Holiday survival guide (air travel edition)

The holidays are upon us whether we are ready or not. Soon the presents will be wrapped, lights will be on the tree and you will be packing those bags to visit family and friends across the globe. Or maybe you are one of the lucky few who are skipping the insanity of Christmas at home and you are headed out on a vacation with the kids. Either way, you are going to face the airport during the holidays, a task that can test even the most adventurous and seasoned traveler.

Have a plan

This is no time to start a trip without a game plan. Oh sure you could wing it some other time of the year, but you are about to enter an arena of travelers that you won’t encounter any other time of the year.

Get your head in the game and you will come out on top.

Plane tickets

Book your plane tickets early. If you see an airfare that looks decent, snatch it up. Don’t wait for it to drop another $10. It may never do that.

Check Skyscanner to see how prices may change over the course of the month so you can pick the cheapest day to fly, or know what you are going to be facing when it comes to prices.


If you will need to park your car at the airport book your spot as soon as possible. You will be very disappointed, pay a premium and even risk missing your flight if you show up the day you want to travel with no reservation.

Trust me. I’ve done it. It’s not pretty.

Arrive early

Although airlines generally say to arrive 1.5 hours early for a domestic flight and at least 2 hours early for an international flight, you will want to add about an hour more to this time during the holidays.

You won’t just be standing in line with business travelers. No, you will be in line with huge families, newbie fliers, people who waited until the last minute to get to the airport and are now huffing behind you because they might miss their flight.

You will want extra time to get you and your offspring from the ticket counter through security and to the gate without breaking a sweat. If you breeze through- fabulous! But if you do get delayed you won’t have to worry.

Airport crowds

Ship the goods

The last thing any parent wants to do is pack the kitchen sink when they travel. The holidays are no different.

Budget in the checked bag fees. The less you have to carry through the airport the better. Consolidate kids clothes into parent suitcases so you can travel with less.

Ask ahead of time if you can do a load of laundry wherever you are going so you can pack less. You will need room for presents you and your family receive.

  1. Ship all presents to your destination ahead of time. My entire family is on the EastCcoast. They know that boxes from Amazon and other online retailers will be headed their way. I will either get someone to wrap them or I will wrap them myself when we arrive. I only carry on last minute or very fragile items I don’t trust to ship, but they are always small.
  2. Request big gifts be sent to your house, not under the tree. This is a tough one, especially with kids. My kids and I have been gifted with pounds of books. I mean pounds of them. Toys too. When big toy also shows up under the tree it makes it difficult to get home and we end up shipping, which is an added cost for us.
    • A better (and usually cheaper) alternative to shipping gifts back is to stick them in a box and check them on the plane with you. As long as the box isn’t oversized you will just pay the checked bag fee. My boys don’t check a suitcase yet, so we just pay the 1-bag fee for the 3rd box/bag we end up checking. You can get boxes at office supply and moving stores. Or ask a family member to grab a paper box for you from their office. Just make sure you don’t go over the 50lb limit or you will pay through the nose.

Holiday gifts

Stay calm with your carry on

My rule of thumb when it comes to traveling with my kids is that everyone gets one carry-on backpack and I get my purse. The baby obviously gets nothing to carry, but my 4-year-old son has a little backpack he brings on every trip with his toys, books, headphones and snacks. We are a family of “if you can’t carry it you can’t bring it.”

You may be wondering, why do I have this rule? Well, I’m so glad you asked because I have several.

The Family Carry-On Baggage Rule

  1. I can only carry so much. A lot of the time I end up carrying the baby through the airport. I can’t carry multiple bags and a 20+ pound baby at the same time.
  2. We will need carry on space for our return flight after presents are exchanged.
  3. I just don’t need that much stuff when we travel.
  4. The less we carry on the less we have to bring through security and hold up the line. We are experts when it comes to going through airport security with kids, but the more anyone has, the longer it will take and the more chances there are of your bag being inspected (or so I like to think so I pack less.)


Feed the beast

No one functions well on an empty stomach. Pack a few snacks for your trip, anticipating delays when you do pack your snacks.

Have cash or your credit card on hand if you want to buy some lunch, a coffee or a bottle of water to keep you hydrated.

You never know when delays, snow and other unanticipated excitement will impact your travels. Be prepared, but don’t over pack as if Armageddon is coming.


Smile, smile and smile some more

This may not be your smoothest flight. People around you will be rude. Airport staff will be frazzled and gruff. Airline crews will be tired of answering the same mundane questions over and over again.

It is your job to just smile through it and hope that everyone will find his or her sense of humor again after the holidays.

How will you survive holiday travel this year?

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4 thoughts on “Holiday survival guide (air travel edition)”

  1. Sally@Toddlers on Tour

    You’re absolutely right it all starts in the planning, that and flexibility. Seriously when does anything go according to plan when you travel with kids.

    PS Love the new website.

  2. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    These are great tips, especially the ones about reserving a parking space and arriving at the airport early. I almost want to avoid visiting people over the holidays because getting gifts back and forth is such a headache. We’ve even driven our minivan and have still had trouble packing it all in.

  3. Kyle McCarthy

    Smart advice, and useful all year round. I know there’s a site that aggregates availability from all sorts of private parking lots — they offer coupons at vacation periods too so that might come in handy. Thanks!!

    1. Keryn Means

      Kyle that is a site I definitely need! When we got stuck at Christmas I was heartbroken. Never again!

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