Driving? Here's when to leave. Going by train? What you need to know. Flying? Ideas to smooth the way. And much, much more.
Travel isn’t easy in the best of times. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of people trying to get somewhere all at the same time, and it becomes an endurance contest.
Before plunging into the marathon that is holiday travel, consider these tips to ease your way down the road. Tips are from Times Travel staff, other travel experts and, with our thanks, Travel readers.
Don’t cut it short
About 28.5 million passengers are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving travel period, according to the trade association Airlines for America. With that crush, it takes only one person or accident to slow you down. You don’t want to be rushed, since that’s when stress levels rise, tempers flare and patience wanes. And that’s when things start to go wrong.
Many airports have more than one security checkpoint. Ask an employee if there’s another checkpoint that has shorter lines. — J.D.S.
Go through security even faster
Consider enrolling in Clear, which is complementary to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck fast-through-security line. For Clear, you give your biometrics, and once you are cleared for enrollment, the program lets you walk to the front of the TSA line. Various pricing levels are available, some as little as $15 a month. Info: Clear, www.clearme.com — J.D.S.
But it may take longer
No matter how you go through security, it may take longer, thanks to new rules about electronics. The TSA asks you to remove all electronics larger than a 4- by 6-inch cellphone from your carry-on luggage.
This means anything that has a battery and circuitry, and that includes your iPad, your e-reader, your DSLR camera.
If you have TSA Precheck, you do not have to take this step unless the PreCheck lines aren’t in operation, and then you do.
Motto: Be prepared.
— Catharine Hamm, Times staff writer
Save on checked bags
Southwest, the original low-cost carrier, offers the first and second checked bags for free, great for laden holiday travelers.
Other ways to avoid bag fees: Have elite status (by flying a lot) or have an airline-branded credit card, many of which offer free baggage. — J.D.S.
What can you take in your carry-on?
You can take a turkey in your carry-on bag (make sure your airline doesn’t have a weight restriction for on-board luggage), but you cannot take more than 3.4 ounces of gravy on board with you, so unless you have the tiniest turkey ever, you’ll need to pack that gravy in your checked luggage.
To find out whether you can take your pie or pudding or anything else, go to the TSA website or download the app. — C.H.
Fighting congestion (the head cold kind)
If you're the least bit congested or sometimes get congested during flight, take decongestants with you. Also for the children.
Landing is the most painful time for the ears if you're congested. Take the decongestant an hour to 90 minutes before landing for best results. Check with your doctor for specifics on decongestants.
-- Linda Schaefer, reader and American Airlines flight attendant, Tarzana
Take a number … with you
Add the customer-service telephone number of the airline you are flying to your phone’s contacts. Download the airline’s app. And request text message updates on changes in flight times, arrivals or departures and the luggage carousel. — C.H.
A different way to fly
Book a seat on a charter plane, and you can show up 15 minutes before your flight takes off — without having to face security checkpoint lines.
JetSuiteX, for example, flies between Burbank and Oakland for fares starting at $129 each way. You go to a private terminal, can take up to two 50-pound bags for free and receive free cocktails with the 30 passengers on your flight. No membership fees either, and fares will show up on Kayak.com flight comparisons.
— Mary Forgione, Times Travel contributor
Where can I park at the airport?
If you’re parking in a private lot at LAX, make a reservation. This might entail joining a loyalty program, and you may not want to do it. Do it anyway. Because there’s nothing to be done about a car you can’t park and can’t abandon. — C.H.
Go, but maybe not at peak times
Family pressuring you to fly home for the holidays? Don’t give in; fares may be lower and you may experience shorter lines and fewer crowds if you travel after the big day(s).
Consider flying between Christmas and New Year’s — or even later than that. Many schools don’t resume until Jan. 8, which means your kids could have more one-on-one time with the grandparents without the Christmas crush.
— Anne Harnagel, Times staff writer
Leave early or late
But don’t leave at the same time as everyone else, which is right after work on Wednesday, CurbedLA said last year.
— Christopher Reynolds, Times staff writer
Give yourself a psychological break
If you’re heading to San Diego for the holidays on Interstate 5, you’ll probably find it slow going.
We often go inland instead, switching to Interstate 15. It may take longer but somehow going faster feels better. — C.R.
If your jalopy isn't roadworthy, consider renting a car. But remember that rental rates can fluctuate widely. In early November, a Hertz car in Oakland for two days (beginning on a Monday) would run about $68 per day (taxes included). Changed to a Saturday pickup, the rate dropped to about $28 a day.
Hertz isn't the only one with fluctuations. A four-day Avis rental from Pasadena starting the day before Thanksgiving was about $32 a day, taxes included. But when I checked for a five-day rental starting a day earlier, the rate bumped up to $36 per day. One or two days of flexibility could save you plenty. — C.R.
Make it fun
A holiday road trip can be fun when it’s well planned. Because the days are shorter, we usually don’t travel more than six hours per day, which gives us time to arrive at the hotels before dark and enjoy the amenities, such as the restaurant or an indoor pool.
— Angie McCaffery, reader, Los Angeles
It will cost more, but not much
Gasoline is more expensive this year, AAA gas rates show. The national average last week was $2.76 a gallon, but California is paying $3.24 a gallon, thanks in part to a new 12-cent-a-gallon tax, which means it’s about 47 cents a gallon more than last year. But don’t cancel your trip.
Instead, think of it this way. If you’re driving to Phoenix and back, about 750 miles, in a car that gets 35 mpg, you’ll spend about $70 on gasoline.
Last year: About $10 less. Make up the difference by packing sandwiches rather than stopping for a meal. — C.H.
Or try a different kind of car trip
Tesloop is a nifty service that picks you up in a Tesla Model S or Model X and drives you between L.A. and San Diego, Palm Springs or Orange County. (Other routes include travel between the O.C. and San Diego and Palm Springs.)
You get free organic juices and snacks, free Wi-Fi and device chargers, and noise-canceling headphones.
Tickets cost $29 to $79 each way depending on destination. Info:tesloop.com. — M.F.
Check those tires
Before a road trip, check the tires. The proper air pressure varies by vehicle, and usually can be found on a decal inside the driver’s door, or in the owner’s manual. The payoff, besides better handling and tire wear, is that if you have a nail or a leak in your tire, you’ll discover it before you’re in the middle of nowhere. Be sure your spare is properly inflated too.
—Chris Erskine, Times staff writer
Take tire chains
In snow country, tire chains are required by law in bad weather. Cables are usually easier to install and very effective.
In any case, take advantage of the local crews lining the roads to put them on. Or, if snow is predicted overnight, put them on in the daylight the day before.
Do they go on the front or back? Tip: If the fan belts face the front, it’s usually a rear-wheel drive car. Fan belts located on the side indicate front-wheel drive.
Amtrak's popular Pacific Surfliner service between San Diego and San Luis Obispo requires reservations for travel from Nov. 22 to Nov. 26. Remember, having a reservation means you can get on; it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a seat during busy holiday travel, when more than 760,755 travelers are expected. — M.F.
To ensure a seat
To get a seat, consider upgrading to business class. You’ll also have a little more space on what likely will be crowded trains. Go online and reserve tickets early to make sure you get a spot at the time and station you want. — M.F.
Take a turkey and check your bags
Feel free to bring the turkey on the train. You are allowed two checked bags and two carry-ons (up to a combined total of 150 pounds) for free. You can check bags at most stations by going inside and dropping them with an agent, just as you do on an airline. Don't forget to take a valid photo ID. — M.F.
Is the train on time?
Freight takes precedence, so passengers trains often are unavoidably delayed. To see if your train is on time, go to Amtrak.com and click on "Train Status” at the top of the page. — C.H.
Round-trip on Greyhound between L.A. and Las Vegas leaving Nov. 22 and returning Nov. 26 goes for as little as $78, and you get free Wi-Fi and power outlets on board. Megabus and BoltBus have comparable fares and amenities.
Introduce yourself to the manager-concierge-doorman of your hotel. They can provide helpful insider tips, including ideas on local holiday shopping. Ask too about areas to avoid. When you go shopping, remember to ask yourself where you’re going to wear it or put it. Sometimes we get caught up in the moment.
— Andrea Bernholtz, reader, Calabasas
So is the hotel fridge
Stay at hotels that offer a mini fridge and microwave as part of the amenities. This will allow you to take restaurant leftovers to the room and enjoy them the next day. — A.M.
Germs be gone
Winter is cold and flu season, so I take a small can of Lysol and spray phones, door knobs — really, anything I touch. I use disinfecting wipes on the airplane and wipe everything I touch or put my head on — this includes the remotes and tray tables. — A.B.
Getting to your departure point
If you’re taking Uber or Lyft to the airport or train station, schedule early. Both have scheduling functions. And just in case, have a backup plan, maybe a friend who owes you a big, big favor. — C.H.
The LAX FlyAway bus is one of the best deals around for transportation to the airport. Nonstop buses serve Hollywood, Long Beach, the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley, Union Station in downtown L.A., Van Nuys and Westwood.
It costs $8 to $10 each way, depending on which location you choose. You also can pay using a Metro TAP card and EZ Transit Pass, if you have stored value on the card or pass.
Check out schedules, pickup and drop-off locations and hours of operations at LAX FlyAway— M.F.
How to summon ride share faster at LAX
Getting through the traffic circle at LAX can take your driver awhile, especially during peak holiday times. To avoid some of this traffic, head to the Terminal 7 location and request your ride share from there.
Your driver will be able to bypass the airport traffic by taking the East Way shortcut straight to Terminal 7.
You might have to walk a little, but it’ll save you wait time, allowing you to get home faster.
No matter if you are flying or driving, take your charger and two charging cords (one for your phone and one for the backup battery you should take). — C.H.
Don’t want the bulk of a big backup battery? Credit card-sized chargers (some have both iPhone and micro tips) will recharge your phone to about 85%, but they also generally are one charge and done, and they’re slow. But they are small enough to slip into a purse or your pocket. — C.H.
Consider shipping your bulky winter coat, heavy boots and other cold-weather gear to your destination instead of wearing them on the cramped plane or cramming them into your suitcase. This is a must — especially if you have young kids — because who wants to keep track of all their mittens and scarves? — A.H.
Ship your presents too, so you won’t incur excess baggage charges for all those hefty gift books or worry about that expensive bottle of olive oil leaking all over the contents of your suitcase. — A.H.
Make a pact
My husband and I have made a “packing pact.” We take one suitcase each that we can manage ourselves. Checking a bag is especially inconvenient at the holidays when airports are really busy. If you are driving, how many bags do you want to load and unload from a car?
— Ina Massler Levin, reader, Long Beach
Try it out
Pack a week early, then edit your choices down. Consider what you’ll be doing and what article of clothing can double for something else. On one trip, I used a one-piece bathing suit as a top for jeans. For a party look, the same suit with a skirt was festive. Accessories, jewelry, a pocket square can be your “pop.”—I.M.L.
Having traveled (and still traveling) to very cold climates frequently, my two essentials are lined leather gloves (waterproof) and silk long underwear, available in a variety of weights. Both items weigh almost nothing and are easy to pack.
— Michele L. Bennett, reader, Manhattan Beach
What to wear
Always wear your heaviest items for travel to cut down on baggage weight, and make sure you waterproof all shoes and boots. To further cut weight on baggage, cashmere and wool weigh less than fleece or polar tech and look nicer. — M.L.B.
Taking care of yourself
Delays are common. Expect one and be prepared with snacks, food and a good book. Also download movies or TV shows in advance of your trip. — L.S.
Need some stress reduction? Try these apps:
10% Happier app, from ABC News anchor Dan Harris for iOS and the web, uses humor, videos and meditation maestros to help fidgety skeptics meditate. Free seven-day trial; $79.99 for a year.
— Terry Gardner, Times Travel contributor
Calm for iOS and Android offers timed breath exercises and a variety of meditation programs for stress reduction and relaxation. It’s free for a limited number of meditations; unlimited meditations are available with a paid subscription of $60 a year. — T.G.
ElfYourself by Office Depot for iOS and Android, if you need a laugh. It lets you turn yourself and others into dancing elves. Shoot a fresh photo or use one from your device library to add an elf face to an elf video. One video is free, then 99 cents per video or all for $6.99. — T.G.
Making your life easier
Whenever I travel, whether to my daughter’s home for a long Thanksgiving weekend or a resort for New Year’s Eve, I arrive exhausted. After one too many times of being grouchy and irritable at the happiest times of the year, I finally hit on a way to make things work for me. This bag is the last thing that goes into my carry-on.
I pack a gallon-size plastic storage “goodie bag” that contains a few essential items I know I will need on my first night. Here’s what it contains:
Binder (a.k.a. bulldog) clips. When I was in Alaska in May, the blinds wouldn’t quite close and the sun didn’t set until well after 11 p.m. I clipped the curtains closed and made it dark enough to sleep.
Charging cords for electronics.
Sleep mask: My husband likes to read or use his iPad late into the night. A mask blocks out everything so I can sleep.
Snacks. Even at the holidays when there are always treats around, I know I will need a snack eventually. I pack something that doesn’t need refrigeration. Good choices for me include protein bars and nuts.
Puzzle book and pencil. Paper books of puzzles often calm me down at the end of a long day. Retractable pencils are best for travel because they are always sharp.
Medication for that night and the next morning. Even if I am exhausted, I will have the correct dosage. (The rest of my medication is packed elsewhere.)
Slipper socks. Sometimes I have qualms about the cleanliness of the floor.
Ear plugs. Strange rooms often have strange noises. Ear plugs take care of this, making sleep easier. — I.M.L.
Find the silver lining
My suggestion is to stay calm and collected. Expect the unexpected and anticipate a day of adventures. On New Year’s Eve weekend, I flew from Long Beach.
My flight was delayed, and some passengers grew frustrated. During boarding, some folks were shoving and exchanging insults. I got some flack but let it bounce off me.
When I finally made it to Vegas, I caught a cab and went to a show, grabbing a cab back to my hotel. The taxi driver blamed me for getting in his vehicle, yelling, "I should be home right now! It is your fault for getting in my cab!"
He drove so fast that what should have been a $20 fare was $10.
See? Good things can come out of bad.
— Paul Perez, reader, Whittier
Good will toward all
Be patient and kind to other travelers. We’re all in this together. — A.B