These Are the Best Hacks for Holiday Travel
SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Getting ready to hit the road or fly off somewhere for Thanksgiving? Maryland Smith faculty share their best travel hacks, from traveling early to the best ways to tolerate traffic, to make your holidays easier.
1. Leave early and minimize stops. Sean Barnes, assistant professor of operations management, and his family – including two young children – make the drive to Chicago for Thanksgiving weekend. His biggest tip: Leave early. “We typically try to leave around 5 a.m., which I think is the most critical part of the trip. One, it’s great to be more than halfway there by noon. And two, the earlier we leave, the better the chance the kids will fall back asleep on the road, which gives us a chance of driving for a few hours before our first stop. Minimizing the stops is key. It may not seem like much, but a few extra short stops can add up, and that makes things tough on the home stretch, when you could have already arrived at your destination.”
2. Don’t travel Wednesday or Sunday. “I recommend driving from the Washington, D.C., region on Thanksgiving morning and returning either the next day or early morning on Saturday to minimize traffic delays,” says David Kass, clinical professor of finance. “Driving up and down the East Coast on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after should be avoided if possible. What is normally a four- to five-hour drive between D.C. and New York will take at least eight hours on those days.”
The same advice applies to air travel, says Elinda F. Kiss, associate clinical professor of finance, who flies to Chicago every Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with family.
3. Book smart and plan ahead. It may be too late for this year, but remember these tips from Kiss next year: “Buy your tickets early. Just before Labor Day is ideal. Do not travel on the Wednesday before or the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We fly in on Thanksgiving day. Many other travelers now have joined us on those holiday fights, so that ‘hack’ does not reduce the fare as much as it used to, and the flight is full. Fly early in the day. Get TSA Pre-check or Global Entry for faster security lines (No need to remove your shoes. And your laptop and quart-size bag of three-ounce liquids can stay in your carry-on bag.)”
4. Plan for crowds and fly like a pro. Kiss’s other tips for navigating the air travel: “Leave for the airport early. Traffic can make you later than you expected. If you can take metro to the airport, that eases traffic and parking concerns. Get to the airport early, at least two hours before the flight to allow for long security lines. Take an empty water bottle through security to fill at the airport and bring food from home, or leave time to buy some at the airport. Do not wrap gifts.”
5. Make it fun (if possible) when you’re stuck in traffic. “If you must drive and fight traffic, accept that it will take a while to get there and plan something fun for the car ride, like a good audio book or a game,” says Joseph P. Bailey, associate research professor in the decision, operations & information technologies department.
Rebecca Ratner, associate dean of academic affairs and marketing professor, agrees: “Podcasts make the drive go so much faster. My favorite podcast for a holiday drive is RadioLab. The music is festive and the stories always pull me in.” Plenty of snacks and TV help, too, says Barnes.
6. Take public transportation when possible. If you book ahead, you can’t beat relaxing on a train instead of fighting traffic, says Bailey.
7. Stay home instead. The best way to avoid travel headaches? Don't travel, says Bailey. Instead, “celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends who are local.”
“For about 20 years, I would travel for Thanksgiving (by plane when in college, by car post-college) to get to where family was,” says Ratner. “I solved that about 12 years ago by moving to where family is. Now I can save that time that had been spent traveling relaxing.”
And one Maryland Smith professor takes it even further, saying we should just change the timing of Thanksgiving altogether: “Let’s have it and the end of October, double it up with Halloween,” says Oliver Schlake. One less day of eating too much food, better for the national health, we can finally have a university fall break, and resolve some of the travel congestion toward year’s end. And the weather at the end of October is much better suited for travel.”
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