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Travel tips for a joyful holiday season

(BPT) - You've managed to navigate the holiday crowds at the post office, the mall and the office party, but you still need to get over the river and through the woods to gatherings with family and friends. Before you hit the roads, rails or skies this holiday season, dash through these helpful tips to make your trip as jolly as possible and, while you're away, help you get a good night’s sleep.

* Be prepared: Don’t forget the necessities for the inevitable travel delay when packing your luggage and gifts. Pack each child a personal travel bag with surprise snacks, new books, small toys, art supplies and a travel-sized blanket and pillow. Bring yourself a book, crossword puzzle or correspondence to catch up on. Whether it’s a canceled flight, delayed train or road construction, planning ahead to keep your family occupied during these hold-ups ensures you will all arrive at your destination in a festive mood.

* Avoid the lines: Fly at non-peak hours by booking an early morning flight or a late night red-eye when airports tend to be less crowded. Pre-printing your boarding pass at home allows you to bypass the ticketing agent and self-serve kiosk. If you don’t have to check luggage, you can proceed directly to the security checkpoint. Pack lightly by planning outfits that can be mixed and matched and save on checked baggage fees because, face it, you always over-pack. Finally, arrive early - two hours in advance for domestic and three hours for international flights - because who wants to be running stressed-out through a crowded airport?

* Book a hotel: Having the entire extended family in one house is priceless for days of nostalgic meals, gift exchanges and photo ops. But between Grandpa's snoring, the baby's 3 a.m. feeding and Aunt Ida's rambunctious labradoodle, it doesn't always translate to a silent night of sleep. Instead, book a room at the Hilton Garden Inn, where your family can enjoy all the comforts of home including free WiFi, a fully equipped fitness facility, 24-hour business center and in-room refrigerators and microwaves for your favorite holiday leftovers. Guests who book a two-night minimum stay at a Hilton Garden Inn (Thursday through Saturday) through Jan. 6, 2013, using the “Holidays with Heart” rate, will receive a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast. In addition, Hilton Garden Inn will donate a portion of your stay to Feeding America to help provide 500,000 meals for families in need.

* Plan alternative routes: Long car rides can be tedious, but when they’re extended due to heavy traffic, construction or weather issues, the trip can quickly turn into a nightmare. To help dodge traffic, check current freeway conditions online just before you leave to determine any immediate problems. Download a traffic app on your phone and have your passengers periodically check for upcoming delays during your trip. Keep maps handy - both electronic and printed in case of unpredictable cell service - so you can quickly find alternative routes around congested areas. Also, plan ahead for gas, food and rest stops in case of the unexpected ... weather, car trouble, bathroom breaks or cravings for candy canes.

With a little forethought there are small things you can do to keep your family entertained, in good spirits and well-rested during holiday travel to ensure that your trip is full of merry making and fa la la la love.

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