Anyone who’s ever experienced holiday travel knows how stressful it can be. Maybe stressful isn’t even the right word. (Panic-inducing? Heinous? Hellacious?) Between the crowds, oversold flights, weather delays, and questionable, overpriced airport food, it’s enough to send even the most emotionally stable of us into a tailspin.
Over the past year I’ve taken close to 25 flights all over Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean—including during the biggest holiday weekends—and I’ve learned a few things along the way. As we head into what is historically the busiest time for airline travel in the United States, here are a few tips that will help keep your sanity intact and maybe even make the experience—dare I say—pleasurable.
Know Your Carry-on Essentials
Get clear on what you can and can’t bring through security—and yes, that includes food.
Know the regulations. Don’t be that person holding up the line because they thought they’d try their luck at bringing half a case of Scotch through security.I’m all about bringing your own food and beverages when traveling, but it’s important to know exactly which solids, liquids, and gels you can bring through security—and which ones you can’t.
I’ve learned from experience that solid and packaged foods (like the container of hot chicken I got on the way to the Nashville airport) are generally okay but gels and soft pastes are not (i.e., my stick of Dominican cocoa butter that got confiscated because of its soft, meltable consistency).
Minimize your toiletries.
Nothing kills a festive mood like the indignity of having to squeeze all your toiletries into an unimaginably small plastic bag while in the TSA line-up (or worse, having your favorite products confiscated. RIP, face serum.) If there’s a certain product that you absolutely can’t live without, make sure it fits within the guidelines and try these work-arounds for everything else.
Instead of bringing the entire tube of eye-cream or your go-to treatment, squeeze a little into a sterile contact lens case (it will take up less room than a traditional travel size bottle).
Kiseer Contact Lens Containers, 12 for $6.99 on Amazon
These should last a while.
Another suggestion: Swap liquid makeup remover and hand sanitizer for wipes (they won’t count towards your liquid allowances). Antibacterial versions are great for disinfecting hands and wiping down (icky) germ saturated areas like armrests and seat-back trays.
Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand and Face Wipes, 5 packs for $12.16 on Amazon
Also available in a sensitive skin formula.
While many airports seem to be making a conscious effort to provide healthy and tasty food options, if you manage to find something appetizing, it’s probably going to be overpriced. Instead, stock your bag with tasty snacks. If you’re not sure what to pack snack-wise, you can never go wrong with having a few protein bars on hand. Make your own figgy fuel bar or pick out a healthy prepackaged version like these Keto Krisp Bars which provide a protein boost without a lot of sugar or carbs.
Keto Krisp High Protein Snack Bars, 6 for $20 on Amazon
This variety pack has 2 each of almond butter, chocolate mint, and chocolate raspberry flavors.
Include a seasoning kit.
Airplane food leaves a lot to be desired. The solution: Bring a seasoning kit in your carry-on for flavor emergencies. I got this idea from travel and lifestyle writer, Patrice J. Williams who swears by her own carry-on seasoning arsenal, which includes salt, pepper, hot sauce, mustard, spicy mustard, jam, and honey. Bring prepackaged portions or use this as an excuse to stock up on miniature Tabasco bottles (10 for $19.95 on Amazon) or this Sriracha Keychain ($19.99 on Amazon).
Bonne Maman Mini Jam Assortment, $14.14 on Amazon
Tiny jars of strawberry, apricot, raspberry, and cherry jam, and orange marmalade.
I’m partial to flavorings that don’t add to your liquid allowances like Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning or these mini bottles of Tajin ($6.70 on Amazon) which add an irresistible tanginess to fruit, veggies, or DIY inflight mixology (improvised margarita or Michelada, anyone?)
Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning, $6.49 on Amazon
EBTBSS even makes air travel better.
Bring your own water bottle.
Purchasing bottled water while traveling is an expense that adds up fast. Luckily, over the past few years, water bottle filling stations have become more ubiquitous in major airports. Bringing your own water bottle eliminates the stress of paying exorbitant prices just to stay hydrated (and is more eco-friendly too).
Valourgo Collapsible Water Bottle, $11.59
This silicone bottle folds up for easy storage.
Related Reading: You’re Not Cleaning Your Water Bottle Often Enough
Add supplements to your water.
If you get dehydrated while flying, try adding a supplement to your water bottle. Nuun Immunity: Antioxidant Immune Support Hydration Supplement is a great option because it includes a mix of immunity boosting vitamins (a huge plus during flu season) and electrolytes to help you feel your best when you arrive at your destination.
Nuun Immunity: Antioxidant Immune Support Hydration Supplement, 40 tablets for $19.41 on Amazon
It certainly can't hurt.
Maybe you don’t want to tote around a neck pillow, much less fly in your actual pajamas, but consider investing in a travel blanket like this faux cashmere wrap (it made Oprah’s list of favorite things on Amazon for 2019). It’s soft, comforting, will keep you warm, and yes, can be rolled up to serve as a neck pillow too, if you’re lucky enough to be able to sleep on planes.
The Everything Travel Blanket, $88 on Amazon
Wrap it, roll it, drape it, don't forget it.
Related Reading: How to Score the Best Seat on a Plane
Pack Like a Pro
Invest in packing cubes.
Depending on what kind of baggage you’re working with, a set of affordable packing cubes like these can be the difference between complete chaos and a well organized suitcase. Pack like items together (for example, dresses in one, jeans in another) so that they can easily be grabbed on the go (perfect for when you need that cozy hoodie from your carry-on but don’t want to rifle through your entire suitcase!).
Bagail 6-Piece Packing Cubes Set, $24.99 on Amazon
No more messy suitcase.
Related Reading: The Best Packing Cubes for More Organized Travel
When in doubt, consult the experts.
Most of my packing hacks have come from other frequent travelers. However, if you need a shortcut, this video of Marie Kondo packing a suitcase is incredibly helpful. She suggests folding or rolling items and placing them like you would in a drawer (my go-to packing strategy for all trips).
Be Media Ready
Make sure you have the airline app on your phone.
Most airlines have an app where you can access flight info, WiFi, inflight entertainment and receive push notifications about gate changes and flight delays. However, if you don’t already have it on your phone, you usually can’t download it once you’re in flight. Just to be safe, make sure the app is on your phone before you leave WiFi.
Download shows and movies that you’re excited to watch.
Sometimes the in-flight entertainment is great. Other times, not so much. Sometimes it simply doesn’t exist. Don’t get caught out there with nothing to watch. Before your trip, download episodes from your favorite streaming services onto your device so you can watch them sans WiFi.
Sony Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, $278 on Amazon
Drown out the plane sounds while you're at it.
Related Reading: See CNET’s Picks for Best Headphones of 2019
Include podcasts and ebooks.
One of the worst aspects of travel: line-ups. Instead of cursing the line, use it as a chance to catch up on other forms of media. Download a couple of juicy podcast episodes to help make those endless queues feel a little more manageable. You can also make use of your favorite smartphone e-reader apps to catch up on your reading list. Even if the scene at the airport is atrocious, I always feel more relaxed when I know I have some interesting content to consume.
Related Reading: Our Favorite Food Podcasts
Pack a portable charger.
Accessing media in addition to your usual phone activity quickly burns up battery power. Instead of scrambling to find an outlet at the airport (or praying that your plane has one), set your mind at ease and invest in a portable charger like this Anker PowerCore 10000 which is compact and lightweight.
Anker PowerCore 10000, $25.99 on Amazon
Because there's nothing worse than your phone or tablet dying halfway through a cross-country flight.
Mentally Prepare Yourself
It’s December—it’s going to be busy. There’s probably going to be some hiccups along the way. It might even feel stressful at times. Instead of fighting it, accept holiday travel for what it is: a slightly crazy experience that results in you getting to spend time with your loved ones. Breathe and try to enjoy the journey as best you can.
When holiday travel starts to get you down, remind yourself of all the things you’re grateful for. Your flight may get delayed, you may spill coffee and hot sauce all over your clothes (true story), but at the end of the day, you’re getting to do something that not everyone gets to do: travel to spend time with the people you love and eat some delicious food.
Header image courtesy of Issarawat Tattong / Moment / Getty Images