Escapes: Got holiday travel woes? Help is here

Get ready for the holiday crunch.
(Adam Simpson / For The Times)

Your problems are over.

Not the ones that have to do with inedible pumpkin pie or turkey as dry as Death Valley — though our Food colleagues have some great suggestions for avoiding such disasters.

No, these are obstacles that stand between you and the meal of the year. They are about driving and flying, taking a train or bus, finding your way out of LAX and figuring out what parts of the meal you can and cannot carry on an airplane.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. I salute all of you brave souls making the trip to celebrate all that is America. That is your gift to yourself. Our gift to you is a tool kit for travel that will help you head off problems as you head for the hills or home or both.


We also have a couple of suggestions for kid-friendly wineries (these do not, as one colleague suggested, involve sippy cups of Chardonnay) and where you can freeze your tail off, perhaps for a good cause. We’ll tell you about the end of a “Star Wars” attraction and give you a flight attendant’s perspective on the worst job in the airlines. (It’s not his own.)

All of this just for you, and it requires not one dish to be washed or potato to be peeled. Put your feet up, relax and enjoy the ride, or try to.

A helping hand for holiday travelers

Here’s where to turn if you need to know:

Which airline is in which terminal at LAX.

How to hail a taxi or ride-share from LAX.

What you can take in your carry-on bag (careful on the gravy).

The worst times to start your drive to grandmother’s house, so you don’t leave then.

Some new ways to get to grandmother’s house — that is, not by car or plane.

Where to park at LAX.

How and when to order a wheelchair.

Thanks to Chris Erskine, Mary Forgione, Bharbi Hazarika and Christopher Reynolds for rounding up all this information and making it fun as it is informative.

After you eat, it’s time to save

Mary Forgione is the merry monarch of saving money. She found this deal that not only saves you big bucks but also gives you a reason to get out of the house in the winter: rates as much as 40% off stays in glorious national park lodges (including Death Valley’s inn and ranch).

The Inn at Death Valley in Death Valley National Park.
(Xanterra Travel Collection)

One last chance to …

... see Star Wars Miniland, a fixture the last eight years at Legoland California Resort. The 1.5 million Legos that depict scenes from the seven “Star Wars” films, including the planets Tatooine and Kashyyk, will take their leave Jan. 6, Forgione reports. As Chewbacca might say, “Murghhhhh grrbokgh,” which according to Wookieepedia means “I have a bad feeling about this” in Shyriiwook, Chewie’s tongue.

Sip and swim

Here are a couple of ideas for something a little different in your travels:

Elycia Rubin writes about kid-friendly California vineyards, where Mom and Dad can do some tastings while the kids burn off all their energy.

Mike Morris writes about taking the plunge, polar bear-style. At many places around the country, you can take a dip in freezing-cold waters (sometimes completely clothed, sometimes just in swimsuits) just to prove you’re brave and sometimes to raise money for charity. Read about places close to home where you can participate, or stay dry and watch braver souls shiver.

Double dare you to go jump in Alaska’s Resurrection Bay. It takes courage to jump into the chilly waters, but in Seward, Alaska, it’s for a good cause.
(Cheryl Jones)

Hold your horses and your tongue

Elliott Hester, a flight attendant for more than 30 years, shares his perception of who has the toughest job at an airline. It’s not the chief executive or flight attendants. It’s the customer service agents who try to solve your problems and usually end up on the receiving end of your angst.

Keep calm and don't carry on.
(Jason Ford / For The Times)

What we’re reading

If you’re flying, you’ll thank Smarter Travel for this print-out-and-save card reminding you of your rights as a traveler. It’s useful for holidays-only fliers. And while you’re at it, create a contact in your phone for the airline you’re flying.

Is air rage growing? Could be, a CNN report by Francesca Street says, citing statistics from the International Air Transport Assn. and the Federal Aviation Administration. Blaming the closeness of aircraft quarters and the use of alcohol or other substances, Street notes that bad behavior comes at a real cost: as much as $25,000 in fines from the FAA.

Michelle Green, writing for the New York Times, takes her inspiration for her Nile journey from women adventurers of the 1800s, including Florence Nightingale, a traveler better known later for revolutionizing nursing, and Wolfradine von Minutoli, a travel writer who journeyed with her husband to Egypt, then parted ways and wrote her own account. Green doesn’t ignore the grittier side of travel to this fascinating North African country.

What you’re reading

This newsletter. We thank you for reading this one, and if you’d like to see others tailored to your interests, check them out (they’re all free) on our newsletters page.

Here’s another club you can join: the club of very smart people who subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. People who don’t? They may not know about the latest changes to Uber, Lyft and taxi pickup at LAX. They’ll probably leave right at the height of the Thanksgiving traffic. Oh, and they’ll take a quart container of gravy in their carry-ons and get busted. (OK, “busted” is an overstatement, but the gravy in a more than 3.4-ounce container isn’t making the trip in your carry-on.) There are a million reasons to subscribe, but the main one is this: It makes you smarter. Go to the subscription page and celebrate your intellect.

And finally, let us hear from you — what you like, what you don’t, what you’d like more of. Send all that to Think of it as helping determine your own reading destiny.

End paper

Right about now, I’d normally be having the tiniest little meltdown about the Thanksgiving dinner I would be creating. I’m a one-woman show (my guests don’t cook), so I make myself my own datebook for Saturday through Wednesday evenings, telling me what needs to be done on those nights, then switch to a full-on half-hour-by-half-hour timeline for Thanksgiving Day.

But not this year. I am off to Mexico for a few days of hanging out with the Canadian chapter of SATW, my professional organization. When they called me in late summer to ask me to attend, I asked whether this interfered with Thanksgiving. Nope. “Pencil me in,” I said.

Then the organizer called back to clarify that didn’t it interfere with Canadian Thanksgiving, which was Oct. 14. I could have said no, but darn it, they’re Canadian, among the nicest people I know. I later told the organizer, “Being mean to a Canadian is like kicking a golden retriever puppy.”

What will Thanksgiving be without hauling out the good linen and the table settings my mother gave us for our wedding? I won’t get to use the pumpkin centerpiece that transforms into a turkey. I won’t be saying the Thanksgiving prayer that I almost get through each year without choking up, as my gratitude for guests is more than my composure can bear.

None of that is happening this year. I get home late Thanksgiving afternoon. (You can try to burglarize the house, but the tenant will be home and the alarm system on, never mind the attack cats.) No lingering turkey smell, no traditions or leftovers to savor.

But travel continues to be my great instructor and guiding star. What does it teach us if not flexibility? That a gift of differences is a plus, not a minus? That traditions can be ingrained but also reimagined?

Instead of turkey, I’ll be eating Kansas City barbecue that’s arriving just for this occasion. I’ll later share the leftovers with a friend whose fight against cancer has been a lesson in grace. And I’ll say a prayer for friends and family near and far because they are among the blessings I count.

As are you, readers. Wherever you are, please travel safely and well, and remember that we will always be here to welcome you home.