Hint: Plan Early and Prepare for Emergencies
Holiday travel often sounds better in theory than in practice. You may compete with travelers all over the world for the best deals, stress about finding just the right destination, or endure long lines at the airport.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Keep a few tips, tricks and ideas in mind — like where to go, when to book your flights, and how to make the most of your travels — and you’ll enjoy an unforgettable holiday experience. Here’s how to plan and book the perfect holiday vacation.
1. CHOOSE YOUR HOLIDAY DESTINATION
First thing’s first: Know where you want to go. If you have trouble narrowing the options down, ask yourself the following questions.
What kind of climate sounds good?
Are you looking for a winter wonderland, like the Finnish Lapland or Europe’s many Christmas markets? A tropical beach? Somewhere a little milder? Think of your ideal wintertime climate when narrowing down possible destinations.
How do you feel about crowds?
Do some research to see how popular different destinations are during the holidays, and use that to guide your choice. For instance, you’ll enjoy shorter lines at the Louvre Museum in December, but Times Square on New Year’s Eve is … well, you’ve seen the countdown on television.
Are you planning a family vacation, couples’ trip, or solo getaway?
If you’re planning a trip with your significant other or young children, see what sounds fun to them — and whether you all can agree on a fun destination.
2. BUDGET FOR YOUR VACATION
When it comes to budgeting for your holiday vacation, a little planning can go a long way. Keep the following budgeting tips in mind.
Look for lodging deals. Many hotels offer discounts if you book early enough or you book through a travel agent. AAA travel agents can guide to the best deals for the holidays.
Plan for emergencies. Think about various situations that might arise — maybe you’ll need medicine in case you get sick or an extra meal after a flight delay — and give yourself a cushion in your budget to account for emergencies.
Plan and price your itinerary. Jot down a list of attractions and museums you’d like to visit, and check their official websites and social media channels for information on certain days with free admission, discounted passes for multiple attractions, and other deals.
3. MAKE RESERVATIONS NOW
Book your tickets for the attractions you want to visit. You may be able to buy tickets weeks or months in advance — and you should take advantage for availability and early-bird prices. You might sacrifice a little spontaneity, but doing so might also cut down on time in line or save a few bucks over admission at the door.
And given the enduring popularity of holiday travel, don’t wait to make hotel or car rental reservations, either. Last-minute hotel deals are no sure thing, and rental car agencies generally offer their best deals to early birds
4. KNOW WHEN TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS
You can set alerts on Google Flights and Skyscanner, refresh an airline’s website every five minutes, and follow all the tips and tricks for when to buy flights — is it 1 p.m. on Tuesday, or 10 a.m. on Monday? But finding a deal is never a sure thing.
That said, you can give yourself the best possible chance to snag a deal by narrowing your booking window to a few weeks in late summer or early fall — whether flying domestic or international. If you’re looking to fly around Thanksgiving, the best time to book is late September or early October — and if you’re looking to fly later in the holiday season, try to book no later than mid- to late October.
5. PREPARE FOR THE AIRPORT
The holidays mark the busiest time of year at airports the world over, and chances are good you’ll face at least one delay, whether to check in, pass through security, or grab a pre-flight bite. So keep a few ideas in mind for ensuring a smooth, hassle-free airport experience.
Give yourself plenty of time: First and foremost, don’t show up an hour before your flight and hope for the best. Show up three hours early for international flights — and two hours early for domestic trips.
Check for key documents — and then check again: Before you leave for the airport, double-check that you have proper identification, your flight confirmation, debit or credit cards, and any other necessary documents.
Brush up on TSA requirements: Do you know how much liquid you can pack into your carry-on? Does toothpaste count toward the liquid limit? Are scissors OK? Check the TSA’s travel checklist before heading to the airport for the smoothest possible trip through security.
—By Matt Wastradowski