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How to survive Thanksgiving travel

When we think of holiday travel, packed airplanes, honking cars, and cranky kids spring to mind. Here are some tips to make the trip over the river and through the woods as painless as possible.

By Air:

1) If you’re only bringing a carry-on, pack clothes so you can wear multiple times and layer for different looks. Use accessories to change the look of an outfit. Assess your footwear needs practically. Do you really need to pack a pair of heels when you’re only going to be trudging through the snow to help Dad find a Christmas tree? Likewise, to quote Spaceballs, bring “only what you need to survive.”… or can’t get at your destination. There’s no need to bring your special ion hairdryer when your sister’s version will work just fine.

2) If you need everything but the kitchen sink with you when you see your family, consider sending your bags ahead through a door-to-door courier service. Not only can this save you money, it’ll also save the hassle of checking your bags.

3) If you must check bags, arrive an hour earlier than the recommended time because the lines are guaranteed to be long. Weigh each piece ahead of the time so you don’t get hit with over-limit fees. Put your contact information inside the suitcase as well as on the luggage tag, in case the tag is ripped off by a conveyor belt. Lastly, mark your suitcase in such a way that no one will mistake it for theirs at arrivals. Bringing a suitcase so odd no one would dare steal it is also a good idea (although you should never pack any valuables into checked luggage!).

4) Check-in online and print your boarding pass to avoid long lines at the airport. Even if you need to check bags, having your boarding pass in hand will save you time and will keep you from getting bumped due to overbooking.

5) Monitor the status of your flight through handy iPhone apps like FlightTrack.

6) Bring your own snacks and entertainment for the trip so you won’t be forced to pay a meal’s cost for candy or shop the in-flight magazine for chintzy Christmas presents.

By Car:

1) If you’re road-tripping to your family, remember that the busiest traffic day is the day before Thanksgiving. Leave Tuesday night or early afternoon on Thursday to beat the crowds. Likewise, avoid driving back on Sunday night, when the crunch will cause traffic congestion. Travel on Saturday instead.

2) When mapping out your route, avoid driving through the middle of big cities during rush hour. Instead, take highways that circle around the city center.

3) Don’t wait until the reserve light comes on to fill up the car. Your car will get better gas mileage if you refuel before it gets below a quarter of a tank, and the last thing you want is to hit a traffic jam when you’re riding on fumes. Along the same lines, check your car for maintenance issues before the trip. Make sure there’s enough oil in the engine, air in the tires, and washer fluid for the windows.

4) Assemble a road-trip pack that includes everything from snacks and drinks to first-aid kits and maps. Tots in tow will also want blankies, toys, and DVDs to entertain them. Pre-set your navigation system before you hit the road.

5) If you’re driving to shop Black Friday, consider shopping online instead. Stores usually have only 2 of those half-price gadgets you want, and they’re not worth getting trampled for. At best, get your mother to drop you off as if you were back in high school without a license.

Once you get there, be sure to check out my next piece: How to survive Thanksgiving dinner!