Having traveled to the Middle East, South Asia and 8 US cities this year, I am planning this Christmas and New Year’s to relax at home in Washington, DC with a leisurely “staycation”. However, prior years I have gone in search of adventure during the holidays. I have headed out solo for Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand and the year before for the Brazilian Amazon Upriver.
Having generally been on the road for all major holidays, I have the following 10 tips to pass on:
1. Just say no to checking your bag.
After spending one family Christmas in the lost luggage room at the St. Louis Airport, I never check anything unless I am traveling with my skis!
This is especially tough this year in light of the increased restrictions on carry-on’s. Be aware, as I discovered, on China Air, that they randomly weigh bags at the gate to be sure they are not more than 11 pounds. At that rate, it is virtually impossible to carry clothes for cold climates.
The solution? I have found my “one personal item” grows to equal the extent to which my carry-on must shrink!
2. Send gifts ahead.
With heightened security, taking wrapped packages in a carry-on may not work. With $25 fees for checking a bag, it may be cheaper to mail packages ahead of time or more pleasant than dragging a large bag around.
Another option, send one of the many plentiful gift cards and let friends and relatives pick out what they really need and want.
Substitute wrapped gifts for using rewards/points for dinner treats during the holidays.
Give a gift that lasts all year: send ebooks on travel or favorite hobbies.
3. Don’t assume that crowds will avoid traveling on Christmas Day. In booking well ahead, I had envisioned getting a great deal for traveling on Dec. 25th when everyone would have arrived where they were going. I was surprised to find my chosen flights almost totally filled and overnight what remained had shot up by $4-500 by sunrise.
4. Wear layers on the flight with a sweater or jacket you can pitch in the overhead bin or tie around your neck. There is nothing worse than an overseas flight with your teeth chattering while you look skeptically at the thin, not especially alluring blanket offered by the airline.
Beyond the flight itself, if you have a connection, you may find out the hard way how cold winter weather can be. Flying into Beijing from SE Asia, I was surprised to see that rather than a jetway, our flight came to a stop on the tarmac in 42 degree weather Fahrenheit. My fellow passengers piled out wearing tee shirts, shorts and flip flops as we traipsed to a waiting distant bus.
5. Pack a bag lunch even (especially) if, you are flying abroad.
Always board a flight with a bottle of water and something to eat. If there is turbulence, cabin service may be suspended.
If not, with the busy holidays, your selections may be already devoured before its your turn. En route to Thailand, I couldn’t find a thing that I liked to eat so on return in the airport invested in 3 mushroom “croissants” for my 20 hours’ return home to the US East Coast.
6. Book a rental car now if you are planning to pick one up at the airport to be sure you aren’t left at the curb. Do find out exactly where you will pick up the car. I once spent much time in the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport trying to find the car I had reserved.
7. Speaking of reservations, before leaving home, book dinner for Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s. At a solo holiday in a 5-star resort, even calling well ahead as a “Group of One”, I was offered Christmas Eve Dinner in the hotel bar! After intense negotiations, I was able to get a table for one at 6:30 PM, admittedly a little early for a 4 course dinner!
8. As you are packing, add a paper or digital copy of your credit cards, driver’s license and passport. That way if you misplace key documents or are “helped out” by an enterprising pickpocket your trip won’t be ruined.
9. Carry a long ebook/book to dispel boredom if wintry weather or flight delays leave you sitting on the runaway for countless hours.
10. Be aware that certain tourist sights may be closed for part of the holidays or have more limited hours. In addition, countries may vary as to special days, like Dec. 13, St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden.
The good news is that even if you have unexpected or even bizarre travel surprises, you will be able to dine out on those for years!