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If traveling during the year isn’t hassle enough, holiday travel comes with its very own special pain. Here are a few holiday travel tips to help you keep your sanity during that “most wonderful time of the year.”

Do you have any personal holiday travel tips that have helped you navigate the crowds at the airport? Share it with us in the comments!

Planning is good. 

If you already know in spring or summer where you want to go during the holidays, then by all means go ahead and book your trip. You’ll have a much better selection of flights and seats and, oh, prices, too. Nowadays it’s rare to score a choice fare at the last minute, not to mention you might find yourself in the middle seat of a red-eye.

Pack a carry-on.

It’s nice to avoid baggage check fees, and even nicer not to have to wait at the carrousel in baggage claim along with a couple hundred other passengers. If you don’t have gifts and—lucky you—heavy winter clothing, make sure your carry-on meets that standards. You will definitely be asked to check the bag at the gate if you try to sneak something big onboard, which risks it being left behind (it’s happened.)

Check only one bag.

Truth is, most of us will need to check at least one bag due to the nature of travel during the holidays (yep, those gifts and heavy winter clothing.) Try to keep it down to one bag—airlines can and will make you pay a steep fee for the second bag. Pack judiciously and make good use of the 50-pound limit—that’s still a lot of stuff! Make a pile first, then edit at least a couple of times before you start packing.

About those gifts.

Gone are the days of being instant Santa: the TSA doesn’t look kindly on gift-wrap and they WILL tear open that origami-style wrapping you spent a fortune on if they feel the package is suspicious. And remember to pack valuable gifts such as electronics and jewelry in your carry-on. Consider buying gifts online and having them shipped, or even shipping them ahead of time via UPS, USPS of FedEX.

Yes you can lock your suitcase.

But it has to be a special TSA lock. Nowadays you can get them pretty much anywhere. If the gate agent is yelling that bags must be unlocked, just quietly let him or her know you have a TSA lock and it’s all good.

Leave an hour earlier than you think you should.

It’s winter, which may mean delays due to ice, snow, traffic—you get the picture. And that’s just on the way to the airport. Weather can also cause arrival delays and departures, so bring your patience and a good book.

Peak travel season means peak infection season.

Colds and flu love to travel from person to person, especially in tight quarters like airplanes and highly trafficked areas like airports. Think of all the people who have touched the handrails on the escalators, the buttons on the elevator and the tray table in front of you… Yep, that many… Help yourself with a flu shot and a small bottle of hand sanitizer (and use it liberally.) Some people (yes, I do) take sanitizing wipes and give the armrests and tray tables a good swipe before settling into the seat. Hey, it can’t hurt.

Long flight? Str-e-e-e-tch!

Sometimes it takes a cross-country trip—or even going overseas—to enjoy a family holiday. If yours is more than a couple hours long, do yourself, your legs and your veins a favor by getting up once every hour to walk around and stretching your body. Here are a few more tips that might come in handy during a long-haul flight.

And always, protect yourself and your family.

Travel insurance is a must during the holidays, as bad weather is a very real factor that can cause delays and cancellations. But, more importantly, an emergency medical evacuation membership can ensure that, should anything happen to you or your family, you will be flown home to the care of your family doctor and your home network. It’s affordable peace of mind that is priceless should you need it!

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