It’s wonderful to see family and friends, who live far away, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, but traveling during the holiday season can be stressful, expensive and complicated…to say the least. If you are headed out during Thanksgiving and Christmas time, here are a few tips to help you navigate this crazy time of year:

  • Book Early. It sounds obvious, but at no time of year is booking early more important than around the holidays. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the highest air travel volume day of the year, and dates around Christmas and New Year's Day follow closely. Even if you find flights available at the last minute, you're likely to pay top dollar as well as have few seat assignment options or choices of connecting cities. Don't worry about the airfares decreasing after you pay. Most airlines and travel companies will refund the difference if you make them aware of a lower fare. Orbitz does this automatically.
  • Take the weather out of the equation. November, December and January weather complicate the already busy holiday travel season. Even if you live in a temperate climate, a snowy connecting city can derail your flight plans. For example, traveling from Atlanta to San Francisco wouldn't necessarily seem a problem in the winter. However, make a connection in Denver or Chicago en route and you have potential for a snow emergency. Always ask what the connecting city is on your proposed itinerary before you buy your tickets. Equally, if you live in a snowy area, consider staying the night before your morning flight in a hotel near the airport. That way you won't have to worry about missing your flight if the roads aren't plowed. Plus, many airport hotels offer free parking for travelers who spend the night before their trip.
  • Travel on the holiday. Usually, the last flights to sell out are those on the holidays themselves. Fly on Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year's Day and you might find flights and airfares available that aren't available on the days prior to the holiday. If you fly Christmas morning and return New Year's Day morning, you still have a week to spend with your friends or family.
  • Take the first flight of the day. The first flights of the day have a greater on-time percentage than those that take off later in the day. Most airplanes arrive in the evening and wait for the first flight of the morning, minimizing any flight delays. Just like at the doctor's office, delays accumulate throughout the day.
  • Ship presents in advance. Consider shipping your gifts to your destination ahead of time. UPS can get your presents to your family anywhere in the country in three to five days. This way you don't have to lug the items through security, have them open the gifts and still have to wrap them when you arrive. Unless you're exchanging gift cards this season, shipping ahead is the way to go.

Are you traveling this holiday season? What do you do to help keep your family sane during your journey?