Though you may have skipped spring break this year or canceled your family summer vacation, holiday travel might still be on the table. On one hand, the coronavirus is nowhere near eradicated, so it’s hard to know whether it will be safe to travel by winter. But with ticket prices so low ― at least for now ― it can be tempting to get in while the getting’s good.
According to travel booking app Hopper, domestic flight prices around Christmastime have dropped 25% compared with 2019, reaching a new low of $275 round trip, on average. As for Thanksgiving, travelers can expect to spend 30% less on domestic flights than in 2019, with a new average low of $216 round trip.
Of course, things could change as we get closer to the holiday season, and prices might go back up. Here’s what you should keep in mind when planning to travel for the holidays.
Research the best cancellation policies
Airlines and hotels are understandably struggling right now. To encourage bookings, many have not only lowered their prices but also relaxed their cancellation policies.
American Airlines, for example, now allows customers who book tickets for travel through Sept. 30, for flights occurring before Dec. 31, to cancel or change their itinerary for no fee. Hyatt is allowing all reservations made for travel until July 31, 2021, to be changed or canceled up to 24 hours before check-in without a fee.
However, just because you might be allowed to cancel doesn’t mean you’ll have cash back in your hand right away. “Be aware that while most airlines have generous cancellation policies at the moment, if you’re the one to pull the plug on the trip, you’ll likely receive a voucher for future travel rather than your actual money back,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com. It’s only when the airline cancels the flight or makes a substantial schedule change that you’re entitled to actual money back.
That means you won’t lose any money, but your funds could be tied up for a while if you do decide to cancel. “If you’re OK with a future voucher, then, by all means, book now,” Rossman said.
Another option is to look into a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy, though keep in mind there are a couple of catches. Rossman warned this type of insurance costs more than a standard travel insurance policy and it doesn’t reimburse all of your costs ― more like 50% to 75%. Generally, this type of travel insurance is better suited for major international trips, not short domestic ones.
Finally, Rossman said it’s a good idea to book travel with a credit card. “Credit cards have more generous dispute resolution policies than debit cards,” he noted. Plus, as long as you avoid racking up interest by paying your balance in full each month, credit card rewards can be valuable and help offset the cost of the trip.
Watch out for coronavirus hot spots
The situation surrounding the pandemic continues to evolve. So keep in mind that certain “safe” areas of the country could become riskier by winter. If cases surge in an area you were planning to visit, you might be forced to cancel your trip. At the very least, you could be required to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
Also, note that Americans are currently restricted from traveling to many countries (this list will likely change as time goes on).
Travelers who are concerned about making the safest choices when it comes to travel destinations should stay up to date with advisories from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and state and local governments.
You can also use online travel planning tools to stay on top of local coronavirus updates. TripIt, for example, provides a neighborhood safety score for each destination that includes the COVID-19 risk, based on data collected from Johns Hopkins University, WHO, CDC, local health agencies and others.
Regardless of where you travel, be aware of “touchpoint traps” that could increase the risk of spread, said Kelly Soderlund, TripIt’s travel trends expert. “For instance, make sure TSA employees use fresh gloves when patting you or your belongings down,” she said. “Bring a plastic bag for your mask to avoid contamination when you remove the mask to eat or drink.”
The decision to travel is personal
Right now, traveling is a risky move ― no matter where you go. And there’s a possibility we could experience a second wave of infections later this year. But ultimately, the decision to book travel is yours to make.
“People who are booking travel seem to be keeping it on the [down low], as there is a lot of shaming going on ― whether it’s making the decision to travel, sit indoors at a restaurant or even sending kids to school,” said Mollie Krengel, founder of Wild Bum, an online marketplace of curated travel guides. But many people without major health risks feel comfortable booking travel right now. And there are a lot of people hitting the road instead of the ski slopes to minimize their risk.
“At the end of the day, you have to make the decision based on your comfort level,” Krengel said. For air travel, she recommended choosing an airline that is doing a great job of cleaning and keeping the middle seats open. “Most accommodations are also taking extra precautions, but it can’t hurt to do your due diligence,” she said. And always double-check the current cancellation policies and fees before you book. In fact, “get them in writing,” she said.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.
How To Cope With Anxiety While Flying
In college, I grew a tumor that meant I hung out quite frequently in MRI machines. Though I’d never had a problem before, I found myself newly and severely claustrophobic — laying in a tiny tunnel for hours, arms raised overhead, will do that.
What I never saw coming was that phobia transferring to other small spaces, namely, airplanes. I’d developed severe anxiety around flying, stemming from that claustrophobia. Once the flight attendants closed the doors, and I was stuck there for a few hours, I was history. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to overcome flight anxiety because who wants to hang out in the Midwest their whole life?
It turns out I’m far from alone — up to 40% of Americans have some sort of flying anxiety, from fearing a plane crash to worries about close contact with others. Or, like me, they don’t want to be stuck. Still, others dread navigating the airport, worrying their valuables might be lost or that they could encounter an issue with security doubting their intentions. Flying anxiety has become such an issue that some airlines like British Airways even offer courses, such as their “Flying with Confidence” one-day class, to get you back in the air.
There’s likely even more of a spike in flight anxiety thanks to the pandemic, according to Susan Zinn, a psychotherapist and author of “The Epiphanies Project.”
“That is why there’s been an uptick in airplane phobias, fear of flying, and feeling out of control, or road or flight rage — people all of a sudden get triggered that bring them back to a time in our recent past where they felt so out of control,” Zinn said.
Here’s what experts say we can do to reduce our anxieties about airplanes.
Expose yourself to the aspects of flying (preferably with a mental health professional)
For Johnny Jet, a worldwide traveler and expert who has been to over 70 countries, his traveling fears started with a doctor’s comment. He was headed on a 27-hour flight when his asthma doctor commented that he “might have a problem breathing on a plane because the cabin is pressurized.”
This led to a full-blown panic attack at a New York airport ahead of the flight, which he called “one of the worst days of his life,” and prompted an almost four-year-long fear of flying.
Exposure to planes and airports ended up being, ironically, part of the solution. “Speak to the flight crew, take a course, read books, go to the airport and do practice runs,” he suggested.
This type of activity ― known as exposure therapy ― can help your brain adapt to the situation over time and take some of the fear and uncertainty away from flying. It’s best to try this with a therapist who is trained in doing this.
Zinn added that medication might also be necessary for some people in tandem with preparation. She’s worked with clients who have spent several months practicing for a flight before the real trip.
Get strategic about your seat selection
Right after 9/11, Zinn had to jump on a plane out of New York for a business trip. She was terrified as their flight was escorted by air marshals openly carrying weapons. She was one of many who would develop a new fear of flying, which caused nausea and panic attacks.
One strategy that helped her was carefully picking a seat that made her feel comfortable. “I always still to this day will sit on the outside aisle [seat] to make sure I can always get up, versus kind of being stuck on the inside, which made me feel better,” she said.
Quick access to the bathroom, where you can splash cold water on your face to “shock your system” when you feel panic is another tool that helps, Zinn explained. If financially possible, upgrading to first class for more room or choosing an exit row for more legroom might also help, Jet added.
Find a deep breathing method that works for you
It may be an annoying suggestion to hear, but breathing exercises are often given as a recommendation for anxiety because they work. Zinn said she often suggests her patients practice intentional breathing exercises, like five-finger breathing, where you take deep inhales and exhales as you trace the outline of your hand.
Doing this can help calm the panic that arises before it turns into a full panic attack, Zinn said.
Pack some sour candy in your carry on
Zinn also suggested eating some sour candy, such as a WarHead, to force your brain back into reality. The candy’s tartness can help you better focus on the moment rather than the fear or “what if?” during flying. It’s another way to practice mindfulness.
Learn the “why” behind air bumps
Adam Banks, a retired pilot based in New York, said the turbulence is one of the most concerning parts of flying for anxious passengers. Understanding what it is might help you see it as more normal and less of a sign of impending doom.
“Turbulence is just shifting winds. If you fly into a puffy cloud, the airplane is going to get a bump,” he said. “Airplanes are designed to handle these bumps. If you’re sitting over the wing, you can see the wings flex as they absorb turbulence. Turbulence might feel like the airplane is moving around thousands of feet, the reality is the airplane is probably only being jostled a few feet.”
Ground yourself in facts
Zinn said that dealing with both physical anxiety and our mind’s perception of danger plays a role in calming down, so statistics might help. For example, the annual risk of dying in a plane crash is only one in 11 million. You are much more likely to die from sunstroke, a bee sting, consuming a hot substance or even being attacked by a dog.
For me, flying in a tiny space will probably always be a struggle. But armed with some tools and tricks, flying is doable again, and I’m no longer doomed to the Midwest for life.
Travel Hacks That Actually Save Money
The benefits of travel are manifold. Whether you’re going on a multi-country adventure or getting some R&R at the beach, there’s real value to unplugging from everyday life, connecting with new people and enjoying a change of scenery.
But what people aren’t always sure about is the monetary value of the experience.
“I think there’s an assumption that travel has to be expensive because until fairly recently it has been more of a luxury and certainly more expensive,” said Katie McIntosh, a travel blogger and creator of The Katie Show. “While it’s a privilege and still requires some money-saving dedication, the cost has been significantly reduced now that we have access to many different price-checking websites, apps, and platforms.”
Indeed, there are lots of ways to cut down on costs as you plan a trip — some more effective than others. Below, McIntosh and other experts share their favorite hacks for saving money when they travel.
Rethink your default airport
“It makes perfect sense that when booking a vacation, you’ll select to depart from your nearest airport, but it’s worth comparing prices first,” said Blake Walsh, a travel expert at Travel Lens. “Vacation costs can differ when traveling from different airports, so carry out some research to see if you can save money by flying from an airport which isn’t as close to where you live.”
If you live in Miami, for example, you might find cheaper options if you expand your search beyond Miami International Airport and look at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as well. Similarly, if you’re a New Jersey resident, you might have better luck flying out of Philadelphia than Newark.
“While you may have to drive a little extra, flight prices could be hundreds of dollars cheaper at the next-closest airport,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer.
Find a local car service
“Pre-planning things as much as possible is a great way to save costs,” said Laura Ratliff, senior editorial director at TripSavvy. “For instance, while I used to rely mainly on big global rideshare services in most cities, now I take a few extra minutes to find a local car service wherever I go.”
Think about how many Ubers or Lyfts you take during a typical vacation and how those costs add up. Compare their prices with other ride options, and you might be able to save a significant amount of money on a trip. Ratliff noted that local car services have other benefits.
“Many of them are cheaper, have nicer vehicles, and offer services like pre-scheduled, in-person airport pickups, which can be handy when you’re struggling with lots of luggage or arriving late and want the reassurance that you can safely get to your hotel,” Ratliff said.
Prioritize free parking
Whether you’re driving your own car or renting one, don’t overlook the related costs that can add up ― like parking.
She also tries to choose a hotel that’s within walking distance of great food and amenities to cut down on transit time and gas costs.
“When I was in Miami with a rental car, I stayed at AC Dadeland Hotel because it is connected to an upscale mall and has plenty of free parking, which checked off all these boxes,” she noted.
Or better yet, stick to public transportation
“Taking public transportation is often much cheaper than getting a taxi or renting a car,” said travel blogger Sean Lau. “It is also a great way to get to know the area and get a better sense of the local culture.”
Although not every destination has quality public transit, plenty do. So, before your trip, conduct some research to see if you have safe and convenient options.
“Many popular cities offer easy-to-navigate metro systems, as well as widespread bus lines or trams,” said travel blogger Rocky Trifari. “If your route is accessible via public transportation, you can probably get there for a fraction of what it would cost to go directly via taxi.”
Break up your trip with multiple lodgings
“Consider breaking up your trip by staying in different hotels rather than the same one,” said Sosie Matos, a wealth coach at OneEleven Financial Wellness. “You can sometimes get a better deal and also get to explore more of the area.”
Staying in different accommodations allows for greater flexibility, which leads to more savings. As you look into hotel options, see how the rates change for various durations.
“Search different lengths and dates to make sure you’re taking advantage of promotions like third, fourth or fifth night free,” advised Chris Hutchins, a “financial optimizer” and host of the podcast “All the Hacks.”
Choose accommodations with a kitchen
“One of the biggest expenses when traveling is food,” Lau said. “Eating out can get expensive, especially if you’re dining in a touristy neighborhood.”
Consider cooking some of your own meals. In addition to saving money, you’ll get a nicely immersive tourist experience by shopping for local ingredients at markets or grocery stores. Try your hand at a local recipe if you’re feeling inspired.
“I always look for hotels with at least a kitchenette,” Dengler said. “Staying at a hotel with a kitchenette or full kitchen allows you to prepare your meals and avoid high restaurant prices. I save hundreds of dollars on trips by cooking breakfast and lunch in my hotel room or Airbnb and only eating out for dinner.”
Look for restaurant specials
“I always save my fine dining experiences for lunch,” said Jessica van Dop DeJesus, founder and editor at The Dining Traveler. “Most restaurants offer a prix-fixe lunch menu that is much more affordable than the evening menus. I splurge for lunch and then eat at fast-casual places or street food at night.”
Even if you want to try lots of restaurants during your trip, you can still spend less by putting in a little time to plan in advance. Cast a wide net and look for deals.
“A usually pricey restaurant may have a delicious special menu one night of the week or a discounted happy hour menu at a particular time of day that you can uncover with some research and planning,” Ratliff said.
Take advantage of ‘shoulder season’
“I recommend traveling during the destination’s shoulder season,” Dengler said. “That is the time between the peak and the offseason.”
He noted that the shoulder seasons for a summer beach trip are typically late May to early June and late August to mid-September, when it’s “still warm enough to enjoy the beach and ocean but without the usual crowds.” Different types of destinations have different seasonal demand, so, as always, do your research to identify this ideal travel time.
“Not only will it be cheaper for you to fly to the destination, but once you arrive, prices might be cheaper overall,” said travel blogger Esther Susag. “A lot of popular destinations will hike up the prices of their excursions, hotels, and even restaurants during popular months to travel.”
Keep a currency conversation cheat sheet
When traveling abroad, try to familiarize yourself with the local currency.
“One common behavior people fall into while traveling is overspending simply because they don’t understand the conversion,” McIntosh said. “When there is a large difference in the conversion rate it can be overwhelming to keep track of and constantly be doing the mental math of calculations, so many times people just purchase things without thinking of what they are actually spending.”
McIntosh recommended keeping a “cheat sheet” with the currency conversions in your phone for easy reference as you make purchases so that you know what things actually cost.
“It’s saved me from overspending many times over the years,” McIntosh said. “It’s also very helpful when getting cash out of ATMs, because sometimes the denominations offered are far more than you would need.”
Avoid costly exchange rates
On the subject of foreign money, you’ll want to get the best exchange rates possible, so that your money goes further.
“If you are traveling to a destination where you have to use a foreign currency, you might be tempted to use a currency exchange,” Lau said. “However, this can often be a costly mistake. Instead, consider using a bank card that offers no ATM withdrawal fees and no international transaction fees while you are abroad.”
Be strategic about when you book flights
“If possible, pick your trip dates based on the cheapest days to fly to your destination,” Dengler said. “Doing so can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.”
Google Flight’s calendar view can help you identify the cheapest travel dates from a variety of airlines. The day you search and purchase your flights can also make a difference. Weekends are popular times for booking, so costs might be higher.
“Buy air tickets on Monday or Tuesday between 11 p.m.-12 a.m.,” recommended finance coach Tatiana Tsoir. “Prices are highest at weekday lunchtime, and sometimes even if you keep checking the same site several times, the prices will go up because your IP address is being recognized. Clear the cookies.”
Set flight alerts
“Flight alerts can be a useful way to help monitor airfare if you have some parameters in mind for your trip,” Trifari said. “For example, if you know you aim to go to a specific destination during certain dates, I would recommend enabling alerts to monitor for price increases and decreases. Not unlike stocks, timing the market can be difficult.”
If you wait to book your flight, you risk the possibility of the price increasing, which is more likely to occur for popular itineraries. When you aren’t taking an in-demand trip, however, you stand to save money by waiting and then pouncing as soon as there’s a price decrease. The other side of flight alerts is opting in for notifications of trending deals, which can be helpful, even when you don’t have a specific trip in mind.
“I love using flight services like Scott’s Cheap Flights or Travel Pirates to get notifications for cheap flights, and that can also take out a lot of the work to research and find the best deals,” Susag said.
La Carmina, who is based in Vancouver, noted that she uses YVR Deals, which sends email alerts for cheap fares out of the area.
“Thanks to this head’s up, I got my dad a flight to Hong Kong for around $500 roundtrip, and helped my friends book flights to Australia for under $1,000,” she noted. “Just be sure to book the flights immediately upon receiving the deal alert, as they usually sell out quickly or the price jumps back up within hours to a day.”
Find free tours
“A little time spent researching can save you a lot,” Hutchins emphasized. “The trick is that the travel industry is great at monetizing our desire for convenience and simplicity, so you might need to put in a little extra effort, but the returns can be huge.”
This not only applies to flights and accommodations, but also activities like guided tours.
“I just searched ‘London guided tour’ and the top few results were all in the $30-$200 range,” Hutchins explained. “But if you had found your way to Free Tours by Foot, Strawberry Tours or GuruWalk, you’d realize there are a ton of amazing free tours you can take ― though I do encourage you to tip the tour guide for their services.”
Explore outside main tourist areas
“It doesn’t matter where you travel to, if you are in the main tourist area then you will be paying more than you need to,” McIntosh said. “Often times you can easily save money by simply walking a couple of streets outside the center of town — provided the area is safe to do so, of course.”
McIntosh suggested taking this approach for meals to get better value for your money, as well as a more authentic experience.
“Check out forums and groups for the local community where you’re going,” Tsoir advised. “Ask for their advice on local gems, places to eat and visit beyond the touristy areas. Sometimes those are nice to explore and are cheaper too, while also being spots that reflect the true culture.”
Use comparison sites for research
As you plan your next trip, consider exploring sites like Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz to get a sense of which dates and travel providers are offering the rates you seek. Play around with the destination options as well.
“One of my suggestions is to look at smaller neighboring towns, cities, or even countries to fly into instead of some of the major hubs,” said Ben Julius, founder of Tourist Journey. “Sometimes, you’ll find that this saves quite a bit of money, and often provides less of a tourist view of the destination. For example, instead of flying into Milan or Venice, try Verona or Bergamo instead.”
Erika de Santi, a solo travel expert and co-founder of WeRoad, advised using these booking sites as an initial guide.
“Comparison sites can be useful in the research stage of planning your trip,” she explained. “But while they claim to scan every site to bring you the best deals, they often don’t flag those that are specific to an airline or hotel.”
De Santi recommended booking your flight or hotel of choice directly with the travel provider unless it’s more expensive. Consider calling to see if they’re offering additional deals you aren’t seeing online as well.
“When I’m ready to book I always prefer to book direct with the airline, so I’ll check on their website, and then I’ll download their app and check the price there too,” said Claire Summers, the travel blogger behind Claire’s Itchy Feet. “This doesn’t work for all airlines but some often do special app-only prices, so it’s worth a try.”
Join travel rewards programs
“I highly recommend booking your next vacation with a travel rewards credit card,” Dengler said. “Popular cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Platinum Card have high earning rates for common travel purchases, including airfare, hotels and rental cars.”
If you’re not looking to add another credit card, you can also earn travel rewards points by joining the loyalty programs for the chains you use.
“Always be sure to apply the number to whatever you travel by on that trip,” Tsoir said, pointing to Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. “There is one there too. And those bigger chains often have locations that are prime. Points on airline travel and hotels make it significantly cheaper than traveling using dollars.”
Tsoir also suggested signing up for email lists that share promotional rates and taking advantage of discount programs you qualify for — whether it’s through work, school, military service or something else.
“There are plenty of apps that will help you find live discounts on food and drinks, cheap fuel, and occasional freebies,” said David Woody, a country development and travel expert at Sixt.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t take advantage of all the discounts out there, though.
“While you can seek out all the travel hacks to save money, at the end of the day, hotels, flights, dining, activities all come with a cost and to really enjoy a trip, you likely need to be prepared to spend some money,” Hutchins said. “But I think the experience you get from traveling, meeting people from other cultures, and eating food from around the world, is a fantastic use of my savings.”
8 Little Ways To Sneak In Self-Care On A Flight
Flying on a plane can be exciting ― especially if you’re venturing to a new place or going to visit people you love ― but it can be stressful at the same time. With delays, cancellations and COVID-19 still lurking around, understand that it’s OK to have feelings of uncertainty. You’re not alone.
Having a self-care routine in-flight can be beneficial for your mental and physical health. These small acts to take care of your body and mind can help you regain a sense of calm, and ease the stress of traveling. Not to mention a flight might be the only time you have to prioritize yourself.
We spoke to experts for their tips on in-flight relaxation and rejuvenation ― without annoying your seatmate. Here’s their best advice:
Do some writing.
It may be tempting to tap into that in-flight WiFi as soon as you hit the air. However, take a pause and consider if you can disconnect from social media or work emails, said Dr. Nina Vasan, the chief medical officer of Real, a mental health platform.
She recommends spending some time offline to focus on the present, and journal how you’re feeling. Write about the things you’re excited about or what’s worrying you currently. You can also follow a few prompts, like “if someone described me, what would they say?” or “when I look in the mirror, what do I see?” (Here are a few other options.)
If that doesn’t feel like your speed, try writing a letter to a friend. Thinking of a loved one is associated with more positive emotions ― combine that with the therapeutic effects of writing and you have yourself a beneficial way to tick down the minutes of your journey.
Try box breathing.
Deep breathing is a practice that can evoke a sense of relaxation. Israa Nasir, a psychotherapist and founder of “The Well.Guide,” recommends trying a “box breathing” exercise in order to get your body to physiologically calm down.
“The technique involves inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for four counts and exhaling for four counts either through your mouth or nose,” she said. Repeat as often as it takes to feel yourself unwind.
Indulge in your skin care routine.
“A skin care routine is a form of self-care that can feel therapeutic and soothing,” said Dr. Zain Husain, a dermatologist in New Jersey. Spending time to take care of your skin can help you take a moment to reflect or even wind down to rest.
When you’re flying, take the opportunity to try a face mask or massage your skin with a face serum. “Airplanes can be dry environments, so remember to keep your skin hydrated by applying a moisturizer as needed,” Husain said.
Take a nap.
Travel can be hectic and oftentimes you may have to make compromises, especially on sleep. Getting some good shuteye is an important aspect of self-care that rests and recharges your body.
“Use the flight time to close your eyes and catch up on sleep or simply rest. Wear ear plugs or listen to some calming music to help you disengage from the world around you,” Vasan said.
For added comfort, Nasir recommends wearing a sleep mask to help your body wind down.
Taking care of yourself involves staying hydrated as drinking water is essential for positive physical and mental health, said Supriya Lal, a registered dietitian based in New York. Being dehydrated can contribute to low energy levels and headaches.
After you clear the security checkpoint, remember to grab a water bottle or refill your reusable one. You can also request water during in-flight beverage service when you’re on board.
Try meditative coloring.
Meditative coloring is a practice that induces quietness and mindfulness by resting your mind, explained Nasir. It creates a space to allow you to creatively express your feelings while boosting your mood. Research shows that coloring can also relieve stress and can help you sit with imperfection (who really colors exactly in the lines?) ― all important mental health benefits.
Nasir recommends packing blank pages and coloring tools in your carry-on to use on the flight.
Read a book.
Enrich your mind by picking a book of your favorite genre to read on board. Reading can allow you to focus and promote a sense of calmness, Vasan said. Plus, it’s a great escape from the real world (which is definitely not calm right now).
If you don’t have time to grab a physical book prior to boarding your flight, aim to download an e-book on your phone or tablet.
Eat something delicious.
Eating when you’re hungry is a crucial aspect of taking care of yourself. “However, this can be challenging while traveling given time zone changes, potential delays, and availability of food options on the plane,” Lal said.
When packing your carry-on, remember to add some snacks you can munch on to satisfy your hunger, she recommended. Or grab something you enjoy from the airport, like candy you don’t often eat. Use this as a distraction-free time to savor what you’re noshing, rather than rush through it.
7 Ways To Make Holiday Travel Just A Tiny Bit Less Stressful This Year
The holidays are right around the corner, and you may be making plans for travel this season. With unexpected flight delays, COVID-19 infections lurking around, and other disruptions to your itinerary, traveling during one of the busiest times of the year can be stressful.
Understand that it’s completely normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed during your trip, especially with so much outside of your control, said Nina Vasan, chief medical officer of the mental health platform Real.
Whether you are traveling home for the holidays or taking a vacation to a new destination, here are some expert-approved tips to make holiday travel less stressful this year.
If you’re worried about sudden changes to your travel itinerary, it may be helpful to make a plan ahead of time.
Vasan recommends thinking of potential situations like flight cancellations, weather changes and lost baggage. You can then incorporate steps such as knowing alternate flight options or taking only carry-ons, if you have the option to do so.
“Having a ‘crisis plan’ in place can decrease your feelings of anxiety because you already know what to do if something disrupts your itinerary,” she said.
Balance your itinerary
Trying to fit everything into your trip, from visiting multiple family members to touring new places, can be a lot.
“Don’t feel obligated to make a fully booked travel itinerary or feel like you have to be productive at all times. Focus on spending quality time with others and make sure to spend some time for yourself to take care of your mental health,” said Katie Duke, a nurse practitioner and member of FIGS’ health care advisory board.
If you’re traveling for an organized event like a holiday, give yourself some space before or afterward to take a relaxing break. Duke recommends doing something that gives you joy, like taking a walk outdoors or grabbing your favorite drink at a local cafe.
Mindfulness, the ability to be present in the moment, has been associated with reduced anxiety. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, like focusing on your breathing, journaling how you’re feeling, or engaging in a guided meditation.
“The physical action of taking a few deep breaths can be really useful in releasing stress and promoting a state of calm,” Vasan said.
During your journey, you may find yourself spending more time waiting than planned due to delays. While this may be stressful, think of it as an opportunity to do something fun and entertaining to boost your mood, Vasan said.
Be creative and engage in an activity you enjoy, like finding a new book to read, starting a new TV series, drawing or even listening to a podcast episode.
It’s easy to forget to drink water throughout the day, especially during the colder months. Make sure you’re drinking enough water this holiday season, said Supriya Lal, a registered dietitian based in New York City.
“Staying hydrated will not only help our bodily functions, but also help improve our mood and energy levels,” Lal said.
Whether you are on the road or taking a train, the journey to and from your destination may make it difficult to get enough shut-eye. Prioritize sleep while traveling by aiming to get at least the recommended seven hours of rest each night.
“Getting enough rest is essential to be able to regulate your stress and channel healthy coping mechanisms,” Vasan said.
Give yourself some positive self-talk
The unanticipated changes you may experience during your travel journey can feel overwhelming, but remember that it’s out of your control. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
“Tell yourself that your emotions right now are completely valid. Engaging in positive self-talk can uplift your mood and decrease stress,” Duke said.
The Best National Parks To Visit In The Winter
When people plan their national parks vacations, they typically don’t target the winter season. But the low-traffic cooler months are actually a perfect time to visit many parks across the U.S.
“Winter is such an underrated time of year to visit the national parks if you’re willing to put in some extra time planning around seasonal closures and packing those winter clothes,” Jim Pattiz, co-founder of the organization More Than Just Parks, told HuffPost.
Of course, some parks are better suited for winter visits than others. We asked experts to share the national parks they believe are best to explore during the winter season.
Sequoia National Park
“Without a doubt my favorite national park to visit in the winter is Sequoia National Park in California,” Pattiz said. “Walking through a grove of the park’s magnificent giant sequoias draped in feet of white snow is truly an awe-inspiring experience. The crowds and frequent wildfires of summer are long gone here and replaced by the serene quiet of snow dropping from overburdened branches and the wind gently passing through the giant trees’ upper canopies.”
He noted that many of the park’s roads are closed seasonally, so it’s important to check the website ahead of time to ensure you can reach the specific destinations you want to visit.
“Be flexible and bring your best winter clothing!” Pattiz added.
Everglades National Park
“So many people make Florida their summer vacation spot because it’s a convenient time for a family getaway. However, it is not a good time to visit Everglades National Park,” said national parks travel expert Mikah Meyer.
This impressive wetlands ecosystem is located just outside Miami, and as Meyer alluded to, the area’s summer heat, humidity and swarms of mosquitos make it less enjoyable to visit during that time of year compared to other months.
“Having spent time in every section of the park in January, I can confirm it is an entirely different ― and pleasant ― experience,” he said. “The lower temperatures make every activity more enjoyable, including it being more comfortable to wear long pants on a muddy ‘slough slog’ hike to a cypress dome.”
Airboat rides feel less blistering in the sun during this time of year, and there’s a nice coolness in the air as you watch dolphins in the southwest section.
“It also means you’ll be less dehydrated during a Shark Valley Tram Tour, and in general will make you want to spend more time admiring the park’s multitude of wildlife than rushing back to the AC of your car,” Meyer said. “While there are other nearby national parks to Miami, Biscayne Bay and Dry Tortugas, both of these are less enjoyable in the winter because they are so heavily reliant upon water activities. The ocean water is cold during this time of year, which also takes away recreation options at the beach.”
Yellowstone National Park
“Yellowstone is one of the best parks to visit in the winter because it offers a unique glimpse at the world’s first national park,” said Jack Steward, co-host of the “Rock the Park” TV series. “The park has a quieter, less active feel in the winter, and with the bears hibernating, you can really sense the stillness in the air.”
The winter provides rare opportunities for exploration with fewer crowds and incredible snowy vistas, creating the sense that you’re the only people in the vast landscape.
“You can’t drive through or [camp] inside the park in winter,” said Joe Yogerst, travel expert and author of National Geographic’s “50 States, 500 Campgrounds.” “But you can hop a snowcoach or snowmobile tour or join a guided snowshoe or cross-country ski trip in the parks. There’s nothing quite like seeing ― and photographing ― a herd of snow-mantled bison in Yellowstone.”
Make sure you do your research, so you know how you’ll be getting around and which areas are accessible during the winter. You’ll be mentally and logistically prepared for a unique experience.
“Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley are two locations that must be visited, both for the wildlife and to see the transformative nature of winter,” Derek Wright and Amy Beth Wright, outdoor enthusiasts and creators of Parks and Points, told HuffPost in an email. “Old Faithful blasts out steaming water, but then watch as it cools in the winter air. Ghost trees (trees covered with the frozen water spray), geysers where water turns from steam to ice, and bison whose exhales come with wisps of steam as well are just a few images of the natural world that are only visible at this time of year.”
Although camping outdoors isn’t an option, they recommended exploring the lodging options inside and outside the park, like the gateway towns of West Yellowstone and Gardiner.
“It is cold, but pack warm clothes and enjoy a hot cocoa at the end of the day, as you’ll never have a winter adventure quite like this,” the Wrights added.
Big Bend National Park
“Big Bend National Park in West Texas is a massive park that borders the Rio Grande River and Mexico, and makes for a great winter visit,” the Wrights said. “The summer temperatures will have abated, making it a perfect time to hike or stroll through a unique mountain landscape that formed from volcanic activity 35 million years ago.”
Winter is part of the park’s high season, so make sure you plan ahead if you want to camp or stay at the lodge.
“In particular, skygazing is perfect at this time of year,” the Wrights noted. “If you are into astral photography or simply enjoy being absorbed by the night sky in an amazing location, Big Bend National Park is an official International Dark Sky Park. With the timing of winter sunsets, stargazing can start before 8:00 p.m.”
Travel blogger Renee Hahnel also advised taking advantage of the winter weather conditions in southwest Texas.
“It can get really hot in Big Bend National Park, so visiting during winter is optimal,” Hahnel said. “There’s tons to do, including hiking, sightseeing, bouldering, scenic drives, and soaking in hot springs.”
Bryce Canyon National Park
“The hoodoo-spired landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park adds another dimension entirely when snow falls on its peaks,” said James Brockbank, founder of The Family Vacation Guide.
Beyond the magical vibes, you won’t have to contend with crowds and struggle to find parking during the low winter season, and there are still plenty of activity options.
“The red rock amphitheater remains open year-round, and families can head to popular lookouts such as Sunset Point or hike recommended routes including the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trails,” Brockbank said. “There are a multitude of things to do ― from daytime hiking, ice fishing and snowmobiling to a nightfall stargazing and camping experience for families. Its photogenic landscape makes for a great excuse for sightseeing and plenty of photo opportunities to cherish for life.”
Acadia National Park
“Acadia National Park is typically covered in 5 feet of blanketed snow during the colder months,” Brockbank said. “The park contains the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast of the U.S. Great for cross-country skiers that can enjoy a 45-mile stretch of carriage roads.”
Parkgoers can grab a hot chocolate and explore the nearby Mount Desert Island town of Bar Harbor, Maine, before and after their Acadia adventures.
“The park is rich in human history dating back 10,000 years,” Brockbank said. “Here you can include your kids of all ages, as there are a plethora of child-friendly excursions for educational purposes along with fun-filled activities.”
From snowshoeing to snowmobiling to ice fishing, the options are vast.
Death Valley National Park
“Winter is the prime time to visit Death Valley National Park,” said Janel Jensen, program manager for adventure travel at REI. “Temperatures are usually mild (for the ‘hottest place on Earth’), and there are good opportunities to still soak up some sun.”
The snow-capped peaks and low-angled winter light make for some lovely views, and you can spend more time outdoors than is advisable during the hotter months.
“Hiking is an ideal activity along with cycling the less-trafficked roads during offseason,” Jensen said.
Yosemite National Park
“My favorite winter national park is Yosemite, mainly because the valley and the high Sierra look so gorgeous when covered in snow,” Yogerst said.
He recommended snowy activities like snowshoeing through the redwood groves, family-style downhill skiing or snowboarding at Badger Pass, ice skating beneath the stars at Curry Village, and cross-country skiing along Glacier Point Road.
“Yosemite National Park is one of the busiest national parks during the warmer months, so visiting during winter is a great time to escape the crowds,” Hahnel said. “I recommend traveling with tire chains, unless you have a 4×4 vehicle and winter tires. The roads can get icy!”
Photography enthusiasts will also enjoy the season’s low lighting and easy wildlife spotting, added Jensen.
“Yosemite National Park is a winter wonderland of iced granite peaks, snow-topped giant sequoias and snow blanketing the valley floor,” she said. “My favorite snowshoe trip is from Badger Pass to Dewey Point, where you are rewarded with one of the best views of the valley and El Captan and Half Dome on a clear day.”
Zion National Park
“Winters in Zion National Park are spectacular,” Jensen said. “The potential fresh snow on the landscape adds a dramatic contrast to the already unique scenery and the noise-dampening quality of snow makes this less crowded season that much more peaceful.”
She touted the crowd-free solitude of Zion in the winter and variety of hiking options open year-round due to the low elevation and mild conditions.
“Take in breathtaking views of snow-dusted cliffs contrasted against the warm orange tones of Zion Canyon,” Jensen recommended. “Hike to Observation Point, exploring slot canyons along the way and incredible views of iconic Angels Landing. It’s easier to see wildlife this time of year as they move to lower elevation. Wild turkeys, bald eagles, elk and bighorn sheep are a few of the resident wildlife.”
What Travel Experts Would Never Buy On A Trip
Visiting famous attractions and trying new restaurants are undoubtedly highlights of most trips. But many travelers also relish the experience of shopping in a new destination.
Not all travel purchases are created equal, however. And there are certain items you’re better off just bringing with you on your vacation.
We asked travel experts to share the things they would never buy on a trip, from items they always make sure to pack to certain souvenirs that aren’t worth schlepping home. Read on for their responses.
“I would never purchase shoes while traveling. They tend to take up way too much space in your luggage, and if you are an over-packer, like me, you will not have room for them. However, you could always pack a pair of shoes that you are comfortable with leaving at your destination in exchange for a new pair. Then it is a win-win!” ― Ravi Roth, travel expert and host of “The Gaycation Travel Show”
“I would never buy anything that can break, like glass bottles of wine, olive oil, sunscreen in a bottle. You do not want to risk ruining your clothes in your luggage for a bottle of red wine.” ― Roth
“One thing you should never buy while traveling is headphones. A good pair of headphones can make a long journey fly by, but if you’re like me and tend to forget them, they are incredibly overpriced both in airports and tourist shops.” ― Gabby Beckford, founder of the travel site Packs Light
Food or other natural products
“Don’t bother trying to bring jams, meats, cheeses or other perishable food items home. It’s not worth the likely hassle at customs. I bring home foreign candies for my kids and have wine shipped if there’s one I really like.” ― Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president at Kayak North America
“I love functional souvenirs (spices, accessories, notepads, clothing, etc.), but I would never try to bring back dirt, sand, shells, or fresh produce or meat of any kind. Sometimes it’s OK, sometimes, it’s the biggest hassle ever. If I want to bring a particular food back home, I’ll buy it at the airport to make sure it’s airport security approved.” ― Beckford
“If you want to avoid extra charges and fees, try to avoid purchasing heavy items that may jack up the weight of your suitcase. If you check a bag, make sure you keep in mind your airline’s weight limits and how much your checked bag weighed before takeoff.” ― Casey Brogan, consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor
New deodorant or lotion
“This may sound odd, but deodorant and lotions. You can use different shampoos and soaps from wherever, but changing brands of deodorant or lotion can cause all kinds of irritations. Bring the brands you use at home.” ― Jacobs
“Of course, avoid packing liquids that don’t meet your airline’s guidelines, or else you may have to throw out expensive products. If you choose to buy toiletries at your destination, don’t get the large bottles you would purchase at home. Instead, select small or travel-sized items that you can dispose of at the end of your trip and avoid waste.” ― Brogan
“I highly discourage buying full-sized toiletries when traveling. In most cases, you will not finish the bottle and have to throw it out. Instead, buy travel-sized toiletries before leaving for your trip. You can also buy full-sized toiletries at home along with 3.4 oz TSA-approved travel bottles. Fill the travel bottles with what you need and pack them for your trip. You will then have the full-sized bottle waiting for you when you get back home.” ― Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer
“Although it can be tempting to purchase big ticket valuables like jewelry, it may be best to avoid the risk of loss or theft. Consider having valuables shipped home if you’re able.” ― Brogan
Heavily marked-up souvenirs
“While some souvenirs may seem unique at the time, you can probably get them cheaper elsewhere. Additionally, heavy souvenirs may not only be overpriced but a burden to carry around. You may also find it difficult to transport heavy souvenirs home if you already have limited luggage space. With regards to Disney, I recommend buying all Disney apparel and souvenirs before or after your trip. Unfortunately, Disney souvenirs are heavily marked up at hotels, and in the parks, so you are much better off buying elsewhere.” ― Dengler
“Forgetting your phone charger when traveling can be costly. While airports do sell chargers, the prices are highly inflated. If possible, buy your new charger at a local store after arriving at your destination. Unfortunately, that can still be a huge hassle, and you may still end up paying a premium price. I recommend having a good packing list and always including essential electronics like your phone charger.” ― Dengler
Mistakes Travelers Make On A Long-Haul Flight
On the list of ways people want to spend their time, sitting on a plane for hours on end is probably not very high. But long-haul flights are a necessary reality if you need to travel far.
“A long-haul flight can certainly be daunting and stressful,” Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor, told HuffPost. “Airports and security lines definitely generate traveler anxiety, especially with new guidelines and ever-changing restrictions. But it is important to remind ourselves that the journey to get there is not the vacation, and relaxation awaits you.”
In addition to focusing on the positive light at the end of the tunnel, there are also many ways to make the flight a little more pleasant. An easy approach is to understand what not to do.
With that in mind, HuffPost asked travel experts to share the common mistakes travelers make when it comes to long-haul flights — and their advice for avoiding these pitfalls.
Wearing Uncomfortable Clothes
“The most common mistake people make on long-haul flights is not dressing properly,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Since you will be sitting in the same seat for six or more hours, it is essential to be as comfortable as possible.”
Avoid heavy and restrictive clothing and instead choose soft fabrics and stretchy garments for peak comfort and coziness. Wearing layers is helpful for the shifting cabin temperatures. And don’t forget to invest in some compression socks for health and comfort during long-haul flights.
“While I’m usually a proponent of dressing nicely on flights, the super long-haul ones are the ones where I see many people make the mistake of dressing too cute and then winding up uncomfortable,” said Gabby Beckford, founder of the travel site Packs Light. “I always get compliments on my flight fit ― matching top and bottom neutral sweats. Or, I recommend bringing a comfortable flight fit to change into once you reach a cruising altitude.”
In addition to wearing comfortable, stretchy clothes, you’ll also want to avoid wearing tight, restrictive shoes when you fly.
“Loosen the laces so you can slip on and off to get comfortable,” Brogan advised. “At the end of the flight, you’ll probably find that your feet have swollen. This is normal and another reason to choose comfortable footwear.”
Choosing A Seat By The Restroom
Your seat selection can make a big difference in the quality of your flight experience. If you’re looking for a more peaceful time, consider choosing a seat that isn’t in a high-traffic area.
“Sitting near the restroom may sound convenient, but it’s never fun to be in that row when a line forms outside the restroom,” said Paul Jacobs, general manager and vice president at Kayak North America. “Sit far away and use the walk to stretch.”
Watching The Clock
As the saying goes, “A watched pot never boils.” Similarly, time will seem to move a lot more slowly during a long flight if you keep staring at the clock.
“Once you’re on board, set your watch to the time of the place you will be landing in, but try to avoid looking at it and counting down the hours,” Brogan advised. “Similarly, don’t look at the ‘where are we’ map. You’ll land soon enough!”
Forgetting To Double-Check Upgrade Options
Don’t assume you can’t afford to upgrade your seat on a long-haul flight. Check the upgrade options when you check in for your flight online.
“I always check in as soon as the option is available ― 24 hours before flight time via the airline app,” Beckford said. “When you do that, you will see what seat options are available. Often on the day of the flight, upgrades will be drastically reduced in cost.”
“For example, on my flight from Cape Town to Newark, originally upgrades were $3,000 ― but on the day of the flight, those same upgraded seats were $700,” she noted. “That little upgrade will definitely make a 14-hour flight more enjoyable.”
Traveling Without Sleep Essentials
“You should bring good earplugs or noise-canceling headphones if you plan to sleep,” Dengler said. “Additionally, a good sleep mask can make a huge difference. Finally, I recommend finding a good neck pillow before flying.”
He noted that “not all neck pillows are created equal,” so do your research and find the one that works for you. “Get the ones that attach to the headrest,” Jacobs said. “It’s a total game changer.”
Flying Without Entertainment
“Before your flight, download movies, music or podcasts to your devices like phone, iPad or laptop and ensure they are fully charged before traveling so you have guaranteed entertainment options,” Brogan said. “On a recent flight, my in-flight entertainment was not working properly, so I was glad to have downloaded movies to my iPad as a backup for the hours in the air.”
Your entertainment doesn’t have to involve a screen either. Bring a book or magazine or do crossword puzzles for entertainment.
“You should always have something to do on a long-haul flight,” Dengler said. “At times, that may be sleeping, but I recommend always having access to entertainment.”
Overlooking Seat Options
“Be sure to select your seat in advance,” said Ravi Roth, a travel expert and host of “The Gaycation Travel Show.” “You don’t want to end up stuck in a middle seat on a long flight. Most airlines do not charge a seat fee for economy, but if you can splurge I say go for comfort plus or economy plus. Extra legroom is key.”
Paying for business class is not feasible for most people, but maybe you’ve saved up enough to compromise with a premium economy ticket.
“Select a window seat if you plan on sleeping,” Dengler said. “Pay extra for an exit-row seat if you will be more comfortable with extra legroom. It really comes down to what time the flight is and whether or not you plan to sleep.”
Figure out which seat position you prefer before booking a long flight.
“Window or aisle ― you really need to decide what is more important to you,” Jacobs said. “You can lean on the window ― or have the freedom of getting up and stretching whenever you feel like it. I prefer the aisle any day.”
Boarding Without A Sleep Game Plan
“It is important to figure out what you will be doing on the flight,” Dengler explained. “Is it a red-eye flight where the goal will be to sleep? Or is it during the day when you will need to stay occupied?”
Try to sleep when it’s nighttime at your destination, rather than your origin. And if you’re planning to sleep during the flight, avoid caffeine and try to walk around the airport to tire yourself out before boarding.
“Watching movies can make you sleepy, so instead log on to Wi-Fi and work or shop when you need to be awake,” Jacobs suggested.
Jet lag is very real, but there are different tactics for making the time change easier to manage, even after a sleepless red-eye.
“Do not take a nap once you land at your destination,” Roth said. “Power through so that you sync up your body with the local clock. You will adapt much better to the new time zone.”
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, however. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t quickly adjust.
“Don’t force yourself to sleep just because you feel like you should,” said Laura Ratliff, senior editorial director at TripSavvy. “I’m a big fan of an arrival ‘espresso nap’ ― I down a quick espresso, draw the curtains, and force myself to sleep for 25-30 minutes. It helps me get through the day without being bleary-eyed, and I am just tired enough to sleep at night.”
Feel Obliged To Talk The Whole Time
“When traveling with colleagues, you don’t have to sit next to them,” Jacobs said. “A long flight is a long time to make small talk.”
Unless you need to do collaborative work during a flight, choose your own seat on a business trip if possible and try to put some space between you and co-workers. You’ll have plenty of time together at the airport and then your destination.
“Plus, no need to have your colleagues see or hear you sleeping,” Jacobs said. “Sit separately ― it’s not rude. They will appreciate it too.”
Relying On Plane Food
Unless you’re sitting in business class, you’re not guaranteed a lot of meal and snack choices, so if you’re particular, it’s best to eat just before the flight or come prepared with your own food.
“I always bring my own snacks on long-haul flights, and I have never regretted it,” Dengler said. “Food options can be limited, so this guarantees I will be able to eat what I want and when I want.”
Being on a long flight might feel like some sort of alternate reality where time and rules don’t apply, but it’s still important to take care of yourself and your body when you can.
“Get up to walk around and stretch every few hours,” Brogan said. “Your legs will thank you once you arrive!”
Don’t forget to stay hydrated and take any vitamins and medications that are part of your daily routine. You’ll feel much better during your trip if you do what you can to take care of yourself during the transit process.
“On long flights, I have a little ritual of brushing my teeth, washing my face and applying lotion about an hour before landing,” Ratliff said. “My favorite lotion is Le Labo’s Rose 31 — the fragrance helps boost my mood a little, and now, it’s become such a habit that I associate that smell with getting off the plane and exploring a new place!”
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