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18 best travel hacks for the holidays

Use these tips to lower your transit stress

Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team
christmas tree at airport

The holidays? Stressful. Travel? Rage inducing. Put the two together, and you have a nasty concoction of frigid misery and hair-pulling tedium.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our smart holiday hacks will leave you feeling serene, or even jolly, in the face of end-of-year anxiety. Now nothing can dampen your holiday spirits — except maybe your aunt’s overcooked turkey.

Carry pre-approved toiletry containers

pre-approved containers
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $12.59
  • Why you need it: Peace of mind

BUY ON AMAZON

It’s hard to keep straight how much liquid TSA allows and what size of containers you can use. Cut the confusion and invest in a set of pre-approved toiletry containers.

Wrap gifts after you’ve arrived

wrapping paper
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $14.99
  • Why you need it: Your presents need clothes

BUY ON AMAZON

Resist the urge to be productive and thoughtful by wrapping your gifts before you fly. The wrapping paper can rip and tear, and TSA agents might even ask you to open a gift to see what’s inside, which spoils your gift-wrapping work. Now all you need to do is pack the wrapping paper.

Ditch the airline food

kimchi
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $10.67 (pack of 6)
  • Why you need it: Noodles are delicious

BUY ON AMAZON

Airline food sucks, but you have to eat it so you won’t be hangry on your flight. Or do you? TSA allows a surprising number of foodstuffs, including a whole cooked turkey or live lobster. A more reasonable item that’s also allowed is instant soup. Once you’re seated, just ask for hot water from the flight attendant, pour it in your ramen bowl and enjoy a meal that warm your bones this dark and cold December. Instant oatmeal is another good choice.

Shrink your stuff with packing cubes

packing cubes
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $15.18
  • Why you need it: Possibly the best travel hack of all time

BUY ON AMAZON

Most airlines have strict bag limits, and no one wants to bring more bags than they need. Packing cubes are essential if you want to cram your items into one bag, and experienced travelers say they're 100% necessary. Once you try them, you’ll never go back.

Store your passport in style

passport wallet
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $14.99
  • Why you need it: To stay organized

BUY ON AMAZON

Traveling abroad for Christmas? Lucky you. Keep your passport protected and all your things organized with this passport wallet. You’ll seem even more stylish than you already do.

For the best flights, Google Flights is a great free tool to check out. You can search for flights from several airlines with set or flexible dates. If you’re open to new experiences or are looking to escape this Christmas, you can use the “Explore destinations” option to find cheap getaways. You’ll be all set for an exciting and affordable holiday expedition.

Carry a charge key

keychain phone charger
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $14.98
  • Why you need it: Fool-proof charging

BUY ON AMAZON

It seems like whenever you need your charger, it’s impossible to find. Maybe you forgot it, or maybe it’s buried in your bag. Who knows? Bring a keyring charger instead. All you have to do is keep it on your keyring, plug the USB cord into your laptop and you’re good to go. No more scrambling to find the right charger.

Fight off the cold

anti-cold supplement
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $10.99 (Pack of 30)
  • Why you need it: Stay healthy

BUY ON AMAZON

By the time the holidays start, we’re deep into cold season — and the stress of holiday travel makes it worse. Stave off sickness before it hits with Emergen-C drink supplements. They help boost your immune system and taste pretty good, too.

Travel with perfectly sized bags

personal bag
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $37.50
  • Why you need it: To game the system

BUY ON AMAZON

Some budget airlines only allow one personal bag. What many people don’t know is that personal items can still be pretty big: 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches. Not only does this bag fit the personal bag dimension rules, it has loads of pockets and a great rolling feature.

Grab a Mary Poppins style backpack

cool backpack
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $37.99
  • Why you need it: Pockets for everything

BUY ON AMAZON

Remember the briefcase Mary Poppins had that magically held everything? As long as you’re a fairly light packer, you’ll be able to take everything you need in this handy, sturdy backpack. It has a seemingly endless amount of space and loads of extra pockets. Plus, the padding keeps it comfortable to wear, even if you’re rushing from terminal to terminal.

Try peppermint essential oil for nerves

peppermint essential oil
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $7.99
  • Why you need it: Calming, festive vibes

BUY ON AMAZON

Nervous flyers highly recommend peppermint oil for its soothing effects. Plus, nothing puts you in the Christmas spirit like the smell of fresh mint. Just be considerate of grinches who might loathe the smell of peppermint in their snouts.

Just buy an ice scraper already

ice scraper
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $8.49
  • Why you need it: It isn’t even 10 bucks

BUY ON AMAZON

If your holiday travels include driving your car, you don’t want to find yourself without an ice scraper. So go ahead and buy this scraper now.

If you hate waiting in line at airport security (and who doesn’t?), then sign up for TSA PreCheck. It costs $85 and lasts for five years. You’ll be able to skip the regular line and go straight to the PreCheck line. If that doesn’t boost your holiday cheer, we don’t know what will.

 

Travel light with ultra-thin towels

ultra-thin towels
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $16.90
  • Why you need it: Tiny towels, big difference

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Towels are some of the bulkiest items you can pack. These extra-thin, super-absorbent towels do the trick for a short trip. They take up hardly any space, and yes, the microfibers really dry you off.

Weigh your bags in advance

bag weigher
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $10.99
  • Why you need it: Pays for itself

BUY ON AMAZON

Yes, it’s something a dork would buy. But you’ll avoid outrageous oversized bag fees.

Take a tablet and zone out

amazon tablet
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $79.99
  • Why you need it: Avoid plane boredom

BUY ON AMAZON

No, not a sleeping tablet. An Amazon tablet. If you’re a nervous flyer, it’s best to stay occupied during the flight. This affordable tablet is an excellent way to zone out and stay entertained. Read your favorite books, watch your favorite movies, listen to music and play games. It’s not the most advanced tablet out there, but it gets the job done. Plus, the battery lasts for up to 10 hours. That’s long enough for a flight from New York to Honolulu.

Use an old-fashioned map

paper map
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PRODUCT DETAILS
  • Price: $5.99
  • Why you need it: You’re a pioneer at heart

BUY ON AMAZON

If you’re taking a road trip to your holiday destination, you’ll probably be using GPS to get there. But if you want to stay off the grid for a bit and spend some quality time with the family, there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned paper map.

The 24-hour rule is cool

Did you know that almost every airline lets you cancel a ticket within 24 hours of buying it, absolutely free of charge? You can also opt to hold the tickets without paying for them for 24 hours. This is a great option if you’re hesitant about buying a ticket but don’t want to lose out on a spot. The main caveat is that this only applies to tickets bought at least one week before your scheduled departure. You also need to make sure the departure location and arrival destination are in the U.S. Book directly with the airline rather than through a third-party site, or the rule may not apply.

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Profile picture of Tom Rains
by Tom Rains ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Tom Rains graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 with a master’s degree in Professional Writing. Tom’s passion for delivering quality content fuels him to provide consumers with accurate, well-researched information on major life purchases.