By Anne Taylor Hartzell, on November 24, 2015

5 Thanksgiving travel tips for families

Thanksgiving is the one holiday where we travel to see family. Fortunately, our family lives just a three-hour drive from Seattle, so we can hit the road and be at our destination in three hours. For many families though, Thanksgiving travel means fighting busy airports and congested highways during peak travel times. If your family is ready to hit the road or airport this holiday, staying flexible in both your departure dates and your airports can help reduce the stress of traveling at this peak time.

Whether you travel by train, plane, or automobile to Grandma’s house, here are five tips for saving money and reducing stress while traveling with kids over Thanksgiving weekend. 

1. Know when to fly. If you are flying to Grandma’s house this holiday, knowing when to fly can save your family time and money. Typically, a Wednesday departure and Sunday return are the most popular and busiest Thanksgiving travel days, although there have been recent reports that more people are extending their trips, so you are likely to see busy airports throughout Thanksgiving week. If you can carve out the time from school and work, consider an early Tuesday departure and return on Friday evening or first thing Saturday morning. The bonus? You’ll celebrate with family and be back in time to enjoy a full weekend at home.

2. Save time at airport security. Long lines at airport security are a consistent issue during peak travel times. Add kids into the mix and airport security can cause parents to sweat. If you are traveling from the United States, sign up your whole family for TSA Pre?®, an expedited security-screening program connecting travelers departing from the United States. With TSA Pre?® you can enjoy expedited lines, keep your shoes on, and have less unpacking to do at security, saving you a ton of time in line. Many U.S. airports also have family lanes, so be sure to ask your nearest TSA agent if a family lane is available at your airport.  

Viewfinder Tip: Consider leaving Tuesday and returning Friday after Thanksgiving to avoid crowds and get downtime at home.

3. Road-tripping? Get an early start and pre-plan your stops. Like us, a large majority of people travels by car to see family for Thanksgiving dinner. One little trick we’ve learned over the years is to leave early on Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, and to check heavy traffic spots on our route before we go. If we see there is a traffic jam at a certain place along the way, we plan a stop for ice cream, coffee, or a potty break and make it fun for the kids. As always during busy holiday weekends, allocate more time than you think you will need to get to your destination. 

4. Use apps and devices on the go. When we travel during the holidays, I make sure to charge up our tablets and smartphones and bring extra mobile chargers to keep all of our travel gadgets on full battery. In addition to keeping the whole family entertained, apps have become a critical part of our family travels. If we are flying, kids love watching their favorite movies. My husband and I use our smartphones to check in for our flights, for our boarding passes at security, and to get real-time updates such as gate changes and delays. On the road, our smartphones turn into intelligent navigators, helping us plan pit stops, navigate around traffic jams, and find the nearest gas station on our route.

5. Create a family “gratitude list.” It’s easy to get caught up in the little annoyances and stresses of the holidays, especially when traveling with kids. How do you relax, and remember to be thankful for this precious time with family? On the road, in the airport, or on the plane, have each family member make a list of things they are thankful for this year, and take turns reading the list or sharing it with each family member. Not only is it fun to read what everyone else is thankful for, but it also shifts the attention to what really matters—time with family and friends.

No matter where your travels take you this season, with a little patience, flexibility, and planning, you can save time and money, and be able to concentrate on getting some quality time with your loved ones.

What tips do you have for reducing the stress of holiday travel?