Holiday family travel: here’s the complete survival guide

Holiday family travel tips from Christopher Elliott.

When it comes to holiday family travel, the so-called “experts” would like you to think it’s easy. Just read a few tips and then have a smooth trip to grandma’s for the holidays, or a late-year getaway to the mountains.

That’s nonsense.

The truth is, there’s only one way to ensure the stress of holiday travel doesn’t overwhelm you: stay home.

But that subjects you to a different kind of stress. The kids can only watch so much TV before they’re bored out of their minds. Also, grandma won’t be happy about you not visiting for Thanksgiving.

So you go. And you wonder, “Can I do anything to make this holiday family travel experience better than the last one?”

The memories of your kids trying to dismember each other in the back seat are blocked, sure. But somewhere in the recesses of your mind, you know you survived a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” scenario. There may be therapy bills at some point.

The strategies I have are more pragmatic. I won’t oversell them. They include packing a few important but often overlooked items, having an on-the-ground strategy for avoiding unpleasant confrontations with your relatives, and maintaining realistic expectations.

These strategies may or may not work for you. But if you’re headed somewhere during the upcoming holiday travel season with your offspring, they’re worth trying.

Almost 100 million Americans traveled during the last holiday season, according to a survey by Generali Travel Insurance. If you’re among them, this story is for you.

 

Holiday family travel advice from Christopher Elliott
Aren, Iden and Erysse Elliott on a stopover in Dubai in 2017. Jetlag, anyone?

You can never get enough entertainment, food — or rest

When people hear that I’ve been traveling with three kids for the last eight years, they often ask me the secret to keeping it together. I pause for a moment and think, wondering if my answer has changed from the last time. It hasn’t.

“Give them food and plenty of rest,” I say.

I know, I sound like a doctor. But let’s unpack that advice a little.

When you’re traveling, you’re surrounded by food. Junk food. Burgers, fries, hot dogs, chips — they are filled with chemicals and preservatives and make kids irritable. But there are often long periods of nothing on the road.

That’s why I always stock up before I go anywhere. Quiz your kids about their favorite foods — make sure they’re healthy — and then buy twice what you think you need. I guarantee it’ll be gone by the time you arrive.

Rest is important too. Most serious fights between siblings break out after a deficit of rest — a long plane ride, a marathon drive.

Boredom is a factor. That’s why I recommend a device thoughtfully stocked with movies and documentaries. More important, bring books. Real books that don’t require a screen or batteries. Because devices run out of power, and you can only stare out the window for a finite amount of time.

2018 Holiday family travel tips
The road to Idaho Falls. Taken from the dashboard of our Honda CRV in early 2018.

How to deal with the pressure of holiday family travel

I know what you’re thinking. Those tips could apply to any family trip. True. What sets holiday family travel apart from the rest of the year is the intense pressure.

It’s tens of thousands of cars crammed bumper-to-bumper on the interstate. It’s hundreds of people waiting impatiently to get through airport security. It’s dozens of distressed passengers ahead of you to get to the bathroom. And there’s one certainty: At the end of your journey, you will see your family, not all of whom you get along.

Maybe you aren’t looking forward to arguing about politics at Christmas dinner with Uncle Bob. In this political climate, who can blame you? Yet here we are.

I feel I should be completely transparent. I avoid family holiday events. I love my family, but when they gather together in a big group, oh boy! I prefer quiet, one-on-one visits outside the major holidays. I go to great lengths to avoid the mob on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

But if I must visit, and sometimes I must, there’s one way to survive. Keep your visit short and meaningful. Show up just before the main event. Make kissing sounds across the room. Exchange gifts. A little dessert. Then get outta Dodge.

Hotel rooms can save family relationships. By that, I mean you should find a reason to not sleep on the sofa or guest bedroom. I’m not worried about myself. But I’m concerned about one of my kids knocking over an heirloom vase or accidentally putting the toy poodle in the microwave. OK, they’ve never done that, but they’ve talked about it. That would be unfortunate.

Iden Elliott on a fall hike in Arizona in 2017. Thanksgiving is the perfect time for a hike -- a very long hike
Iden Elliott on a fall hike in Arizona in 2017. Thanksgiving is the perfect time for a hike — a very long hike

There’s the door

Look, I have to be real with you. No story will protect you from the craziness of holiday family travel. You can plan ahead by bringing all the books and food. You can give your kids 16 hours of sleep the night before you fly out. You can stay in a hotel and make a cameo appearance at Christmas. And yet, it can still stress the heck out of you.

I have one final thought: Assuming you make it to your destination in one piece, there’s nothing that says you have to stay there the entire time. I mean, if it’s blizzarding outside, then sure, stay in. But in many parts of the country, you can — and should — get out for some fresh air. Experience the great outdoors. I mean, isn’t that why we travel?

I’m based in Prescott, Ariz., for part of the year, which has some of the very best hiking in America. Can you guess what we do after Thanksgiving dinner? No, we don’t sit around and watch football. We hike!

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t feel compelled to travel like a herd during the holidays. But it’s not a perfect world. Happy holiday travels — and good luck.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend