Art of Chill Holidays

7 Trusty Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel

How to keep your cool, straight from frequent travelers.

December  4, 2018
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It's the most wonderful time of the year—so bring on the comfort & joy, we say. In The Art of Chill Holidays, we'll show you how we keep celebrations low-key, with festive decor tricks, clever time-saving tips, and scrumptious spreads of snacks (always snacks!).

As someone who lives 30 minutes away from her family, my holiday travel is usually short and sweet. However, many people are in a different boat. I have friends all around the country—from Oregon to Texas to Florida—who trek back to good ol’ New England to spend the holidays with family, and they all know one thing to be true: Traveling during December is hectic and stressful.

You don't have to be a travel expert to feel calm, cool, and collected as you make your holiday journey, though. It’s really just about taking small steps to make yourself comfortable. To give you a little guidance on creating a stress-free travel experience, we asked friends and family (OK, and a few experts) to share their go-to tips and tricks for traveling during the holiday season.

Pack Light

The last thing you need when rushing to catch a plane is to have an insanely heavy suitcase in tow. Do your best to pack light when traveling for the holiday—it will save you a lot of stress.

“I once saw a hiking documentary where someone said that we carry all of our fears in our luggage,” flight attendant Bianca DiValerio told Mental Floss. “What if I need this? What if this goes wrong? But what if it rains? Whatever it is, handle it when it happens. That is part of the joy of travel!”

Give Yourself a Two-Hour Buffer

The holiday travel season is not the time to be cutting it close when traveling. If you’re the type of person who leaves for the airport at the last possible minute or jumps in the car with just enough time to make it to dinner, you’ll want to squash that habit during December.

According to the travel pros, two hours seems to be the ideal “buffer,” no matter if you’re driving or flying. “I always budget two additional hours over ETA to account for traffic,” says Rachel Priore, who drives from Washington, D.C. to Connecticut during the holidays.

People who fly echoed the same sentiment: “I show up to the airport at least two hours early for holiday flights—the airport is a madhouse in December,” says Kate Tully, who travels from Boston back home to Nashville each year.

Happy Body = Happy Mind

Another tip that came up again and again is to take care of your body! This means plenty of sleep, lots of water, and healthy snacks.

“My skin becomes a nightmare when I travel,” explains Elena Martinez, who treks from Oregon to New Hampshire to visit her family. “I always pack a 1-liter water bottle and makeup wipes in my carry-on to keep my skin hydrated and clean.” “Get a good night’s sleep,” recommends Elizabeth Alexander, who drives from New York back to Massachusetts. “Also pack plenty of healthy snacks for the drive so you're not tempted by junk food.”

If you’re not treating your body right as you travel, you’re more susceptible to all those travel germs and more likely to feel sluggish, tired, and stressed.

Don’t Rely on Your Memory

Holiday travel is hectic and so are the preparations. Because your brain will probably be going in 100 different directions, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll forget something if you rely on memory alone.

Make your life a little easier by writing things down. Psychology Today recommends making a packing list, as well as a list of things to do before you leave the house—turn off the air conditioning, lock the back door, etc. Put these lists somewhere visible and check them often. It’s also a good idea to have your flight numbers and other airport information handwritten down somewhere, just in case.

Follow the $10 Rule

Another awesome tip we came across is what author and travel writer Chris Guillebeau calls his “$10 Rule.” Essentially, he says if something costs less than $10 and will help relieve your travel stress, just do it.

For instance, if you can grab a cab for a few bucks instead of walking, you should do it. If having in-flight WiFi will help you worry less about work, do it. These little expenses are well worth the price of mental well-being.

Come Equipped with Stress-Relieving Tools

There are lots of little tools that can help alleviate your stress, and if you know you’re prone to anxiety while traveling, don’t hesitate to pack your go-to items.

For me, the Headspace app is a must-have any time I fly. Once I get through security and find my gate, I take five minutes to go through a guided meditation. It helps me let go of all my pre-travel worries and rushed thoughts, and get back in the moment.

Other helpful items may include:

If it fits in your carry-on and will bring you a few moments of chill time, we say bring it!

Plan For Your Return Trip

Many people focus on getting to their holiday destination, forgetting to plan for their trip back. Don’t neglect finding a ride back to the airport and/or planning present transport.

“Bring an extra duffel bag or suitcase,” says Christie Gianetti, who travels home to Massachusetts from Texas during the holidays. “You never know what you’re going to need to bring back with you.” I can attest my brother forgets to do this pretty much every year, and we end up having to ship his Christmas presents to him. Don’t be like him (just kidding, love you)—think about your return trip in advance.

What are your tips for keeping your cool during this busy traveling season? Let us know below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Claudia T
    Claudia T
  • GratedGarlic
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.


Claudia T. December 8, 2018
Wash your hands! Bring hand sanitizer and use it. If you're going to be in a mad crowded airport, consider wearing a mask. People are gross. People give you a wide berth if you're wearing a mask.
GratedGarlic December 5, 2018
The day before I leave, I research the airport vendor map online and locate what terminals have the good stuff. If you give yourself a buffer (as recommended in the article), that good cup of coffee or meal might just be a walk away.