution, but on the weekends, it’s going to be much more difficult to find an open parking spot. This becomes a problem if you’re running late for a flight. You could easily spend the time looking for a parking space on the weekend that it would take to park off-site and take a shuttle.
It’s typically a rule that you’ll be paying a little more for parking at the airport, as compared to parking off-site. You’re paying often for the convenience, since you’re often within walking distance or a short shuttle ride of the terminal. The parking is often better as well because it’s often in a well-lit parking area or parking garage. Parking rates at International airports usually start at a minimum of $10 per day, but are usually closer to $12-$15 per day. So if parking for a week, you’re looking at upwards of $100 to park at the airport.
The advantage of parking off-site is that you’re typically paying a lower fee, but then just have a added commute to your terminal. Your most economical bet in large cities is to park at a public transportation parking lot and take a subway or bus to the airport. Atlanta is one example of where this is ideal, where travelers can cheaply park at a MARTA station and then take the subway to Hartsfield International Airport. In cases where this isn’t ideal or you don’t have time, then the next most economical option is to do what’s become known as the “park and fly” option. These are usually located within 5 miles of the airport and the parking rate includes a shuttle to and from your terminal. Rates for these are cheaper the further away from the airport you are and usually start at $5 per day. A tip is also recommended for drivers when getting dropped off at the airport and back at the parking lot.
Shuttles at most off-site parking lots run every few minutes, so at the parking lot and the airport you never have to wait more than 5-10 minutes. Travelers just need to budget the extra time that may be required in waiting for and riding the shuttle. The best part about using these is its cost effectiveness, because it can often be more than half the cost of parking on-site at the airport.